Consent and Communicating with Your Coach | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topics: What Does Consent Mean? Communicating with Your Coach


About Me

Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca on the new day and time. We’re here every Tuesday at 4:30 Pacific on the Complete Performance Coaching Facebook page, answering questions from members of the Perform Happy community. I am Rebecca Smith, the owner and director of Complete Performance Coaching, a complete online via Skype and in-person mental toughness training company.

We’ve got a fabulous staff of coaches who are highly qualified to help you or your child with all of your confidence building and fear overcoming needs, as well as just a really amazing bunch of online courses that can help you guide yourself.

Current USA Gymnastics Affairs

I want to comment on the state of affairs at USA Gymnastics. For those of you who are listening with kids, this will be slightly adult in nature, but I’m going to keep the language appropriate for age 10 plus. I do think it’s important for adolescents to have a chance to talk about consent. If this can open up a dialogue between you and your athlete, I think that’s amazing and awesome.

Keep that in mind, parents if you’re particularly sensitive, you might want to listen first before listening with your child. USA Gymnastics has been in trouble recently, which I am pleased with. I am very glad that USA Gymnastics, and all involved, have been in trouble, because I work in the space of helping athletes through fear. What I see nine times out of ten is that abuse, abuse by a coach, is part of the deal, of what created the fear and the anxiety for the child.

It’s OK to be You

Basically what I see over and over is a young gymnast particularly, other sports too, but a young gymnast is trained to stop listening to their intuition. To stop listening to their safety senses, the part of them that keeps them safe and alive. They’re taught to shut that down. The part of them that says you’re in too much pain, you’re in too much fear, you need help, ask for help, the part of you that gets you through life in a safe way, emotionally and physically, is not invited into a lot of, especially high performing gyms.

You’re not allowed to be afraid or in pain. You’re not allowed to need help, you’re not allowed to be weak, which just creates this intense atmosphere of it’s not okay to be you. It’s not okay to feel unsafe, it’s not okay to say anything, it’s not okay to speak up. That is absolutely unacceptable, so I’m very glad that it seems like the tide is turning, but we’ve got a long way to go.

I consider myself in a position of responsibility in this space to help change the culture of USA Gymnastics. In the Perform Happy community, we’ve got a private Facebook page that is always hopping with people talking about, “Oh as soon as we got out of that abusive coaching situation, my kid started to thrive again.” It’s not always the whole story, but it definitely helps. That’s part of our mission to shift this culture. I want to talk about consent today, and then I’m also going to answer a question from the member of the community who is asking about how to communicate with coaches, which I think goes perfectly hand in hand together.

What Does “Consent” Mean?

For you kids, the word consent, what does that mean? I have a two and a half year old daughter, and I have a husband who likes to rough house and tickle. I’m constantly like okay make sure that we are respecting the consent here. If she says, “No, Daddy no,” even if she really wants him to tickle her, he must stop tickling her. She needs to known that her no has value, and that when she says no it will be listened to, and if it’s not listened to that she can get up and say, “I said no.”

I want that for my daughter. I want her to be able to go, “No, I don’t want to be tickled right now Daddy,” and for him to be able to go, “Yup, you got it. It’s your body kiddo.” That’s what I want. Of course, it’s tough for him because he’s having fun and she’s giggling the cutest giggle you’ve ever heard in the whole world. You look at her and she’s like grinning and laughing and looking like she’s having a great time, but she’s saying no. That to me needs to be listened to.

It’s Your Body

That’s basically how we want to look at it. If somebody’s tickling you and you don’t want them to tickle you, you should be able to say no and they should stop. Consent right. It’s your body, if you’re uncomfortable, somebody should not have a right to continue to make you uncomfortable. Period. End of story. It’s your body.

There was a video I watched that really explained it nicely around a cup of tea. I’m going to use their analogy, but kind of with a piece of pizza. Let’s say you invite somebody over to your house and it’s about lunchtime. You’re like, “Hey, I’m thinking about making some pizza. Would you like a piece?” They’ve got some options. They can either say, “No thanks, I already ate,” or “Huh, that sounds good. Okay, sure.” They can think about it and say, “Well maybe the time you’re done making it I’ll have made a decision on whether I’d like it or not.”

Would you Like Some Pizza?

I know this all sounds really strange, but really they can respond any way they want right. You can be like, “You’re a weirdo,” or you can just be like, “Okay, well I’m going to make some for myself,” or “Sure, okay I’ll make you a piece anyway.” In the time that you go over to put the pizza in the oven, and pull it back out, and cut it up, and put it on a plate, walk it over to them, and maybe they changed their mind.

Maybe they thought they were hungry, but they remembered, “Oh I’ve got something else to eat at home. I shouldn’t like kill my appetite on pizza,” and they say, “No thanks.” Then they have a right to not eat pizza, or they can say, “Sure, I’d love that,” or they can take one bite and then be like, “You know what, I don’t think I want this after all.” Any of that is okay right. It’s your body, you do not have to be force fed pizza.

You’re Allowed to Change Your Mind

Now what if somebody said, “Yeah, I’d love some pizza,” you bring them a piece, and then they say they don’t want it. Should you talk them into it? Should you say, “Well you wanted it before?” And should you give them a guilt trip? “Well I’m upset that you don’t want this pizza.” Well you’re entitled to any feelings that you want to have, but ideally you’ll be respectful of them and say, “Hey, no big deal. I’ll wrap it up and have it for breakfast tomorrow. Don’t worry about it.” If the person is asleep, should you try to force it in their mouth? No, probably not right because they can’t be consenting. They can’t be saying, “Yes, I’d like some,” if they’re sleeping. It seems pretty straightforward right? That’s something you just want to keep in mind.

If you say yes, you can say no later. You’re allowed to change your mind. You’re totally allowed to change your mind. If you’re the person who is offering the pizza and somebody changes their mind and doesn’t want it, you can take it personally, you can do whatever you need, but they don’t have to eat the pizza. They just don’t have to. That’s consent. You might want to get tickled and then you don’t want to get tickled anymore. If somebody is going to get mad at you about not wanting to be tickled, that’s their problem because it is your body and you get to choose what you do with it.

Saying No to Your Coach

Now I want to use gymnastics coaching as an example. I’ve seen so many people who are afraid because they don’t believe that they can tell their coach no. What I know to be true from my personal experience, and from the experience of the athletes that I coach, is that if you don’t feel safe to say no, you’re brain will not let you say yes.

What I mean by that is if you’re working up to a very difficult skill, and you’re afraid that if you get this intermediate skill you’re going to be forced to then move on to he hard skill that really scares you. A lot of the time your brain is not going to let you do the middle skill because there’s this expectation that your coach is like, “Great, you did it, move on to the next,” which you don’t feel ready for. You need to just get really comfortable with that intermediate skill before you’re going to feel ready to even start trying that harder skill.

Now, the coaches, a lot of the time, feel like well we’re professionals, we know best. We tell you what to do and you do it. That’s end of story. I say, “jump,” you say, “How high?”. The problem with that is that it’s gone on for so long that athletes don’t believe they can so no to their coaches. Now the question I got from the member of the community feeds right in. She asks,

Q: How do you encourage your child to speak up for themselves with coaches without appearing disrespectful or argumentative?



I think any time there’s coaches involved, the first thing I think about are the controllables. You have to control the things that are within your control and let go of the things that are not.

The Controllables

Within your control are … How about what’s not in your control, how the coach reacts to what you say? The coach might have an opinion that you have to always do what I say, no matter what, end of story. You might say something respectfully like, “Hey coach, I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t feel confident enough right now to try that. Would it be okay if I go get a mat?” or “Would it be okay to go get a spot on the first few?” Then ideally they’ll go, “Oh yeah, I’ll spot you on a couple. Don’t worry about it,” or “sure, grab a mat,” or “Why don’t you go work over there in the tumble track?” That’s the ideal scenario. A coach that is really going to help a kid through fear is going to approach it that way.

The kid comes up to them and says, “Excuse me coach, I’m not feeling really confident today and I don’t know if I’m going to follow through. Here’s what I think will work. Will that be okay?” You present it in that way. It’s not just you’re saying no I’m not doing it. Even though if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes.

Know When You’re Not Safe

If your coach is yelling at you, “You will go for it,” and you know this is not safe, then you are free to walk out those doors. You must be, you have to be, otherwise your brain is going to take matters into its own hands. That’s what happens. If you are so used to just chuck and pray, fling it and hope I don’t die, I don’t think this is safe, but I can’t let my coach down, that sort of thinking because that’s what’s drilled into us by the old culture, that you have to just go for it even if it doesn’t feel safe, even if your gut is I’m not ready and this is not the right choice for me. You have to be able to know in your heart if you don’t feel safe you’re not going to go.

You’ll present it in a respectful way. “I don’t feel confident right now. Would it be okay if this?” A lot of time if you give them a proposal they can either accept, reject, or revise. They may go, “No, you’ve got to go for it.” Then in that case what I have kids do is make a decision before you go of what you will do.

Maybe they’re saying no you have to go, but you know you’re not going to follow through. Let’s say it’s a round off back handspring back tuck. Instead of trying to go for the round off back handspring back tuck, if you know you’ll be safe to do a round off back handspring, then I say make a decision before you go. You’re going to do a round off back handspring, set. Then coach might get mad, but you haven’t eaten yourself into the confidence hole because you knew this doesn’t feel safe, “I’m not doing it.”

Consent and Communicating with Your Coach Stand Up For Yourself

It’s not like you’re being a pain in the butt about it, it’s just “oops, I didn’t go” is what it’s going to look like to them. To you, you’re going to go I did what felt right. “Hey coach, do you think you could spot me on the next one and then I can follow through on it?” “No, you have to go for it.” Okay, go back in the corner, round off back handspring, set, stick. Then you get the confidence of going I did what I set out to do. You weren’t necessarily disrespectful.

Coach might still get mad, but it is so critically important that you are able to stand up for yourself and do only what feels safe and right. Of course, it’s not always going to feel super safe. I always tell people go for the skill that’s seven out of 10 confident, which means you’re nervous. You don’t necessarily even want to try it. It seems scary, but you do it. You know you’ll be safe. That’s the difference.

Know the Difference

There’s a difference between that feeling of I know I’ll be safe, I trust my coach, I know this is the time to go even though I’m nervous, and I don’t feel like my coach knows what’s in my best interest, I don’t feel confident, this is not the right thing to do. You guys know the difference. If you don’t, you’ve got to start feeling that out. What’s the difference?

You’ll know because if it’s not right, your brain is going to stop you anyway. You might as well stop on purpose so that you keep control. That’s what I recommend. Of course, when talking to coaches it’s better to talk way before the scenario even happens. Just say, “Hey coach, I’m learning from Coach Rebecca. She’s telling me that I need to take it step by step. I feel like this is really going to work for me. Here’s a link to an article she wrote that will explain it to you.” Sometimes people just do that. They’re like, “Here’s a link. This will help you. This will help you understand what I’m trying to do. Here’s the plan I’m thinking about. What do you think?”

You have a conversation with the coach beforehand, so then when you say, “I don’t feel confident. I think I need to move back a step,” they know what you’re talking about.

If you Don’t Want to you Don’t Have To

That’s what I recommend. When it comes to consent, if you don’t want to get tickled, you do not have to get tickled. If somebody is tickling somebody who doesn’t want to get tickled, you have a responsibility to tell them, “Hey, stop tickling my friend. That’s not okay.” Then, if somebody comes to you and says, “Somebody made me uncomfortable. Somebody tickled me and I didn’t want to get tickled. Then they did it again, and I don’t want to be around this person. They make me uncomfortable and I don’t like it.” If somebody tells you that, this is how I want you to respond. “I believe you. It’s not your fault. I’m here to support you. Let’s go get help.” That’s the response.

Tell Someone

I believe you, number one. Not, “Oh he tickles everybody, it’s not a big deal.” If somebody is like I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t feel safe,” “I believe you. It’s not your fault. I’m here to support you. Let’s go get some help.” That’s it. You tell an adult. Even if it seems silly, tell an adult. If you feel uncomfortable because an adult is making you do something with your body that you do not want to do, tell somebody.

If they don’t believe you, tell somebody else. And if they don’t believe you, tell somebody else until somebody believes you. Email me,, I will believe you. Make sure that you’re speaking up about it.

All right everybody, that is my spiel on consent for today. I hope it helps some of you younger kids know it’s your body, no one can ever make you do something that you don’t want to do. If your brain believes you’re going to protect it by not doing something that doesn’t feel safe, that’s when it’s going to relax and start letting you do the stuff that you really are capable of doing.

Let Your Coach Know What’s Up

If you’re afraid of your coach, write an email. Have mom help you write an email just explaining, “This is what seems to be working. I’m making some progress. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable to try things. Would it be okay in those moments to get an extra spot, just for a little while, for a couple of weeks?” That can open up the dialogue. Then when you come to them respectfully and say, “I really don’t feel like I’m going to go for it. Is there something else we can try instead?” Hopefully they’ll listen. If they don’t, you don’t have to go for it. That’s the bottom line. If they feel mad about it, or sad about it, or whatever, that is their issue and you can’t control it.

All right everybody, I’ll see you again next week. Tuesday, 4:30 Complete Performance Coaching Facebook page, or you can always find me on the Perform Happy podcast. Stay tuned because the podcast is going to have some cool interviews coming up with Olympians and people who have been through some hardships and gotten out the other side and become stronger as a result. If you haven’t already, subscribe to Perform Happy with Rebecca Smith on iTunes. I’ll see you again soon. Have a good day everybody.

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