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 am 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 you break through fear, build confidence and find your flow in sport. I also work with a team of fabulous sports psychology experts who specialize in other sports like baseball, lots of gymnastics experts around here, running, endurance sports, team sports.

If you have a young or even an 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 and that’s 20 minutes with one of us, kind of like getting our mind your sport and seeing if there’s something you can do to take yourself to the next level. Another way that 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 experience with problem solving, hitting walls, giving up and then getting myself back up and continuing to move forward because I know that is any champion athlete has experienced, hitting walls. I’ve interviewed Olympians. They hit walls.

They all have moments where they’re like, “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” Or, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.” They get through it, they get through it. I’m going to talk about the type of mindset that gets you through it and the type of mindset that does not and give you some tips on how to bring the right kind of mindset into your daily life.

For any of these, it takes some time because we’re literally rewiring your brain for a new way of thinking. If you’re like, “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 sport. Anybody is struggling with any kind of problem and for those of you parents and coaches who are listening, who are tuning in, 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, I want you to give yourself a ranking, on a scale of one 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 10, 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 you 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 five out of 10 and that’s all there is, that can be very limiting. You think your at a 10 out of 10 and then something is hard, then you’re like, “Well, it can’t be my fault because I have so much talent, that this should be easy.” The problem lies elsewhere and you can’t take responsibility. If you think you’re at a one, why even bother, “I stink at this, I’m not going to try.” The number you just gave yourself, I want you to just kind of 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, 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, 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, favorite gymnasts of all time., who was one of the least coordinated seven-year olds I had ever met. This girl loved gymnastics and she worked 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 is riding on talent was the one who got the mental block on beam because all of a sudden, she’s like, “I don’t know why I can’t do it. I’m supposed to be talented. What’s wrong with me? This is not fun. I’m not good at this. I quit.”

The other girl, who has 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 struggle than this other girl, who just fly through the air effortlessly. Long story short, this girl just got a scholarship to UCLA to compete in gymnastics, and I am so proud of her. She is an absolute testament to, “I just got to keep showing up and trying hard and that is how I reach my goals. It’s not because of anything else other than I show up, I’m positive and I 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, “I cannot figure this out.” Maybe it was a really difficult math problem. Maybe it was a skill that you’re like, “Oh my gosh. I cannot get this.” I was a gymnast and a kip, so I kept trying and getting spots. I’m trying and trying and trying and anyone who knows what a kip is and who’s gotten one in their life, you have to try 100,000 of them sometimes to get that one to actually work. But you keep going and you keep going because you see other girls that they’re popping up on the bar all of a sudden and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, she did it. Okay. I got to keep trying. I got 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 is extra off the charts, I’m so smart, then when I struggled in college, guess what I did, I quit. I got nine months into my school year. Got this terrible GPA and I quit. I was like, “School is not for me. I need to go do something else that’s going to make me successful without needing a college degree.” You guys are all going to be like, “Wait, don’t you have a masters degree?” I’ll get to that. Then, I quit college. I quit college and kind of floundered around because I had this idea in my mind that it was college. 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 I want to be a sports psychologist, I want to go to school for sports psychology. I knew and I went and I started and I quit.

Then I spent a couple of years floundering around and was like, “You know what, dang it. I want to go to school. I don’t care if it’s hard. I’m just going to take one class and see.” I kind of dipped my toe and I was like, “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 and it was like, “That was the worst teacher and worst class I’ve ever taken but I loved the material.”

Taking it One Day of Effort At a Time

Okay, but guess what, three weeks into that class, I called a friend and was like, “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. It’s such a long path. Seven years of school. Am I insane?” She’s like, “Why don’t you just go back tomorrow? Why don’t you just go back tomorrow and don’t think so far in the future? Just go back tomorrow.” I was like, “Okay.” I went back the next day. I just did my homework and I showed up. Then the next day, I did my homework and I showed up and I did that and I got an A in the class. Then I signed up for two classes and three weeks in, I called the same friend and was like, “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 like, “Why don’t you just do your homework and show up tomorrow?”

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 was like, “This is hard and I know I can do it.” I’m like, “Yeah,” I could either call her and say I’m going to quit. I actually tried to quit six weeks before I finished, I had that same, “It’s too hard I can’t do it.”

But thank goodness I got people in my life who can 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 and I could not handle failure because I was like, “I am supposed to be perfect and if I can’t be perfect, I’m out of here.”

Being Stuck in the Mindset

I learned just through this journey of going back and finishing my masters 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.” Okay, so that’s if you’ve got a problem you’re facing, you’re like, “This is too hard. I can’t do it.” You’re in the fixed mindset. You’re stuck in that, “I only have so much.” What you need to do is just put in the effort. Just put in the effort. What happens is just like muscles. Your brain is a muscle.

I mean, not any of you who are biology experts are going to say, “No, not quite,” but 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’re like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t …” and you’re shaking, you’re like, “I don’t know if I can do another one,” and then you push through and you’d get that next one done. After you get past the fatigue. After you get that negative thinking kicks in, it’s like, “Ah, this is too hard.” You do one more, it actually creates these little tears in your muscles which you might think like, “Oh no, that’s terrible.”

How to Face Problems in SportYou Have to Keep Going

You don’t want to tear your muscles. But it’s these little microscopic tears in your muscles. But they then 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. You just stay the same.

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 just show up one more time for one more 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 like, “It’s too hard.” It’s like that last pull up, you’re like, “It’s not going to work. I 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 just 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 and you’re like, “I get it. Oh my gosh.” What just happened in those moments is you literally got smarter. You became more intelligent. You became stronger when you get over that and do 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 like 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. It’s what creates strong, healthy athletes, 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, then you’re done, you’re stuck. There is no more. If you do that, if it starts to get harder in pull ups, you’re like, “Can’t do it,” then you’re right. If you’re like, “I’m going to do one more, just one more, just one more. Just what’s next. Just that.” You just kind of Thomas the Train, “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 guys who are dealing with fear, disappointment or anything that just feels like it’s too hard, it’s too much of a challenge, what’s the next thing you got to do? What’s just that next thing you got 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 out of your comfort zone so that it will build back stronger and ready. But then you got 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 kind of illustrates one of the ways to do this. Basically, we drew a map to her success. She’s like nine, one of my littles. She’s really visual so those of you guys 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.

Then we wrote down some roadblocks. We had her write down three different roadblocks. For her, it was negative thinking. There’s a couple, it was, “People watching me. Me being embarrassed,” and fear of falling.

What’s the Solution to Your Obstacle?

We wrote down those three obstacles. For each one, we came up with a bunch of creative solutions. First thing we did was we drew a line through all the obstacles to the end. Then she wrote all of the different things that she could do to get around these obstacles and then she drew a new path through the way around the obstacles. No, 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 but eventually you will reach the finish line and she was able to see that and go, “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.”

That’s how I want you guys to look at it, kind of like shoots and ladders of your life. So one really simple way to add this into your vocabulary is 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 just 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 guys 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.

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