Post Injury Progress & Knowing When to Quit | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: Post Injury Progress & Knowing When to Quit

About Me

Hi everybody, I am Rebecca Smith, here for our Monday night Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I have questions from a couple of sport parents that I’m going to tackle today. If you’re a member of the Perform Happy community you can ask me questions any time in the Ask Rebecca forum in the community.

I am a high performance coach who specializes in helping athletes age eight to 18 overcome mental blocks, build confidence, and find their flow. I do that through one-on-one coaching over Skype or FaceTime and through my complete online mental toughness training center, the Perform Happy community.


Perform Happy Update

I’m going to open the doors in maybe a week to a month. Get on the wait list if you’re interested; this will be the last chance to actually get access to everything with the low monthly membership, because then I’m going to start selling courses.

Here are a few of the courses I’ll be releasing in the future:

  • Fear course
  • Finding your flow course
  • Mental toughness bootcamp
  • Pre-performance mental strategy
  • Challenges on fear and confidence

This will be the last time to get access to everything, so if you’re interested you can get on the wait list at right now. Then I’ll let you know when the doors open for that before I rethink the structure of everything.


And here is our first question, and this actually comes form a gymnast, she says,

injury quitQ: Last season I competed as a level eight-nine gymnast. I got my first injury at the beginning of the summer, a stress fracture in my spine.


Luckily, I’m starting to get back, but it’s a slow progress. In the beginning of the summer I set big goals for myself for this coming up season, as well as just in the summer I wanted to get new upgrades that would help me get better scores, therefore hopefully making it to nationals this season.

I feel frustrated because competition season is coming up soon, and I’m not even close to getting any of my skills back from last year. I’m even farther from getting my new skills, which means I can’t compete even if I get my old skills back, because my coach said I wouldn’t be allowed to compete unless I got the new skills. While I’m trying my best to get back in, it’s frustrating because I can’t do the skills that I would consider easy previously. Any tips or suggestions would be gratefully appreciated. Sincerely, Jennifer.



All right Jennifer, what a bummer. This is one of those things that I call ‘life getting life-y’ where just things happen that are outside of your control. You get an injury, or something happens, like, we’ve had hurricanes, where you can’t train, and you’re out. Especially if it’s a stress fracture in your spine, you’re out for weeks to months. And then you come back in, and you’re excited, and you’re ready, and you can’t wait, you finally got cleared, and fear starts to happen.

Maybe this is about fear, maybe this is not about fear, but if something’s happened to your body, like a physical injury, it makes sense to me that your brain would go on high alert to prevent other injuries from happening. I’m guessing that fear is a big part of this. You’re trying to do stuff that you used to be able to do easily, and it’s just not working.


Time Pressure

This is what I specialize in: helping kids through mental blocks even after an injury. You’ve been doing a skill for a certain amount of time, and the you go back to it and it just won’t work. Now, the biggest enemy to a mental block is pressure, especially time pressure. Now that we are, we’re in September, as I’m writing this, it means we’ve got just a couple of months before the optional gymnastic season kicks into high gear. I’m getting a lot of people reaching out, going, “Oh my gosh, I have two months. I need to get my skills, I had an injury,” or, “I had a fall.” The thing I always say is, “Okay, what if you don’t get them back?”

Which, I know, people are like, “No, that’s not why I would hire you, to have you tell me that you’re not going to get your skills back,” but that’s not why I say it. I say, “Okay, figure out what would happen if you don’t get your skills back in time, and just think about that.”

You might not be thrilled, but you’ve got that as something you could accept. “I hurt my back and had an injury, I was out of training, it messed up my competition season.” I’ve heard of plenty of kids who sit out a competition season, obviously you’re training your tush off while you’re doing it, but then you go back in next year and you nail it, and you’re totally ready.


Mental Blocks Halt Your Motor Skills

I’ve also seen the other side, where people are like, “I have an injury, but I have to get my skills. I’ve got three weeks, and I got to start just throwing skills.” And what happens is, that doesn’t work. I mean, any of you who have experienced a mental block, you know that you would think that that motivation would be enough, and you’re like, “No, but I throw stuff at meets, and it’s just when I’m in the gym that I’m scared.”

But here’s what happens. If your brain is on high alert, and does not want your body to go for a skill, it’s going to stop. It’s going to stop your body. You guys hear me talking about this all the time. It’s not that you’re not physically capable because of your injury, it’s that your brain is not allowing that skill to happen, because there’s this pressure, and there’s this, “I should be able to do these skills, and they were easy for me before, so I shouldn’t need a spot, I shouldn’t need to do other progressions, I shouldn’t need all these drills, I shouldn’t need to work back up to it. I should be able to just get up and throw it.”

But then it doesn’t work, and then you feel hopeless. I talk to people about this literally all day, every day. It feels hopeless because you feel like you should, and you don’t want to have the embarrassment of having to either repeat a lower level, or do the same level again, or not compete, and that is more terrifying than anything, but yet you’re stuck and you can’t get yourself moving.


You’ve Got to Clear Your Mind of Competition

My suggestion is, forget about competition season, forget about your timetable, forget about the pressure, forget about any of it. I know you guys are all like, “That’s not possible, the clock is ticking and I have to get this skill.” But I say, “Okay, it’s not doing you any favors to think about that clock.” I always say that about swimmers too, “Don’t think about the clock, the clock is never our friend.”

Okay, now that you’re not worried about competition season, where are you? You know, get rid of that should; instead, what’s real? You have to start where you are; what can you do today, and what’s next? And that’s literally all you can do, ask yourself:

  • What can I do now?
  • What’s next?
  • If all I can do now needs a whole lot of help from my coaches, and means that I’m behind younger kids at getting skills, then that’s just the way it is.

That’s how it’s going to be for right now. It’s not going to be that way forever, but you have to start where you are, you have to take the pressure off, you have to keep it in perspective, okay?


Start on a Clean Slate

If you’re trying, and failing, and trying, and failing, your confidence is going to go down. Your hope is going down. You eventually get to the place where you feel like it’s impossible. From there, you can’t get any skills done. Instead, if you’re doing what you can, you’re doing bit by bit, you’re working back up to it, you’re pretending like you’ve never done this skill before and you’re just allowing yourself to humbly re-learn it; then you get to feel like you’re progressing instead of feeling like you’re failing, and failing, and failing because you’re not doing the skill you used to do, let alone the new skills and the upgrades.

The thing that I can’t emphasize enough is just to start where you are, wipe the slate clean, forget about where you should be, forget about where other people are; none of that’s going to help you, it’s not going to motivate you. And then start where you are, and start making progress.

Every single step forward you get a pat on the back, you get a gold star, you get a high five, even if you’re only doing it with a spot and a mat, and it’s not what you know you’re capable of. Just be there for now; if this whole season has to be a wash, that stinks, but it doesn’t mean that your career is over, it doesn’t, it just means it’s a setback.

Take it Slow

Maybe you can get back in action. Maybe because you take the pressure off it allows you to ask for the help you need, which allows you to get back in action sooner, and then you actually can compete. But I promise you, if you get stuck in the should, and the timeframe, it’s going to slow you down, okay?

Don’t rush; the mental block has a mind of its own. I know coaches ask me all the time, like, “Hey, your system’s great, but we don’t really have time for that, so how do we get it done by three weeks form now?” And I’m like, “Yeah, well, it doesn’t work that way.” The brain is in charge, and if you don’t follow the brain’s instructions then nobody wins, nobody’s going to get the skills.

I have a whole course on fear, in the Perform Happy community; if anybody’s interested, please get on the wait list, ’cause that’s something that could be helpful.


Then I’m going to move on to the next question, and tackle it as quick as I can. First, this mom says,

Q: Thank you for getting my nine year old past her backward mental block.


She’s now back to where she was last April. Although she trained all summer, she wasted a lot of time being punished and stuck.

That’s something I talk about a lot, the coach is being punishing, borderline abusive; leaving kids stuck instead of just helping them move forward really wastes a lot of time. Now she won’t go to practice, at least two out of her five practices per week, so she’s falling behind even more.

Mom’s tried to talk her into stopping and taking a break, but she doesn’t want to. She’s adamant that she wants to continue, but she hasn’t been attending; the non-attendance began last year, this time. Okay, so I’m always looking for patterns when I work with clients; so we’re seeing a timing issue, that there is, you know, either she’s in compulsory season, or she’s coming up on optional season. That’s something to consider, what clues are we going to get from that.

She’s had a sketchy season for level four; she tested out of five and is working toward level six. Okay, so she’s got her season coming up, her last season was not confident, my guess is that she’s feeling stressed about having another unsuccessful season, especially if she’s coming back from fear. Okay, mom wants her to stop gymnastics, and she’s asking,

How do I talk her into it? Nothing I said has worked, right now all she knows is she has to show me she loves it enough to work through the conditioning, even when she’s tired. I told her she has until the end of September to make her four to five practices per week. At the end of September I will put in her 30-day notice to stop, then she’ll have 30 days in October to make sure it’s what she wants. She says she hates me for trying to make her stop something she loves. Cried and begged for music in a floor routine. She has an older sister who’s a level eight-nine and a 13 year old, which makes it hard for her to think it’s the right thing to do to stop.

She’s also pretty talented it sounds like, and she’s had some success in the past. Okay, there’s nothing wrong with her physically, and she gave her other options for a rec gym, and she didn’t want to do that. So mom wants to know,

How can I tell her to move on?



Observe and Ask Questions

I’m going to answer that question in my own way here. The first thing you want to do, for any parents who are pretty dissatisfied with their kids not wanting to go to practice, is observe and ask questions. Now, this is super difficult. I have a course in the community on peak performance parenting, and the first thing I tell you to do is become neutral; which obviously this mom’s got, she’s got an opinion on what she wants to have happen, most of us parents have an opinion on what we want for our kids. But, the best thing you can do is actually set that aside.

Yes, you have an opinion, yes, you think you know what’s best for your kid, but I’m going to ask you to pretend like you don’t have an opinion. Start to observe what’s going on and ask some questions. Some questions to ask are

  • Is this anxiety new? Doesn’t sound like it’s new, this happened this time last year.
  • Has it happened in between?
  • What’s the timing of it?
  • What’s going on that’s bringing it on? A big thing that comes to my mind is that it could be social issues, fear of embarrassment, she might set back from other kids.

A viewer is saying, “It’s so hard, but really works, to be neutral.” It’s kind of crazy; give a kid something to push against, and they will push. You give them nothing to push against, and they’re like, “I guess I’ll lean on my parents then, and tell them what’s really going on.” And then you get to be the support that they really want.


Ask Your Athlete Questions, Speak to Them

Questions to ask:

  • What’s the fear, what’s going on?
  • How is the social dynamic?
  • Are there bullies on the team that you don’t know about?
  • Is the coach being borderline abusive? This is something that you mentioned in your question.
  • Is her brain pushing her to avoid something scary?
  • That’s something we talked about in the last question; her brain’s in charge, so if there’s an avoidance going on there’s some kind of fear happening, whether it’s conscious or not for her.
  • Is she over-scheduled?
  • Fatigued?
  • Is she getting enough sleep?
  • Has her appetite changed?

All of these are indicators that she’s under a lot of stress.


Figure Out the Cause

You said this time last year this kicked in; this is the beginning of the school year. Is something happening at school that’s just making her feel maxed out? She’s young, of course I know a lot of young kids who do a lot of training hours, but these are all things to consider. Are the parents working more often? Is there any change that’s happening? You know, grandparent’s health? Is there anything else that now, or this time last year, is putting more stress on her?

Now, for me, gymnastics was my outlet. If my whole world was falling apart, I wanted to be in the gym. Dangit, yeah I was afraid of certain skills, yeah, but those are my friends, and I needed it. That was my outlet, that was my therapy. So if my mom would have said I needed to quit I would have been like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t survive it without my sport, and my girls, and my routine, and my structure.”


Listen & Validate, Don’t Speak

My suggestion is to listen to her; and when I say listen I mean, don’t tell her anything. Like, this is going to be so hard. Don’t tell her what you think you want her to do or want her to know. Instead, ask good questions that are not guiding her, but they’re just looking for what can you help her learn, what can you help her discover? And then be neutral, and just literally repeat back to her what she says to you.

Even if it makes no sense and you think it’s ridiculous, just repeat back to her. “Okay, it sounds like this. Is that right?” And bite your tongue; don’t say anything. Validate her feelings, “It sounds like you’re afraid that…” “is that right?” And then you’re not like, “So you should quit.” And you’re like, “Oh gosh, that’s got to be so hard for you. What do you think you want to do?” Patience is really critical here, and I want to encourage you to encourage rather than force. Keep an open mind, that maybe it’s not about quitting, maybe that isn’t the solution.

Maybe it is, but it’s got to be her decision. Anything that involves fear, or anxiety, has got to be her decision, because then she can take ownership, and she can be willing to get uncomfortable to push through and get to the other side. Then, ideally, you guys can make the decision together, where you can feel like you’ve talked it out, you’ve listened. I want to make sure that you’re listening to her.


Wrap Up

Really look into what is stressing her out; is there anything else that you can talk about that might be putting this extra pressure on her? Then you’ll be able to discuss whether or not she should quit.

That’s all the time we have for today. You guys, reach out to me at if you have any questions. Members, reach out to me in the forums, Ask Rebecca, and I will keep you guys going. And I will speak to you guys again next Monday, 4:30 Pacific, for Q&A with Coach Rebecca, and I’ll see you then. Bye.

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