How to Respond to Your Athlete | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: How to Respond to Your Athlete


About Me

Hi everybody, I’m Coach Rebecca Smith and welcome to the Q&A with Coach Rebecca!

I’m the founder of Complete Performance Coaching, which is a fabulous team of highly skilled sports psychology experts who specialize in work with kids, teens, and beyond. A lot of our specialty lies with gymnastics and those so-called scary sports: figure skating, diving. We have a lot of swimmer clients. It’s a lot of people who are these perfectionists, these kids who really have potential, but they get in their own way.


Perform Happy

Today I’m going to be answering a couple questions from members of the Perform Happy Community. Just for those of you who are not familiar with what that is, that is our complete online mental toughness training center, called the Perform Happy Community. It is a whole bunch of awesome online self-study courses that go for people of all ages, all sports, can help you tap into the best sport performances possible.

We also do live training, I personally guide athletes through whatever their personal struggle is on a weekly basis. That’s one option if you want some work on your mental game. The other is FaceTime or Skype sessions with either me or the other fabulous coaches.

Our first question is from a gymnastics mom. Both of our questions today are from gymnastics moms.

Q: How do you respond when your athlete regains a skill and overcomes a fear? How do you get them to lower their expectations until they have fully relearned the skill without them getting completely discouraged?



This is huge, right? They’ve been working to overcome a fear and regain a skill, but they don’t score what they previously scored, or even close. Then they feel less motivated to keep the skill and fall back into their mental block.

The motivation and fear tug-of-war is so huge. This is something that I see kids battling with all the time, and not just kids, anybody who’s dealing with fear. Let’s face it, you don’t want to do something that isn’t fun. You don’t want to do something that is scary. But you can always come up with time to do something that you really want to do, right? But then you’re like, “I don’t want to work on that,” or, “I don’t have time for that,” you procrastinate or you avoid when it comes to something that’s scary or un-fun, especially if there’s no payoff.


What Your Brain is Saying

Why would you work hard to do something uncomfortable that is not going to pay off? That doesn’t make sense. The human brain is like, “No thanks. Let’s go do something fun or something that will yield a result or get me out of pain or get me toward pleasure.” That is what your brain wants. If your brain is like, “All right, so you mean to tell me this skill is scary and it’s going to make me score worse? Forget it. I’m not doing that. I want to do the other skill.”

It makes sense she’s lost her motivation here. What you need to do is figure out, does she need the skill? If she does, why? What is the big picture? A lot of the times it’s maybe a backwards skill on beam, for example, where they need it as a foundation to give them versatility in higher levels. Because, yeah, you can work around. You can do front skills. You can do side skills. But the ability to work up to the higher skills gets impacted if you’re working around at a lower level.


Pros & Cons: What’s the Big Picture?

That’s the thing that I would say to talk out with her, is pros and cons. This is something I do with athletes one-on-one. Sometimes if the motivation is not there, and I’m like, “Okay, if you’re not motivated, I’m not going to be able to make you do that skill. If you don’t want to do it, your brain doesn’t want to do it, and you don’t have to do it, why would you do it?”

We have to look at it from the big picture, because kids can get to level 10 without a backwards skill on beam. Then they get ready to go to college, and college coaches want more from them. They want more versatility. They want them to be able to do harder skills that are a little easier to land. You have to take all that into consideration.


Five-Year Plan

I would say have her actually write out a five-year plan. Way out there for a 13-year-old, but of course 13-year-old gymnasts are getting recruited to college, which is insane to me, but it’s going on. Your 12 or 13-year-old, have them write down, where do you want to be in five years? Write it on a poster. Put pictures on there. You guys know I love vision boards and that sort of thing. Put, where do you want to be in five years? Those of you, even sport parents who are listening, you can do this too.

Then you’ve got to write down how you’re going to get there.

  • What are the steps that it’s going to take to get there?
  • If you want to compete in college, what does that mean?
  • What is it going to take? What’s going to be required?
  • How are you going to get from where you are, which is point A, to where you want to be, which is point B?

You’ve got to look at what’s involved.


Write it Down

It may require certain skills, and it may not. Let’s say you don’t want to go to college, you don’t want to be level 10. You just want to have a great level 8 season and show up and keep improving. Then maybe you can totally work around it. But if you’re like, “No, that’s not what I want. That’s selling myself short on what I really want,” then you get clear.

Then you map it out. You write down, “This is my five-year vision,” and then you write around it, “These are the things I’ve got to do to get there.” You can check them off or cross them off. Then, next thing, you’re going to go and figure out, what do you need to do today? What do you need to do now? If you need to be working those skills, you need to be working those skills.


How to Respond to Your AthleteWhat Motivates People

There’s that big vision motivator, like, “This is what my dream is, and I know that this is a stepping stone so I have to do it.” Another one is fear. I know I’m way more motivated by fear than pleasure.  The fear here is losing the skill. If she stops working it, she will lose it. That’s something that can even be emphasized.

Not that parents, you should be like, “Don’t lose your skill. Oh my gosh, this will be horrible.” But it does need to be brought into the forefront, like, “You’re close right now. If you get in and you work a couple weeks, you’re back in action. If this goes on the back-burner for six months, a year, a year-and-a-half, the struggle to get back to it will be very real.” I’ve worked with kids who it was three years that they didn’t do a back handspring, and it takes them a lot longer to get it than the kid who hasn’t done one in a month. It’s just a matter of brain pathways.


Keep Things in Perspective, Encourage Your Athlete

If she isn’t scoring well, it’s one season of her life. Keep it in perspective. If she can keep those brain pathways building, she will be so much better off in the long run, unless it doesn’t line up with her goals. Then, why suffer? Go have some fun. Hopefully that gives you an idea. You have to be motivated to get through fear. You must want it. You must want it more than anything, more than your score, more than this season. You have to want it because there’s a bigger reason.

Oh, and one other thing. We want to encourage our kids focus on learning and not just results. If you can celebrate the heck out of every single improvement and help her go from 7.2 at her first meet to 8.5 at her second, or if she can be making those leaps, even though maybe she was getting 9s last season, it’s huge for character building if you can help her focus on that.

Now, the next question is also from a gymnastics mom. She says,

Q: Sometimes it feels like my daughter does better when I say nothing, like being positive and supportive seems to make her feel worse. This includes encouraging her to write goals or do a confidence ladder, etc.



This mom is doing the right thing, but there’s one thing I think that can be tweaked here that can help her daughter. Your job as parents, and you guys all know this, is to be unconditionally loving and supportive. What kids can sometimes take from solutions, like if you’re offering your kid a solution, what they might hear is, “My mom is trying to fix me because I’m screwing up. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to feel like I’m screwing up. Don’t give me solutions. Don’t try to fix me.”


How Your Child Feels

All that makes them feel like is, “Ugh, my mom’s not going to love me right now because I’m screwing up.” Which is obviously not true, but that’s where we default as these little kids who just want to please our parents. Not to mention feeling bad because I’m not doing the skill right now, my mom’s trying to help, but I just want her to leave me alone because I don’t want her to point out that I’m doing it wrong. I just want to be left alone to do it.

A lot of the time kids who are struggling feel like, “I’m not lovable or I’m not a good person if I’m not doing this skill.” Your job is to love the heck out of her. Obviously, you do, but make it stupid obvious that you just love her so much and you’re so proud of her, even if she’s rolling her eyes and doesn’t want to talk about it.

But really, you don’t want to be talking about, “Uh-oh, you lost your skill. What can we do to get it back? Let’s work together.” You actually don’t necessarily want to give solutions or suggestions, especially if your kid is down. What you want to do instead is create just a really neutral, really positive environment where you lead her to come up with her own solutions, because she’s already gotten through this.


Talk Less About Gym

I know especially with this mom that this daughter of hers has had an up and down journey. She’s gotten a skill and lost it and gotten it and lost it. She knows what will work for her. She knows what has worked in the past. It’s exactly what you’re telling her, but she needs to come up with the idea and have you take a back seat and just hug her and love her and feed her and tell her you’re proud of her and tell her you can’t wait for, whatever, to go to the movies this weekend.

Then, when she’s like, “Ugh, I’m so bummed that I’m not doing this skill,” that’s your window where you go, “Huh. Well, what can you do? What do you think will work this week? What can you try tomorrow?” Ask really good, open-ended questions that allow her to remember what works and remember her past success, and be like, “Well, gosh, last October you were doing awesome. What was working for you then? What can you do now that might bring back that same mojo that you had?” instead of being like, “Hey, in October you were doing this and this and this and it worked. You should do that again.”


Stay Educated

It’s a really minor adjustment, but it’s major for those kids, because then they don’t feel like, “Mom notices I’m screwing up and is telling me to do all this stuff, and I don’t want to do this stuff. Just leave me alone.” Instead, you just love her and listen, and then ask her questions that remind her so she can come up with it. If she doesn’t come up with it, it’s okay. Back off.

You stay educated. Stay excited and happy and positive. Bottom line, if she never, ever gets over the block, will you still love her? The answer is a resounding yes. Without question that’s the answer. Remind her of that. “If you never do this skill again, I will not love you any less. I love you so much, and it will never, ever change. I don’t care if you do this skill. I don’t care if you compete this level. I don’t care. I just love you, darn it. That’s it. Let me know how I can support you. What do you want from me?” Then, if she says, “Just leave me the heck alone,” take her for her word, and then be there and be neutral so that when she does fall apart, you can then ask those good questions.


Wrap Up

All right, everybody. For those of you members, you can always find me in the private Facebook page or online. Ask me questions like this all the time. For those of you who are interested in joining, you can go to Perform Happy and get on the waiting list. We’re going to open the doors pretty soon, actually, before we make some changes in January and raise those prices. If you want to get on, get on now on the waiting list so that you’ll be the first to know when it opens.

If you want to talk with a coach and try to get a little insight into what’s going on for you, you can always visit this page and grab yourself a free 20-minute consultation with one of our fabulous coaches. Everybody have a great night, and I will see you again soon. Bye.

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