Resolving the Negativity in Your Athletes | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: Resolving the Negativity in Your Athletes

Hi, everybody. Welcome to my Q&A with Coach Rebecca session. My name is Rebecca Smith. I am a high-performance coach specializing in work with athletes aged 8 to 18 on the mind-body connection. I do this in a couple of ways:

  1. Through one-on-one coaching via Skype or FaceTime.
  2. Through the Perform Happy Community, which is my online mental toughness training center that has Olympians, world champions, recreational athletes, elite athletes and professional athletes altogether learning my system for overcoming fear, mental blocks and unlocking the flow experience.

If you want more information about that, you can always go check out It’s a great way to do a lot of what I do with high-paying athletes for a fraction of the cost, and that’s something I wanted to provide for people who really want to succeed in sports but don’t necessarily have the budget to do one-on-one coaching, so I’m hoping to build a phenomenal community there for you guys for anybody who needs it.

Today, I’m going to answer a question that comes from a coach, but this is something that parents can benefit from. Even teammates. If you’ve got an athlete that sounds like this person I’m going to describe, then this will give you some good tips on how to handle them.

The NEW Perform Happy Community!

Oh, one quick announcement before I fully dig into the question. I just totally redid the Perform Happy Community, and I’m getting ready to open the doors to a select few people to join me on something that I call “Mental Toughness Boot Camp,” and that’s going to happen in about a week. I’m not letting anybody in yet because all of my existing members, I’m letting them go in and play with the new software, have a good time with the new stuff and make sure that it’s all perfect.

Then, when we’re all set and they’ve had a chance to get all of their needs met, I’m going to invite in 30 people. Only 30 people. I’m only giving it a week because then, we’re starting this live weekly Mental Toughness Boot Camp training for a month.

If you want to get on the waitlist, you can do that now at, so that I can let you know right when we open those doors, and then it will give you a better chance of getting in, and the first five people get a special bonus. If you have been on the fence, next week is going to be the time to finally dive in and get yourself in. Of course, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you show up and you don’t like it, you get your money back. I always offer that because I don’t want people in there that aren’t loving it and really participating.

Now, to the question. It comes from a coach, and Jennifer asks,

Q: I have a gymnast who’s been struggling for a few years, and now, fear is in every event. She will not take positive comments. I’ve done so many things you’ve suggested. What else can I do?

A: 7 Tips on Dealing with Athletes Stuck in the “Negative Zone”


What I’m going to do is answer that question, and then also answer broadly. How do you deal with an athlete who is stuck in the negativity? If you’re a parent and you know if your kid is in the negative zone, it’s super frustrating. If you’re a coach, same deal. And, if you’re a teammate and you’ve got this “Eeyore” on your team, it can be very difficult to know how to navigate it. So, I’m going to give you my top seven tips for dealing with “Negative Nancy” so to speak.

Tip #1: Dump Out Negativity and Lean on the Facts

The first thing I teach in the community is an exercise that I call “Neutralizing Negativity.” We dump out all the negativity. We just get it all out, and then I help people to flip it to the facts. We as humans are naturally inclined toward being negative. That’s part of our survival instinct.

If you are not negative, then you would fall into holes and not realize that you have weaknesses. But, if you’re more negative, then you’ll know what your weaknesses are. You’ll know that you are not good at running fast, so you’ll climb a tree to get away from the tiger. You will know the weaknesses of your young, the kids you coach or the kids that you raise because then you can try to help them fix their weaknesses. That’s part of all of our survival instinct; we’re supposed to hone in on the negative.

What I recommend is leaning on the facts. You go, “All right. I’m not good at this. Whatever.” Whatever negativity is cycling through their head, you help them figure out. What are the facts? “You’re getting better. You’re improving. You’ve done it before.” You get out of the, “But it wasn’t good. But I didn’t like it. But it could have been better.” You get rid of the judgments on yourself, on others, and you just really zero in on what are the facts. You can’t argue with the facts.

If you can help somebody who is negative move into the neutral zone rather than being in the negative zone, that can really help. This versus if you try to go positive like, “It’s going to be fine. You’re going to be great,” then they are just going to argue with you. So, just like stick to the facts. Don’t try to be a cheerleader or even be positive. Just be factual.

Tip #2: Negativity is in Our Blood

Humans have a tendency to go negative, and that defiant, whiny, unmotivated, disrespectful, angry or demanding kid has got to have some positive sprinkled in so you. If you at least know that humans have a tendency to go negative and you’ve tried leaning on the facts, then you can move on to the next tip.

Tip #3: You’ll Always Find What you are Looking For

I always use this example. When I was pregnant, I saw pregnant ladies everywhere. I remember going to Target and was like, “Oh my gosh, the entire world is pregnant right now. There are kids everywhere, babies everywhere. Kids, pregnant people,” because that’s what was on my mind, so I was seeing that.

I noticed with kids, especially kids who get really frustrated with a negative coach, for example, all they see is the negative. The coach said this and that, but they were being negative again. If you see this kid that’s always had a bad attitude, you’re going to keep looking for that because that’s what’s on your mind.

Start treating this person like the person you want them to be. For example, if you’re like, “Ugh, there she is in fear again. Oh my gosh, the fear is back. Oh, surprise. She’s afraid, and now she’s being negative,” then you’re going to keep seeing that, but if you can go, “All right. Look, she’s trying. Okay, there’s progress,” and you can start to pick up the pieces of, “But that was a good try and the effort is there. Yeah. She’s in a bad mood, but she’s still trying.”

If you can change what you’re looking for and start to identify the positives, you can start to mirror that back, because if you’re rolling your eyes every time she doesn’t go for a skill, she’s expecting for you to be let down. That’ll reinforce the negativity.

Tip #4: Find the Positives from What’s Driving you Crazy

One thing I do with athletes, especially ones that I find really negative because they have low self-esteem, which can happen especially when you’re having a lot of fear, is have them write down everything they don’t like about themselves. It breaks my heart, but have them write down all those negative thoughts that they think about themselves, things that they don’t like about themselves.

This is something I obviously would do with somebody after I built a certain level of trust, because this is a very vulnerable exercise, so parents, you’ll know if this is something you could try with your kid at this point or not. Athletes, you can even try this on your own.

Write down every single thing that you don’t like about yourself:

  • The way this looks on me
  • My lips
  • I’m insecure
  • I can’t perform this skill right
  • I’m afraid of failing

Whatever that list is of like deep dark secrets, things you don’t like about yourself, you then you look at the other side, and you ask yourself “What’s good about that?”:

  • The way this looks on me: But I have things that look even better on me
  • My lips:  Yet they really compliment my eyes
  • I’m insecure: This means I’m cautious
  • I can’t perform this skill right: But I improve more and more each time a practice it
  • I’m afraid of falling: Yet every time I practice I never fall

Then, you can always find some silver lining for every single thing you don’t like about yourself. Same goes for a kid who’s driving you nuts. If your kid is like being sassy/rude and seeming like they’re not really trying, figure out that stubbornness. That means they’re strong-willed. They’re going to be really great in business someday. Find the good part in it, and then you can focus your energy on that to cultivate it for them.

Tip #5: Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Now, especially when you’re dealing with an adolescent – someone from 10 to 13 specifically, –  all young ladies and young men are very socially motivated. Often, when they’re having a struggle with a skill, they get very worried about the social consequences. “People are going to leave me behind. My friends are going to move up a level, and I’m not going to move up with them. My coach is going to get mad at me. People aren’t going to like me.”

All of those things are so devastating for somebody who’s just figuring out who they are in the world. If their friends aren’t with them, if they’re not feeling supported it can be devastating. If you can take a second and go, “Okay. What would it be like to be 13 and watch my friends getting better than me, and feel upset, and feel like I’m trying as hard as I possibly can and this just isn’t getting better? What would it be like to feel that way?” Then, you can have more empathy. Then, you can like take it a little easier.

I know. It sounds like this coach really is, but sometimes, just saying, “What would it be like to be this kid right now?” can give you a whole lot of perspective. For kids dealing with grumpy coaches, same deal. “What would it be like to be in this person’s shoes right now? What must it be like for them?” It can really open up your perspective and allow you to be a lot more empathetic and compassionate.

Tip #6: Boost Their Confidence

If you’re giving them positives and they’re just like, “No, it’s not true,” and thought, “No, I’ll never get it,” then okay, don’t give it to them in that way. You can ask a teammate to buddy up with them and have them coach them. I’ve done this before when I was coaching where I’d go, “You two, you’re buddies,” and I take the super positive kid and point him with the negative kid, and like usually, a peer can get through to someone who’s struggling better than an adult can in situations like that. Because they’re right there on the same level.

I love to team up kids, one that had just gotten through a fear with one who’s struggling with one because then, it reinforces what worked for the kid who’s getting out of it, and they’ve got a lot of experience they can share directly on that topic. I always would team up kids who had the same problem like, “Both of you have your legs bent on this skill. Go fix each other,” and then they could because they were in their bodies feeling it and problem-solving with each other. You can build their confidence by teaming them up together. Maybe you’re not the right person to get them out of it, but who is? Is there something creative we can do?

Remember their past successes. Now, they might not want to talk about it and say, “No, I never did that before. I don’t think it was like that.” You can go, “Hey. Good, that looked a lot like when you were doing it successfully last summer. You’re on the right track.” If you can spark what was going well, facts, it’ll help. Imagery is something I do a lot in the community too. I have a bunch of trainings where they visualize doing something successfully. That can definitely help build confidence, but you have to do it the right way.

Tip #7: Let Go of the Outcome

I think this is probably the most important one. If you know that you’ve done everything you can, you know that you’re pouring your heart into it, you’re getting out of your comfort zone as a coach, as a parent and as a teammate. You’ve done everything you can, you have to let it go, because some people would rather be stuck than move forward.

I hate that because I’m the kind of person that was like, “I want to fix everybody. Where I want to get everybody’s problem solved. I want everyone to be happy,” but there are some people who are just more committed to being stuck. For some people, that’s a lower risk than moving through it, and negativity is their safety zone.

If you know that you’ve done everything you can, then you cannot take it personally. You have to know that that kid’s got their own process, and you’ve done what you can. And you can keep looking on the bright side. You can keep praising their progress. You can love them unconditionally, and then let it go. If they’re going to struggle, then that’s their life lesson. That’s going to be their teacher that will help them as they move through into becoming a better human.

All right, so like I said, if you want to get in with the Perform Happy Community, well, I have this brief open-window next week. Hop on the waitlist right now, Those of you who are already members, I hope you are thrilled with the new setup. I know I am, and I’m open to any suggestions that can continue to make it a better environment for online courses, live trainings, community where we all bring each other up.

If you have questions that you want answered live, go ahead and send them over to me at, and I’ll be back here next Monday answering your questions. Thank you guys so much for being here. See you soon!

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.