How you as a Parent can Support Your Athlete | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: How you as a Parent can Support Your Athlete

Hi everyone. I’m Coach Rebecca Smith with Complete Performance Coaching.  I’m excited to talk about some of the hardest parts about parenting an athlete.  We talk a lot about parents because when you’re dealing with young athletes, one of the most important things that affect their sport career is their support squad; that’s their coach, their parents, and their teammates.

Today is going to be all about the parent.  For those of you athletes, don’t tune out.  We will still be talking about flow.  This is going to be all about how to effectively support your adolescent athlete through their inevitable ups and downs.

About Me

For those of you who are just joining me for the first time, I am the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching and the Perform Happy Community.  Myself and other fabulous sports psychology experts, have taken it upon ourselves to help athletes, age eight to 18, reach peak performance and maximum enjoyment.  We do that through one-on-one coaching over Skype or FaceTime, or through our complete online Mental Toughness Training Center.

My Athlete Won’t Follow my Suggestions

In the Perform Happy Community, we’ve had a pretty lively discussion amongst parents about what to do when you have presented everything your kid needs to get through their mental blocks and how to deal with these situations, but they won’t do it.  They won’t listen and they won’t pick up the toolkit that you have so generously laid at their feet.

Q: They won’t do what I’ve suggested and they’re miserable – how do I help them?

Another parent was talking about how she suffers while watching her child be mediocre when she knows the potential she has.  This makes me think about my parents.  I had all those talks about potential, but then I had my fears.  Then I had this fiercely independent streak that was resistant.

I got another question today from a swimming parent asking,

Q: How do I get my kid to train hard?  They go and they compete really well, but then they don’t train well.

Or on the other side, we have parents with kids who train their butts off, then they go to a competition and can’t pull it together.

That’s what I specialize in – helping these kids and giving them the tools they need.  Let’s say you always give them access to everything they have, and they’re just not doing it.  How do you survive the struggle and the suffering?


I’m going to give you some tips today.  Most importantly, I’m going to give you an idea of the things that you can let go of that are not serving you and that are not helping.  Then I’ll tell you what you can do instead that will actually give you a chance at some peace in your life while parenting an adolescent athlete.

Reaching Flow

The first thing that came to mind when I was thinking about how to address this topic was flow.  Flow is something that I teach all my athletes.  It’s this moment where all of your skills come together, your mental and your physical, and your challenges.  It’s just hard enough that it really stretches you, you rise to the occasion, it comes through, everything clicks into place, and you absolutely let your training shine through.

Parental Flow

For you parents out there, have you ever had a flow moment in parenting?  It’s a challenging situation, you are having to be pushed to your absolute max, and somehow your intuition takes over.  All of a sudden, everything’s cool, your kid’s cool, you kind of said the right thing?  Maybe it wasn’t something you typically do, but you went outside the box.

I had a moment like this yesterday when my three-year-old was upset about me jamming her into her car seat because she was screaming in the parking lot.  New baby, not screaming strangely enough, but the three-year-old was screaming.  I put her in, her underwear is crooked, and she’s freaking out.  For 10 minutes of a drive, she’s freaking out, yelling, “Get out of the car, mom.  I don’t want you.  You’re a bad mom.  My underwear is crooked,” crying, screaming.

I repeated back to her, “You want me to get out of the car?”  She says, “Yeah.  Ooh!  There’s a red car over there,” and she had diffused it.  I wanted to just ignore her and punish her, but then I thought to myself, Okay, why don’t I just let her know I hear what she’s talking about?  All of the sudden she was good and we were able to move on.

Parents are Always Performing

Those moments, that’s pretty much our performance.  For us parents who are no longer athletes (a lot of us probably were athletes), we’re performing all the time.  Let’s find our flow by using those same skills that I’m teaching: mindfulness, awareness, and intention.

Mindfulness, Awareness, and Intention

If I set an intention to be respectful to my child, to help her to be heard, to be her buddy, to connect with her before I try to get her to conform to what I want, that’s what really makes a difference.  That connection and being the kind of parent that she wants to try to cooperate with, meaning, work together and not just be compliant to what I want her to do.

I know three-year-olds and 13-year-olds are different, but at the same time, they’re actually going through similar developmental changes where they are starting to move away. They are supposed to be pushing back, they’re supposed to be becoming more independent, and they’re supposed to be pushing boundaries.  They’re supposed to be resisting us.

That is their developmental task.  The first thing we can do, whether you have a three-year-old, or 13 year old, or 30 year old, is just know resistance is normal.

Resistance is Normal

You are not doing anything wrong.  If your adolescent is pushing against you, you are not doing anything wrong, it is not personal.  You don’t need to feel like you’re failing if your kid is giving you hell.

You may be used to this wonderful little eight year old who was so compliant and sweet, and would just do anything you asked them to do.  You gave them a workbook, they completed it, they got A’s and got all of their good grades and good scores.  Then, all of a sudden, you have this 12, 13 year old who just won’t take your advice, won’t listen, and won’t do what the coach says.

That is normal.

Now, how do you handle it so that you don’t lose your mind while you’re spending thousands of dollars on the sport that is making your child insane?

Let it Go and Roll with the Punches

If you can anticipate that they need to resist a little bit, then you can let go of that.  Something else you can let go of is the need to control or get your kid to comply.  Anybody who’s dealt with a toddler or a teenager gets it – the more you push, the more they push back.

Even when I was coaching, I remember having a pissing match with a three-year-old where I said, “You are going to sit on that carpet square.  You are not going to…” And the kid’s response was to push back even more.  If you give them something to push against, they will also push.  If you go the aikido way and move with the punches, and roll with it and say, “You are screaming in the car?  Okay.  You don’t want to do that workbook?  Okay,” all of a sudden you’re calmer and more equipped to deal with the crazy explosion that might happen.

Learning a Valuable Lesson

Getting them to comply is not the goal here, rather it’s getting them to be the best version of themselves and have this valuable lesson – what they’re going to get from the situation.  Maybe it’s “this too shall pass”, “this discomfort is not going to last forever”, or maybe it’s “yeah, I hear you.”  Maybe that’s all they need – to be heard and to be listened to, even if you don’t agree.

How you as a Parent can Support Your Athlete

Let Go of High Expectations

Another thing to let go of is “should”.  This should be this way, my kids should be here, I should be a level nine, I should be, etc.  None of that’s real.  If you can let go of that it will save you a lot of trouble.

Let Go of Taking it Personally

The way that your kid is reacting is not your fault, it’s not about you.  They are having their own explosion.  A friend of mine used to say, “It’s your movie.  We’re all just extras.”  It’s their movie.  They’re the star of their movie and you’re just a background character, especially as your kids get older and you spend less time with them.

They’re in their rooms more, at practice more, with their friends more, and you’re not the star of their movie.  It’s not all your fault, and it’s not about you most of the time, unless you make it about you by pushing against them and giving them something to push about.

Your Athlete Doesn’t Control Your Emotions

Something else you can let go of is blaming your feelings on your athlete.  What I mean by this is you don’t want to give them control over your emotion.  Anytime you’re saying, “You’re making me crazy, you’re making me so mad, you’re making me so frustrated,” or anything like that, is you giving a 12 year old control over how you feel in your skin.

That is too much responsibility for a 12 year old to take on.  They are not responsible for how you, the adult, feels.  In a perfect world, we could all sit like peaceful Buddhas in this big, crazy storm of life and go, “Oh, is that so?  Okay, what should we do next?”  Wouldn’t that be nice?  That is the ultimate goal. But, of course, we’re not perfect.  Our athletes are not perfect, and we’re not perfect as parents.  We just do the best we can.

Don’t Affix on Their Problem

Let go of this fixation on their problem.  This is something I see a lot in the Perform Happy Community; a lot of people join because they want to get rid of fear.  Parents will say, “My kid has a mental block, my kid is afraid.  How do we get through it?  She’s still afraid and she still has this mental block.”

If you notice that that conversation goes beyond the safe place of the Perform Happy Community and it’s on your mind, is in your conversation all the time, and it’s become this huge “problem,” all you’re seeing is the problem, which then discounts the whole athlete.

What else is going on?  Is your kid getting good grades?  Is your kid a nice person?  Are they a good sister?  Are they a good brother?  Are they good at drawing?  What is going right for them?  If that’s not being discussed because all you can see is the problem, then they start to feel like all they are is the problem, and then their self-esteem goes down.

Focus on Strengths

The best thing you can do as a parent is to focus on the strength even though, yes, that problem is big and it is stressing you out, and it’s costing you money, and you’re not enjoying the process of dealing with that problem.  I don’t blame you.  But if you can resist the urge to make the problem the big focal point of the relationship, that will make a big difference.

Let Go of the Emergency Crisis

Adolescents are always in this “emergency crisis” of “I need this now” or  “I should have had this yesterday”.  If they have an emergency that they haven’t dealt with for two weeks, and now it’s due tomorrow, that’s not your emergency.  If you can let go of it and be say, “All right, kid, that’s not going to work out.  I’m sorry.  We don’t have time to talk about it.  The answer is no.” Then you don’t get sucked up into the emergency and the hurry, and you can be more patient.

They’re going to have this process of evolving as a human that may take 10 years.  If it does, and they eventually get to the other side and are a good human, you’ll have done your job, but it might be a rocky six months, year, or two years to get there.  In my case, it was 10.  I was trouble, but I got there.

You Don’t Have all of the Answers

Other things to let go of are criticism, lecturing, and thinking you have all the answers.  I get a lot of this in the community where parents think they know what their athlete needs.  Well, maybe you don’t.  What if you could just let go of that and go, “I don’t know what she needs, so I’m going to be here for her and love her to death.  I’m going to trust that everything’s going to be okay.  I’m not going to take it personally when she’s freaking out, I’m not going to focus so much on the problem, and I  am going to present solutions to her, then just allow myself to be at peace while she’s sorting out her issues.”

Now I’ve told you all of the things you can let go of.  Here’s what I would suggest that you latch on to – connecting and listening.  That’s what I did for my daughter in the car about the underwear.  She said, “I want you out of the car.”  I responded, “You want me out of the car?”  It wasn’t judgmental.  It wasn’t me telling her she’s an idiot because I’m driving and she can’t kick me out.  It was, “Okay. It sounds like you want me out of the car.”  Then she moved on.

Listen to Your Child

She felt heard.  I know it won’t always be that simple.  I got lucky.  I did also deal with 10 minutes of screaming before I figured out how to just repeat back what she was wanting.  But listen, connect, and allow them to be heard.  Even if you totally disagree, you allow them to feel heard.

This is something I talk about in my Peak Performance Parenting course, which comes with the Perform Happy membership.  It’s a really quick course where you can jam through the talks all about different listening techniques.

Take Responsibility for Your Reaction

Know that your emotions around the situation, the fear, the anxiety, and around the mediocrity, might be your own stuff.  It might be your own childhood stuff coming up, or your parents’ stuff.  Almost always our reactions are bigger than they need to be when there’s stuff that needs to be looked at, journaled about, or talked about.

Take a second and go inward and go, “Ooh, I’m reacting really strongly to this.  I wonder what this is about?  This is bigger than my daughter’s back walk around the beam.  Maybe I can talk about this with a trusted friend and see if I can get some clarity.”


Think about yourself at 12, what would you have wanted?  Would you have wanted your parent to say, “You need to figure this out or we’re quitting?”  Or would you’ve wanted your parent to say, “Talk to me. Let’s talk about what’s going on.  How can I support you?  What do you need from me?  You don’t want to quit?  Okay, we’re not going to quit, we’ll work through this together.”  Or, “I’m sick of spending all this money traveling.  If you can’t get it together, we are done.”

Put yourself in their shoes and think about the way that that affects self-esteem if somebody was saying that to you.  Of course we feel heated because it’s expensive, it’s tiring, and you don’t want to watch your baby on this emotional roller coaster, but if they don’t want to quit, it’s worth listening to why and supporting them.

If you make a selfish decision out of an emotion that you’re blaming them for, they might hate you for years because you made them quit the thing they love and that they were actually really good at except for that one thing.

Parental Positivity

Other things that you could do are to parent them with love, approval, and positivity as your guides.  If you are not coming from a place of positivity and approval, check yourself.  I know it’s hard in those situations when your kid is frustrating the heck out of you because they’re resisting and they’re pushing, or they’re avoiding, or they’re not listening.

Positivity, love, and approval

You can make that your mantra.  How can you find that?  That is what will build your child’s self-esteem and your own.

They’re Not the Problem

The thing about kids is that the way they perceive themselves directly affects the way they act and behave.  If they perceive themselves as a problem, who are costing their parents money, who can’t get it together, who are broken and damaged and upsetting everybody, and who’s in charge of their parents’ financial situation and emotions, they’re going to crumble.

They’re not going to be able to pull themselves up and go, “Okay, I’m going to push through this discomfort,” because they’re so uncomfortable just living in the situation.  They’re not going to be able to summon what they need to start taking those baby steps through the fear.  Do them a favor – be the comfy place.  Don’t be the tough love.  They’ve got enough tough love going on in their own heads, I guarantee you.

Respect Their Privacy

Pay good attention.  Be present, be available, but give them their privacy.  If they don’t want to talk, don’t make them talk. If they want space, give them space, but then be available if they want to come to you. Respect their concerns.  Don’t roll your eyes and say, “Oh, that again.  Oh, my gosh, are we still dealing with this?”  If he/she’s upset, acknowledge it.

Don’t belittle them.  Acknowledge them and say, “You’re upset about this?  Yeah, that is upsetting.” Empathize, repeat it back.  Don’t try to solve it.  Don’t act like you know everything.  Simply respond with, “I don’t know what’s going to be the best thing, but I am with you.  What do you think we should do?”

Don’t Worry About Managing Your Teenager

Your job is to manage your own emotions and to model the way you would like for them to behave – calm, peaceful, patient, loving, tolerant of people, and accepting of situations.  That’s how you want to behave.

Finally, just know that good parents who have good kids, their good kids make bad decisions sometimes because they’re in this process of pushing back and learning how to individuate themselves.

Nobody is Perfect

If your kid is being a full-on jerk, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent, or that they’re a bad kid.  It just means they’re making a bad decision, which eventually,(if you’ve allowed yourself to remain neutral and present and connected), you can help them talk through and learn, and you can help them figure out, what didn’t work and how to learn from in order to become a better person.  All right, parents, you guys have the hardest job out there dealing with these tough situations. The best possible thing you can do is just love, love, love, love them. Let them have their struggle and really check yourself and your own emotions to make sure that you’re not putting your stuff on them.

Love is the Best Medicine

If they haven’t said they want to quit, and you want to quit because your emotions are flaring, that’s something for you to about talk with us in the community and get worked out on your own.  What is this really about?  Then focus on all the good things and all of the progress.  That is what we want to put our magnifying glass on, away from the problem.  The problem is no longer the center of discussion.  It’s just an extra in her movie, okay? It’s just another extra.

All right everyone.  I was asked if I’m enjoying my new baby.  I am.  She’s so easy.  Babies are easy.  They just sleep and eat, and sleep and eat.  Babies are great.  It’s these toddlers and teenagers that really push us to our limits.

Keep working on your mindfulness, keep working on your focus, keep being positive, and we will find our flow as parents and as athletes, all together.  All right, I’ll see you soon.  Thanks for joining me.

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