How to Face Problems in Sport | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: How to Face Problems in Sport


About Me

Welcome to Q&A with coach Rebecca.  I’m Rebecca Smith, founder and director at Complete Performance Coaching.  I’m also a high performance coach specializing in individual sport athletes aged 8 to 18, helping them break through fear, build confidence and find flow in sport.  I also work with a team of fabulous sports psychology experts who specialize in other sports like baseball, gymnastics, running, endurance sports, and team sports.

If you have or a young, adult, or college-aged athlete, you can find a coach that can help guide you personally through whatever is keeping you from your maximum potential.  You can always schedule a free consultation here which is 20 minutes with one of us, which is us getting our mind on your sport and seeing if there’s something you can do to take yourself to the next level.  Another way we contribute to your ever-growing mindset is doing these weekly podcasts and Facebook lives.

Problem Solving

Today’s topic is going to be all about problem solving.  I’m going to share some of my experiences with problem solving, hitting walls, giving up, and then getting myself back up and continuing to move forward.  I know that champion athletes have experienced, hitting walls.  I’ve interviewed Olympians, they also hit walls.  They all have moments where they’re thinking, “I can’t do this.  It’s too hard.” Or, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”  They get through it, though.

I’m going to talk about the type of mindset that gets you through it and the type of mindset that doesn’t, and also give you some tips on how to bring the right kind of mindset into your daily life.

For any of these, it takes time because we’re literally rewiring your brain for a new way of thinking.  If you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, I am so down in the wrong type of mindset,” don’t worry.  Start digging yourself out now.  There’s so much hope.

Struggling with Fear

We’re going to talk about a lot of people who listen to me and follow me – they are gymnasts who struggle with fear.  It’s a problem that feels totally hopeless and never-ending, but it is not the only problem you might face in a sport.  Anybody is struggling with any kind of problem, and for those of you parents and coaches who are listening, if you have any problems or any big obstacles that just feel too big or too hard right now, then this episode is for you, too.

Growth Mindset VS. Fixed Mindset

What we’re really going to talk about is called growth mindset.  You may have heard of the concept of growth mindset versus fixed mindset.  You don’t necessarily know those names, but I’m going to tell you the difference between the two.

The first illustration I’ll give you is the following: I want you to give yourself a ranking, on a scale of 1 to 10 for how talented you are in your sport or how smart you are in school.  If you’re an athlete then just decide how talented are you.  1 is low, zero talent, zero intelligence.  10 is high, high talent.  10 means you’re gifted, you were born with it.  Decide on a talent scale of one to ten.  What number are you?

Intelligence on a Scale of 1 to 10

I’m going to think in terms of intelligence because that’s going to be the example I’ll use throughout this episode.  I was always told, “You’re so smart.”  I always have this, “I am smart,” so therefore it’s a given, and I’m a 9 out of 10.  I just came that way and lucky me, my mom was very much like, “You’re so smart.”

I’ll tell you later how that all kind of manifested.  Now, notice if you gave yourself a low number or if you gave yourself a high number.  I would like to challenge you, especially coaches and parents listening in, to eliminate the world talent from your vocabulary.

Here’s why:

The Number Doesn’t Matter

If you think you are at a 5 out of 10 and that’s all there is, that can be very limiting.  You think you;re at a 10 out of 10 and then something is hard, then you’re thinking, “Well, it can’t be my fault because I have so much talent, this should be easy.”  The problem lies elsewhere and you can’t take responsibility.  If you think you’re at a 1, why even bother, you’ll just think, “I stink at this, I’m not going to try.”  The number you just gave yourself, I want you to wipe it away because it doesn’t matter.  It’s not even real.

If you’re stuck in that fixed mindset of “I’m only this good, I’m only this smart.  This is the hand I was dealt and it’s all there is to it.  I can’t do that, I’m bad at this, this I’m good at but I don’t know why that didn’t work out.  It must not be my fault,” it’s super, super limiting.

What Matters is Hard Work and Effort

What I want to help you guys tap into instead is the idea that hard work and effort is the answer.  I always tell a story about one of my favorite gymnasts of all time.  She was one of the least coordinated seven-year olds I had ever met.  This girl loved gymnastics and she worked very hard.  She and this other girl, they rode all the way up to level eight, side by side.  One was riding on talent, one was riding on effort.  The girl who was riding on talent was the one who got the mental block on beam.  All of a sudden, she realized she couldn’t do it but didn’t know why.  She thought she was talented so something must be wrong with her if she couldn’t do something.  She no longer thought it was fun, doubted herself, and quit.

The other girl had been struggling her entire gymnastics career, but kept trying it again, trying something new, asking for help; she had to be resourceful.  She always had a little bit more of a struggle than this other girl.  Long story short, this girl who struggled just got a scholarship to UCLA to compete in gymnastics, and I am so proud of her.  She is an absolute testament to trying hard and continuing to show up because that’s how you reach your goals.  You have to be positive and work.  That’s really the name of the game.

I Kept Trying

I want you guys to think of a time when you had a struggle and you felt like you couldn’t figure it out.  Maybe it was a really difficult math problem.  Maybe it was a skill that you just couldn’t get.  I was a gymnast and for me, that was a kip, so I kept trying and getting spots.  I was trying and trying and trying, and anyone who knows what a kip is and who’s gotten one in their life, you know you have to try 100,000 of them sometimes to get one to actually work.  But you keep going because you see other girls who are popping up on the bar all of a sudden and you realize, “Oh my gosh, she did it.  Okay.  I  have to keep trying.  I have to keep trying.”

Then, I Quit

For me, it was around school.  The strange thing about having this was that I had a mindset of “I’m smart” as a child.  My intelligence was off the charts.  Because of this, when I struggled in college, I quit.  I got nine months into my school year, got a terrible GPA, and quit.  I decided school wasn’t for me and I needed to do something that was going to make me successful without needing a college degree.

You’re probably thinking, “Wait, don’t you have a masters degree?”  I’ll get to that.  So, I quit college.  I quit college and floundered around because I had this idea in my mind that college was the problem.  It couldn’t have been me because I was super smart, but I quit.

I didn’t even try to get back into it, and I knew from the time I was 12 years old I wanted to be a sports psychologist.  That was my dream job.  I wrote papers about it in school.

I knew it, I went, I started, and I quit.

Finally, I realized I did want to go to school, and I didn’t care if it was hard.  “Take one class and see what happens,” I told myself.  So I kind of dipped my toe in, and soon I though, “If I can take one class and do okay, then maybe I’ll sign up for another one.”  That was what I did.  I took a psychology class.  I had the worst teacher, it was the worst class I’d ever taken, but I loved the material.”

Taking it One Day of Effort At a Time

Guess what?  Three weeks into that class, I called a friend and said, “It’s too hard.  It’s too much work.  I don’t think I can do it.  I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do.”  She said, “Why don’t you just go back tomorrow?  Go back tomorrow and don’t think so far in the future.  Just go back.”

So, I went back the next day.  I did my homework and I showed up.  Then the next day, I did my homework and I showed up, and I continued to do that and got an A in the class. Then I signed up for two more classes.  Three weeks in, I called the same friend and was again, I said, “It’s too hard.  I can’t do it.  What am I getting myself into?  It’s seven years of school.  I can’t do this.”  She’s responded, “Why don’t you just do your homework and show up tomorrow?”

So I kept doing that.  I did that for seven years.  It wasn’t so difficult after I’d gotten those first couple of semesters down.  Then I went to grad school and my attitude shifted.  It was hard, but I knew I could do it.  I could have called my friend to tell her I wanted to quit.  I actually tried to quit six weeks before I finished.

Thank goodness I have people in my life who support that part of me that has a fixed mindset that comes from so much conditioning around being so smart.  Isn’t that ironic that I was told, “You’re so smart.  You’re so smart,” and then I just couldn’t take responsibility for failure?  I couldn’t handle failure because I was supposed to be perfect, and if I couldn’t be perfect, I was out.

Being Stuck in the Mindset

I learned through this journey of going back and finishing my master’s degree, not quitting over and over and over when I wanted to, because I had supportive people in my life who just reminded me, “Just go tomorrow.  That’s all you got to do.  You don’t have to save the world, don’t have to do 10 years of education right now in this moment.  Just go tomorrow.”

So that’s if you’ve got a problem you’re facing.  If you’re thinking, “This is too hard.  I can’t do it,” you’re in the fixed mindset.  What you need to do is put in the effort.  What happens is just like muscles. Your brain is a muscle.

Here’s how it’s like a muscle: if you’re doing conditioning and you’re trying to build muscle, let’s say you’re doing pull-ups – you start doing pull-ups and you feel strong. Afterward, you start to feel a little weaker.

The fatigue starts to kick in and then you get to the point where you don’t know if you can do another one, but then you push through and you’d get that next one done.  After you get past the fatigue, after that negative thinking kicks in, it’s like, “Ah, this is too hard.”  You do one more, and it actually creates these little tears in your muscles which you might think, “Oh no, that’s terrible.”

How to Face Problems in SportYou Have to Keep Going

You don’t want to tear your muscles, but they’re these little microscopic tears in your muscles and they build back.  They repair even stronger than they were before and that is how muscle is built.  If you just go up to the point that’s comfortable, you stay the same.  You don’t actually get any stronger.

Every time that you hit that wall and you stop, you’re maintaining.  If you want to improve, if you want to get smarter, if you want to get better at a skill – if you want to get stronger, you have to hit the wall and keep going one more.  You have to just go tomorrow.  You have to show up one more time for one more pull up.  That’s what’s required.

Your brain is similar.  Let’s say you’re working on a math problem and your brain is telling you it’s too hard.  It’s like that last pull up, you’re thinking it’s not going to work because you don’t understand.  But then you ask for help.  You get a little more information.  Then, you look at it in a different way.  You go, “How can I figure this out?” And you don’t give up.

You put that next one day’s worth of effort into it and it’s like fireworks happen in your brain when you finally see the answer.  What just happened in those moments is you literally got smarter.  You became more intelligent.  You became stronger when you got over it and did that one more pull up.

Go Through the Motions Constantly

When I went back to school that next day, I built grit.  I built that effort, that work ethic and you don’t build it by just waiting to feel motivated.  You just keep going through the motions. You just do the next step, the next thing that’s in front of you.  Do one more pull up.  That is what creates champions.

It’s what creates people with masters degrees and it’s what creates strong, healthy athletes, and it’s what creates happiness.  It’s that getting over the hill.  If you think, “It’s just too hard, I’m not good enough, I can’t do it,” then it’s curtains, you’re done, you’re stuck. There is no more.  If you do that, if it starts to get harder in pull-ups and you say, “Can’t do it,” then you’re right.  If instead you think, “I’m going to do one more, just one more, just one more,” your like Thomas the Train saying, “I think I can, I think I can.”  That is how you get through it.

What’s the Next Thing You Can Do?

For any of you who are dealing with fear, disappointment, or anything that just feels like it’s too hard, or it’s too much of a challenge, what’s the next thing you have to do?  What’s the next thing you have to do to get those fireworks to go off in your brain?  To get those little microscopic tears that happen in your muscles, that discomfort, pushing you out of your comfort zone so that it will build back stronger and ready?  But then you have to do more pull-ups to get that to happen again, right?  We don’t give up.  That’s why it’s important to know where you’re headed and it’s important to have goals.

There’s an exercise that I did with one of my clients today that illustrates one of the ways to do this.  Basically, we drew a map to her success.  She’s nine, one of my littles.  She’s very visual, so those of you who are visual can do it this way.  You write your starting point, point A, where you are now.  Point B is your finish line.

Next, we wrote down some roadblocks.  We had her write down three different roadblocks, which for her was all negative thinking: people watching her, being embarrassed, and fear of falling.

What’s the Solution to Your Obstacle?

We wrote down those three obstacles, and for each one, we came up with a bunch of creative solutions.  The first thing we did was we drew a line through all the obstacles to the end.  Then she wrote all of the different things she could do to get around those obstacles, and then she drew a new path through the way around the obstacles.  It wasn’t a straight line, it was like shoots and ladders.

You make some progress and then you end up back down, but if you keep taking turns, if you keep spinning that wheel, you’re going to get some ladders.  You’re going to get some shoots, too, but eventually, you will reach the finish line.  She saw that and said, “Okay, even if it gets really hard, even if I hurt myself, even if all of these things that I’m worried about happen, I’m just going to keep spinning that wheel and keep taking turns and I’m eventually going to get where I want to be.”

Add “Yet”

That’s how I want you to look at it – the shoots and ladders of your life.  One really simple way to add this into your vocabulary is to take out the word talent and add the word yet.  If it’s, “I can’t do it,” it’s, “I can’t do it yet.”  Just add the yet. “I’m not there yet. I need to keep putting effort into it.  Just show up tomorrow.  I’m not there yet but I’m walking in that direction.”

If you can see just one hard thing as an opportunity for growth, you are succeeding.  You are developing your growth mindset.  So that’s my challenge for you this week. If you have questions, you can always send them to  I will see you again next week, Tuesday, 4:30 Pacific on the Complete Performance Coaching Facebook page.  I’m live or you can find me on the Perform Happy podcast.  See you soon.

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