Complimenting Your Athlete, Staying Focused | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topics: Complimenting Your Athlete & Staying Focused


About Me

Hi, everybody. I am Coach Rebecca Smith here for our weekly Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I am the founder of Complete Performance Coaching, which is a team of awesome coaches who I have handpicked and rigorously trained to be the most qualified, most awesome, most fun coaches who can help you or your child or the kids you coach to maximize their performance and enjoyment of their sport. Whether you are having the best season of your life or you are in a rut, we are here to help.

Each week I’m here on the Complete Performance Coaching Facebook page and the Perform Happy podcast if you prefer to get your media that way, answering questions from members of the Perform Happy community. Today I have a doozy, because I’ve got two really good questions I’m going to try to tackle here.

The first one is from a gymnastics parent and she asks

Q: How does a parent react when your child won’t allow you to compliment ever? Usually after a meet, though. Even if it’s just on effort and not results. My daughter peeled off bars during a meet last night, but got right back on and did a beautiful routine that included the flyaway she hates. Then she convinced everyone she was not going to do her back tuck, then ended up doing it and was glorious at it. She broke 9s on two events, got one of her highest all around scores and qualified for states. This was her first meet back as a USAG gymnast. All I heard was negative out of her mouth. So frustrating. I can’t say anything positive, and if I say nothing, then she doesn’t think I care. Sigh.



Usually after a meet, though. Even if it’s just on effort and not results, which is something I talk about a lot, especially in the parenting courses. Praise effort, praise progress. Don’t talk about winning. Don’t talk about scores.

She’s doing that. Hooray! She did it. These are huge wins for this girl who’s been struggling with fear.


Mother/Daughter Relationships: Timing

Parents, we could go into the mother/daughter thing, just generally. What is an adolescent girl’s job? It’s to push her mom’s buttons. I am just waiting for my toddler to grow up and decide that everything I have to say is wrong. That’s kind of part of the deal. But that aside, you’ve done a lot of things right. You’ve praised her progress. You have noticed where she did well. You’re her biggest fan. You’re her cheerleader and you’re there.

The thing you got wrong was the timing, and the time you don’t want to talk about basically any reaction or judgment, good or bad, is right after the meet is over. That’s the time when she’s going to have so many emotions. She’s going to have I’m so excited that I broke through my fear, but I’m a perfectionist and I messed up here and this wasn’t as good as I’d wanted it to be and everybody was watching and I’m embarrassed and I shouldn’t need spots and I wish I was better. She’s got all that self-comparison going. She doesn’t want to hear it.


What’s Your Least Favorite Part of Youth Sports?

There are some articles on a study that college coaches did when athletes were transitioning out of sport. Over three decades, they asked all these athletes transitioning out of sport, what was your least favorite part of youth sports? It was overwhelming that the answer was the ride home after the game, after the meet.

That’s when the parents were like, “Hey, you did pretty good. Let’s talk about this and why can’t you -blank- and that -blank- hey, your friend did a pretty job on this.” Even the most well-meaning parents, the most well-meaning parents still stress their kids out when their kids just want to be done with that game. They just want to be done with that meet. They just want to sit and feel and be mad or just totally check out, because it was a rollercoaster of experience.


Make it About you, Not Them

Mom, your job is to say I love to watch you perform. That was the thing that everybody wanted to hear from their parents in that same study. I love to watch you play. I love to watch you practice. Because that’s not about them. That’s about you. You’re just sharing “I love watching you compete, and I’m so proud of you.”

That’s pretty much it. She knows you care. She knows you watched, and then that’s it. You don’t have to tell her she worked hard. You don’t have to tell her that she looked good. You don’t have to tell her that it was great. You just say, “I had such a fun time watching you today. Thanks for having me here to watch you. I’m so proud of you for letting me participate in this thing that’s special to you.” The end.


Complimenting Your Athlete, Staying FocusedLet Your Athlete Vent

Then she gets to be free to have whatever experience she wants to have. She can think she did awful. She can think she did great even if she totally failed. That is her prerogative, that she gets to have whatever experience, whatever feeling she needs to have around it, and you are there to help her process it when she’s ready.

Maybe it’s an hour later, maybe it’s five hours later, maybe it’s tomorrow, maybe it’s next week. But if she has allowed herself to feel and vent and let it go, you’re going to get such a better conversation out of her.

I’ll talk to kids on a Wednesday, and they’re like after that meet on Saturday, “it was so horrible. I thought I did so bad, but now looking back, I didn’t do that bad. I’m kind of okay with how I did.” They get more perspective with time. Give her some space. Give her a hug. Tell her you loved watching her, and then just back off. And if she wants to talk about it, go for it. She kind of needs to call the shots, and that’s something that’s really critical, is that if the conversation is going to happen, she has to instigate it. She has to start talking about and then you just listen with a curious ear.


Don’t Give Advice

Don’t give any feedback. Just listen and kind of reflect back. Oh, so you think that maybe Coach said it wasn’t that good of a week of practice, so it makes sense that you guys kind of struggled on vault. Okay, yeah, that makes sense, and you share back what you’re hearing from her instead of trying to mold her experience or get her to be happy or get her to be positive. You just listen.

And then your job is to stay in the facts. If she’s just super negative, she’s not going to go positive for you. It’s hard enough to get yourself to kind of move into the positive zone. All we want to do is start aiming toward neutral. If you’re in the facts of like, hey, this score was good or you made that skill. Those are facts.

She can be like, “but it wasn’t good enough.” That’s okay. You’re still building her confidence, even if she doesn’t like it, even if she’s too busy being negative to listen, if you give her that feedback of like I saw somebody working hard out there. I’m really proud of. Even if she’s like, ah, I did so bad. She hears it. It’s going in.


Check Your Timing

Just check your timing. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re really, really on the right track. And then as she gets more confidence, more positive successful experiences, she’ll open up to being able to receive positive feedback with confidence.

All right, now moving along to the next question. This is from another member of the Perform Happy community who has a soccer player and this dad asked

Q: How do we help a child perform their best, regardless of whom they’re playing against? One of our boys plays soccer spectacularly when playing up one or two years, but he’s a different kid against his own age. We aren’t sure why, but it’s almost as if he only turns his game on for a challenge. We love that he has the ability in him, but our concern is that an outside source, competition, appears to govern his drive.


Okay, there’s a course in the community that is called Finding Flow. Flow is this amazing concept that all the CPC coaches and I govern our work on, and one of the main things behind getting into flow, which is where you absolutely maximize performance, is having a challenge/skill balance. Your challenge is high enough to really push your skill level and get you a little bit out of your comfort zone.


Finding Your Flow

If you are playing against someone who’s way better than you, you’re not likely to get into flow because you’re just like, oh, what’s the point? This person’s going to kick my butt. If you’re playing against someone who is a really easy competitor, you’re not going to have the focus required to maximize your ability to play and you’re going to be bored, and so you’ll make stupid mistakes.

That’s the first thing that came to mind when I read this question, is that in order to get the best out of your athletes, they have to have the perfect challenge/skill balance. That makes sense if you’ve got this talented player, that if he plays up two years, he has to be focused. He’s got to be on his game in order just to catch up. But then when he’s playing kids his own age, he’s maybe not as focused.

If they have the lead or if they’re ahead, their focus switches to not wanting to lose the lead.

For you gymnasts, if you’re out there and you had two good events, you tighten up on the third and are like “just don’t fall, just don’t fall. Oh, my gosh. I’m doing good. I could get the all around score I want.”


Stay Focused

Okay, soccer players, if you are winning the game and you’re like just don’t lose the lead. “Oh gosh, okay, don’t lose the lead.” Then you start playing conservatively. Tennis players, you start tightening up and you don’t get behind your hits as much, and it’s like you kind of crunch up in this self-preservation mode and you don’t want to fail, so you change the way you’re playing and you get really conservative.

That affects your focus. It affects everything, and then also with kids, you might have this fear of embarrassment. They’re like I have to beat these kids, so I need to be really stressed out, because if I don’t beat these kids, I’m going to look really stupid because I’m supposed to be, quote/unquote the best. And if I don’t beat them, I’m going to look really bad and people are going to laugh at me or whatever that reaction is.


Check in with Your Athlete

If there are expectations on the table of greatness, that can make a big difference versus hey, you’re playing someone who’s probably supposed to beat you anyway. Then it would be really fun to win, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure for your kid if it’s more about the focus. If it’s an easy team, you’re just kind of go out and kick the ball around and hope it works. If it’s a hard team, you’re going to pay attention. You’re going to get in, be on the ball and be aggressive. It changes your whole vibe.

What’s different when you’re playing a hard team, what do you focus on, what gets you excited, what gets that fire burning in you? How can you do that when you’re playing an easier team? Something you could do, which I love to do for any triggers of low performance, if you catch a pattern, like whenever I play at my level, I don’t do well. Then you go, okay. How can up the challenge there? How can I use that as a moment for mental toughness building?


Know Your Focal Point

For example, if you know you’re playing an easy team, then your job is to get three rebounds, try to make three goals, and keep your eyes on the ball the entire game. You set specific measurable goals so that you have to challenge yourself. You’re like, “okay, it’s an easy team which means this is a mental toughness game. I’m here to get tougher because the competition’s easy, but I need to challenge myself in a very specific way that keeps my focus off of the outcome, off of don’t lose. I’m going to look stupid if I don’t win, and onto how do I get myself in a position to score more goals, in a position to be there and to be on and to be on my man.”

That’s the focus. You have to be in the moment, going aggressive, and challenging yourself. That’s how you find flow, even in a slightly easier competition environment.

Those are my suggestions for that, and feel free, obviously those of you who are in the Perform Happy community, you can go in and ask me more questions. You can elaborate. You can let me know more about your kid, and I will give you my two cents on that.


Freebie for the Day

Our freebie for the day is my little report called Five Things to Never Say to Your Child After a Competition. The hint here is you’re probably saying all of them, because they’re all what the well-meaning parents do. If you want that, you can download it for free at here  for those five things to never say to your kid after a competition. Download those and you can always find me and the other members of the Complete Performance Coaching Squad here.

Grab yourself a free 20 minute coaching session with any of us. See if it would be a good fit to get you moving forward with your sport.

Thank you for reading, and I will be back next week. Bye.

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