The Best Ways to Build Confidence | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: The Best Ways to Build Confidence


About Me

I am coach Rebecca Smith with Complete Performance Coaching.  I am the founder of this company which provides both one-on-one and virtual support for young athletes who are looking to increase confidence, overcome fear, and unlock peak potential.  We do this through a team of coaches who help athletes all over the world through FaceTime and Skype, and through the Perform Happy community.

It’s this group of amazing families and their athletes who are working through self-paced study courses, particularly tailored to each individual athlete’s needs, as well as a weekly training and consistent support from the coaches through the forums.

That’s available to you whether or not you’re having the best season of your life or you’re stuck in a rut.  Go check it out at if you’re interested.

I am going to answer a question today from one of the members of the community.  This gymnast dad says:

Q: Our daughter has not been tumbling backward for a couple of months.  Her coach seems to have given up on her and we asked him to spot her, but he won’t.  On Sunday, we took her to a trampoline place with a tumble track.  After a brief warm up, she went to tumble track and on first try she did a round-off back handspring back layout, progressed to a round-off back handspring full.  Then she went to the gym yesterday and couldn’t go.  Is this a trust issue with her coach?  Many girls have left the gym.  We feel he doesn’t care about some of the girls and would rather them sit and rot away until they quit.  He’s told my daughter she practices like an excel, not a J.O. girl.  And she’s wasting his and her teammate’s time.  Initially, when we moved to the gym last year, we made him aware of her blocking issues and he worked with her then by actually spotting her and encouraging her.  She was fine until she got hurt again in November an since then, the coach seems to have given up on her because of those blocks.  She’s not even blocking on bars, which she has never done.



For those of you who are not gymnasts, these are amazing skills for somebody who’s not tumbling backwards.

I’ve heard this plenty of times.  It’s very common for athletes to actually get their skills back in a different environment.  I have heard the trampoline park story so many times; kids are just playing around, having fun, there’s no pressure, no coach, and nobody watching.

They are by far the best tumbler in the whole place just because it’s full of eight year old kids who just like to jump around.  It’s common because they’re in a better mood.  It really contributes to confidence, feeling happy, and relaxed.

From Progress to Stress

There was another girl who reached out to me today in the forums in the community who told me everything she didn’t want to do.  She didn’t want to set goals, didn’t want to go to practice, etc.  This is a girl who just last week was killing it in the gym.  She’s been getting new skills and doing awesome, which has now turned into this source of stress for her.

I’m going to talk through the best ways to build confidence.  From there, I’m also going to talk about how coaches play a big part, and parents too, in how you overcome fear and build confidence.

The Best Ways to Build Confidence

When I get a question about fear, I go right to confidence because they’re opposites.  If your fear is high, your confidence is low.  If your fear is low, your confidence is high.  That’s typically how it tends to go.  Another mom is saying it’s the same for her daughter.  She always goes for those skills when there’s no pressure.  When there’s no pressure, it’s a no-brainer, but that pressure monster just eats away at confidence.

The first way to build confidence is through successes.  The girl we were talking about who went to the trampoline park was successful.  You would think that would be a huge confidence booster.  Well, we definitely need to break that down.  I just had an athlete this week who was like told me since she was successful, she didn’t need her session that week.  I told her that was great, but to make sure she reflects.  I wanted her to make sure she took the time to look at why she was successful.  Why did it work?

What’s almost as important as the success itself is the process of looking back.  You can look back and see it worked because you were having fun.  You were focused on one thing and not another. You want to go back and break it down.  You hear me say it all the time – the three best questions to reflect on after any performance, even a performance at the trampoline park, are:  What went well? What didn’t go so well?  What did I learn?

Walk Away with Three Lessons

When you ask yourself these questions, you get in the habit of paying attention.  This way, when you have one of these random good days, you can start to track the patterns.  I do have a caveat with successes.  Yes, success builds confidence, but only if it’s not a source of pressure.  Something I talk about in the overcoming fear course is the expectation of more success could actually undercut success.  This means if you’re afraid that doing well is going to up the expectations of your coaches, then it’s almost safer to not do well and stay put.

I have a couple of examples in the overcoming fear course of kids who get stuck on easy skills.  They know the second they get it, they’re moving on to the harder skills.  There isn’t this feeling of safety in gymnastics, in sports, or even in school necessarily.  This age group in particular, the 10 to 13 year olds, feel like they can’t stand up for themselves to adults.  It’s so hard for these young athletes to tell their coaches when they are uncomfortable trying something new.  They feel that if they do the skill successfully, they will be required to do something more difficult and won’t be able to say no.

Your Brain Stays Stuck

You have to be able to say, “Alright, I’m allowed to be successful.  If I get to a skill that feels too hard, I can say whatever I need to.  I can speak my truth.”  You can say, “Hey, coach, I think I need to stay on this one a little bit longer to build up my confidence, otherwise I’m going to be pushed to do something scarier and bigger.”

Then your brain’s response is, “You know what? Forget it.  Let’s just be stuck on handstands today.  Let’s be stuck on something ridiculous and then the coach will get mad, you get kicked out, and then you’ll be safe.  Everybody wins, right?”  That’s what your brain wants, for you to be safe.  If you get kicked out of gym and you make your coach mad, perfect.  Then they’re not going to make you do the hard stuff.

However, if you can walk into a situation and say, “My goal is step one of five.  If I’m capable of step three and my coach is wanting me to do step three, I’m going to reiterate that my goal today was one.  That’s all I’m going to require my brain to do.”

Having been a coach, I know this is difficult.  I would be quick to  say, “What do you mean? Go do it. What’s the problem?”  It’s so hard for coaches to understand this.  I’ll do team sessions on overcoming fear and the coaches at the end are concerned about when their athletes have to compete.  I remind them that while there is a timeframe, our brains don’t care about competition season.  Our brains care about keeping us safe.

Kids, you’ve got to be able to stand up for yourself, speak up, and risk getting kicked out of gym for what they think is you being lazy or having an attitude when it’s not.

What’s in Your Control?

It’s you keeping yourself safe so that the next practice you can move forward.  I always talk about this three week process of when you start to overcome a fear – you start to speak up to the coaches, and you’ll butt heads because they want to know why you’re not going to try a skill, why you’re saying you don’t feel comfortable.  They will even tell you you don’t need a spot.

If you stand firm and tell them you know what you need, it’s your body and this is your next step, then you will make progress and your coach will get over it.  If they don’t, find a new coach or see what you can do that’s within your control.

Just Stick it Out

It’s going to be a transition.  Success builds confidence only when it’s on your terms.  You are in a lot of sports that have high expectations, and mean (or very strict) coaching, but ultimately, you have to be the one in charge.

Coaches, Empower Your Athlete

Next, coaches, see if you can empower the kids.  If you see they’re afraid to go to the next step, let them know it’s ok to wait until they feel ready.  However, it is the coach’s job to push the athletes when they need it.  There’s a fine line.  Often times the athlete’s brain will convince them they are fine right where they are.  That’s when you as a coach need to say, “You’re doing it.  It’s time.  I’m sorry, but it’s time.”  That’s why having a really good open line of communication with your coach is critical.

Utilizing Imagery

The second way to build confidence is imagery.  If you’re in a sport like gymnastics where it’s very specific, same skills, over and over, in the same order, it’s easy to see how this would build confidence.  You’re imagining yourself doing it in a full sensory experience where you feel confident.  You’re trusting yourself.  You are flying through your bar routine.  You’re doing everything in your mind.  Your brain is actually making connections with your body in the same way as if you were really doing it so it speeds up the learning process.

How will you Go About It?

Imagery also has a really great application in other sports that require a little bit more strategy.  I work with a lot of pole vaulters and swimmers, and what I’ll have them do is bullet point what their strategy is.  For example, with a pole vaulter, I will have them visualize their opening height.  Then the next one, and the next one.  What pole are they going to use?  How will they approach it?

The idea is to come up with everything in advance so last minute you’re not thinking about what you should do.   If you start thinking about what your coach says vs. what your gut says, then you see another athlete doing it one way, you’ll find yourself in a place of doubt.  Anyone who has a sport that requires in the moment strategy, you want to have a plan ready and you want to have practiced it in your mind.

Struggling with Communicating with your Coach

For those of you who are struggling with communication with your coaches, run it through.  When you talk to your coach, think about what you will say and then how you will respond.  That’s strategy in itself.  Just knowing, if this happens, this is what you’ll do.  Actually playing that tape out in your head of it going right, going wrong, what you’ll do, and how you’ll respond will help you to build confidence because it takes the unknown out of it.

Also, for swimmers, I’ll have them think about the first lap, second lap, third lap.  This is how many strokes, how many that were done under waters, this is how many dolphin kicks, etc.  You’ll figure out all of the steps, all of the strategies, so that you’re not thinking, “That guy is going faster than me.  Speed up.”  When you do this, you end up thrashing and blowing all of your training instead of thinking, “No matter who’s next to me, whether I’m in the beginning or I’m losing miserably, I will do what I’ve trained my body to do.”

Resulting in Burn Outs

Now, that guy over there might burn out, and meanwhile, you are executing your strategy.  You follow through, you do well, and you get a personal best, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Imagery is such an amazing tool for building confidence.  Play out the tough stuff, have a plan and see it happening so you’re not ever going to be blind sided.

Number three – self talk.  What are you saying to yourself?  Going back to the trampoline park, what was she saying to herself while she was tumbling?  Was it hey, this would be fun. What if I try this?  Oh my gosh.  That was really cool.  That actually felt pretty good.  What if I tried this?  I think I could do a full.

She was obviously having a nice dialogue with herself.  Now, when she goes back into the gym, what is she saying to herself?  Is she saying to herself okay, if I go for this, then I’m going to be expected to do it.  I don’t think I’m ready for that.  I can’t do that.  That’s scary.  What if I can’t go for it?  It’s this whole negative thought process that starts to play out and the next thing you know, she’s completely talked herself out of it.

Not to mention, it’s a different surface.  If you don’t feel like you totally trust your coach to protect you and to give you the ability to guide your own path through fear, then it’s going to be difficult to build confidence in that environment, but it is not impossible.

Abusive Coaching Styles

I’ve worked with kids who have very verbally abusive coaches, but they’re so committed to the quality of training that they’re getting at that facility.  If you’re the athlete and you know you’re coaches are jerks, but they’re good so you stay, we can work around that.

So, number four in confidence building strategy is feedback from yourself.  You have to become the good coach.  Be the one who in your head, you’re telling yourself nice one, girl, you got this.  Hey, don’t worry about it.  Let that go.  That guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  You are working so hard.  Keep it up.  Good job.

I’ve had people write a list designing the perfect coach who would push the right amount and give exactly the motivation and encouragement they’d need without sugar coating anything.  Design your coach and then write a list of what this coach would say to you.

The Best Ways to Build ConfidenceDrowning Out the Negativity

This will become your own list of things you need to be saying to yourself constantly to drown out the negativity coming from elsewhere.  You shouldn’t have to be 12 years old encouraging and motivating yourself, but you might have to filter out the things that are coming in from negative coaches that are not useful and that are not spreading possibility.

Tell yourself not to let in the negativity.  Listen for the correction, listen for anything to help make you better, and everything else you can filter out.  That’s not your stuff, that’s their stuff.

Feedback from Knowledgeable People

Obviously, if your mom didn’t do gymnastics and she’s saying, “That looks so pretty,” you’re going to respond, “Mom, you don’t even know.”  But, if a coach says, “That was a good one,” especially a coach who is tough to please and you trust immensely, boom, confidence.

At the same time, if knowledgeable people are giving you negative feedback, it will eat your confidence away like crazy.  If someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about tells you they don’t think something was good, you’re confidence comes through and you tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about and to leave you alone.

When somebody that you look up to and respect, who knows what they’re talking about, gives you negative feedback, it can definitely eat away at your confidence.  That’s when we pull out the good coach, because you’re knowledgeable too.  You can tell yourself you’re making progress and it counts.  That goes back to the past successes.  A lot of time, perfectionists don’t count their successes because it wasn’t good, or close enough, or it was just a drill.  You really need to be acknowledging what was good and what has improved.

Notice Your Progress and Success

The final one, which is kind of a fun one that might come up in the trampoline park, is peer success. This one’s another one that coaches can screw up. It’s the concept of “if you do it, I’ll do it”.  I’ve heard lots of kids break through a block because their friends say, “We’ve been working on this.  We’ve been making progress.  I’ll try it.”  Then you come in and say, “Okay, if you do it, I’ll do it.”

They do it, but if your coach is using that, saying, “Well she’s doing it and she’s younger than you,” or “She’s your little sister, she’s catching up.”  Well, that does not improve your confidence.  All that does is create this comparison between you being bad and them being good.

Don’t Compare

We don’t need that.  Comparison is like a full time job for adolescents.  They are constantly judging themselves – who’s prettier, who’s smarter, who’s better?  Don’t give them any more fuel for that. Let them do it themselves.  Coaches who think they’re motivating my comparing their athlete to one who is younger, don’t do that.  Just don’t.

Parents, even if you really like their teammate and their teammate did something good, don’t mention it.  Don’t say, “Hey, she had a good practice today,” because your kid’s going to think they stink.  Just don’t.  Don’t compare.  Let them see their teammate doing it, realize they’ve been working together, and if her teammate can do it so can she.

Coaches and parents, please don’t use that one to motivate – it will backfire.  For more tips, I have a freebie download that you can grab that’s the five things to never say to your kid after a competition.  Click here to download those tips.

Especially with Siblings

Oh look, she has a little sister who’s getting better and she feels this pressure.  Don’t ever talk about her sister.  Obviously you’re going to have to, but that can be such a source of stress and pressure.

Overcoming the Pressure

Now, finally going back to this sweetie pie who reached out in the forums who was saying, “I don’t want to go practice.  I don’t want the pressure.”

She didn’t want to practice or set goals, so I gave her a goal for the week – self compassion.  The way that you can do is to be nice to yourself!  Be nice to yourself if your confidence is down, your coach is beating on you, and things are just not going well.  If you’re having a crappy week then being nice to yourself is one little tool to leave you with to turn things around.  It’s a three step process.

Know That it’s Hard Work

Number one, acknowledge this is hard. “I’m having a hard time.  My coach is stressing me out.  I don’t like this feeling.” Just saying, “This stinks.”  That’s part of it.  The second part is acknowledging that you are not the only one struggling.  That is another beautiful benefit of the community is that you can see on the one side, you’ve got all these people pulling it together, getting their skills, building confidence, and you’ve got other people who are struggling.

You are not alone.  Just to remember, you are not the only person in this world that is suffering in this moment.  This can help create a little bit of relief.  Not that we are celebrating other people who are suffering, but finding comfort in not being alone.

Have Compassion for Yourself

The last thing to do is to talk to yourself like you would talk to your adorable little niece or cousin who you love to pieces who was sad.  You’d say, “It’s okay. Don’t worry,” and you’d give her a big hug.  You wouldn’t be call her lame and tell her to pull it together.  You’d say, “Hey, this is rough. I’m so sorry.”  You’d give her a hug and you’d say, “It’s going to be okay.”  That’s self compassion.

Those are the ways to build confidence for you coaches.  I hope that you can help turn the tide of a lot of the negative coaching out there.  I know if you’re hanging out with us, you’re already a part of the solution.  Anyone who has questions, you can email me at  Join us in the Perform Happy Community by going to and we’ll see you soon.

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