How to Avoid Getting Stressed Out by Coaches | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: How to Avoid Getting Stressed Out by Coaches


About Me

Hi everyone.   Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca.  I’m Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching.  I am here for my weekly song and dance about everything mental toughness for youth athletes.  Just to give you a little background on me – I provide one-on-one coaching over Skype and FaceTime along with my fabulous team of educated and exciting coaches.

We also run a full service mental toughness training facility online that you can access from anywhere in the world on your schedule.  That is at, where you can basically go through everything I’ve ever taught in order, guided by me personally, and get yourself to that next level in sport.

Mean Coaches and Stressed Out Parents

I’m going to be answering a couple of questions from members of the Perform Happy community, and today’s topic is all about coaches.  I was just talking with someone the other day about what I do and joking about how mean coaches keep me in business.

Mean coaches and stressed out parents keep me in business, because they put so much stress on their athletes that we’re here detangling the wreckage of these poor 12 year olds.  They are so determined, so kind, so loving, and care so much what people think that a mean comment from a coach can completely destroy their confidence.

Here are the questions, and then I’ll give you my eight tips for playing well with coaches and not getting stressed out by them.  The first question comes from a gymnastics mom, and she asks,

Q: How can athletes best deal with pressure from coaches when they’re working through getting a skill back when there’s fear involved?

A lot of what I do is help athletes through fear, whether it’s figure skaters or gymnasts, pole vaulters or equestrians, any “scary” sport, my specialty is helping kids get over that fear and that absolutely 100% takes work from a coach or it’s a harder process.  I will address that.

Here’s our other question from a diver mom.  She asks,

Q: My diver daughter is working on keeping her arms straight when diving instead of bending them at a certain point in the dive. Bad habits are hard to break.  Her coach says things to her like, ‘Why do you bother to come to practice if you aren’t gonna listen to my corrections?’  What do you do about coaches who belittle or humiliate their athletes?

That immediately sent me into flashback mode when I was coaching gymnastics.  This is not a proud moment to admit this story.  When I was coaching gymnastics, there was a girl who was dealing with fear on her tumbling.  We had worked so hard.  I say we because it is a team effort.  You and your coach are working.  You’re trying everything you can to try to get the skill back in time.

She got it back, we got on the plane to the competition, and she freaked out in the middle of her routine, and didn’t do her tumbling pass.  Keeping it in perspective, of course, it was one meet.  We pushed and pushed and pushed.  She got a few of them done, got to the meet, freaked out, travel meet, upside down on time, and she didn’t go for her skill.

Psyching Out of a Skill

This is normal.  It’s not awesome, but it’s normal.  And, my reaction?  My reaction and the reaction of the coach I was working with, was, “We are so disappointed in you.  I can’t believe we put all this work and we traveled, and then here you are not doing your tumbling pass.”

It breaks my heart to think that that was my reaction.  What did she need?  She needed a hug.  She was upset too.  It was her tumbling, and then here we go.  Basically what she heard us say was, “You are a disappointment.”  We didn’t use those words, but that’s what she felt.

That’s a mistake that I made.  I was able to look back and go, okay.  That was not the way to handle that situation, whatsoever.  We almost lost that kid over that situation, which I think is fair.  You’re feeling belittled by your coach, you shouldn’t stand for it.  It shouldn’t be okay.

Being Belittled by Your Coach

It’s something that does need to be brought up, and I believe her mom mentioned something to us, as she should have. It was a long time ago.  My kid feels like a disappointment. What are we gonna do here?  Which then allowed me to have a little reflection and realize that was not the way to deal with that. How can I help bring this kid’s spirits up, because she’s not a disappointment, but I was disappointed.

We’ll start with the fear question.

Understanding Fear

Another mistake I made when I was a gymnastic coach was not understanding fear, which is ironic, because those of you who followed me know that I struggled from fear as an athlete.  I big time struggled. I struggled with anxiety, and yet I became a coach and would say, “What’s your problem?  Go for the skill.  Come on, we’ve got a meet in three weeks, we don’t have time for this.  We have an agenda, we have a schedule, we have to get this thing going.”

Your brain doesn’t care about that.  An athlete’s brain that feels like it’s in danger does not care about competition season or about the ticking time clock.  It cares about keeping the body safe.

We’re All Human

The first tip for dealing with coaches that are stressing you out is to know that they’re human.  I struggled with it, should have been compassionate and I still wasn’t.  I was human.  My ego was on the line, I thought, “You’re making me look bad.  All my time and energy is wasted.”  That’s about me, and that’s selfish.  Coaching selfishly is not the way to go.  For any coaches out there, I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we think we look bad because of our kid, but you know what?  No, it’s not about you.  And coaching is such a selfless profession.

Being a Selfish Coach

You spend your long days, long hours, traveling to give back to these kids in these sports that you love. Try to keep the selfishness out of it.  For those of you who are athletes and parents, know that we’re all human, everybody makes mistakes, and we all kind of get wrapped up in that selfish need to look good or feel good or feel accomplished.

If we don’t feel that way, it’s normal to feel a little down, but it’s not okay to take it out on our kids.  That being said, have a little compassion for your coaches knowing that they’re not perfect either.

Put Yourself in Your Athlete’s Shoes

Second tip for dealing with coaches and not getting too stressed out is to be grateful and compassionate. When I say compassionate, I mean put yourself in their shoes.  Are they stressed out?  During that time when we were traveling to that meet, we had just lost a bunch of kids to another gym.  There was a big crazy drama going on, it was kind of in the recession so money was tight in the gymnastics world.

There was a lot of stress on us coaches that we hadn’t necessarily addressed and it came out in these moments where kids were messing up, and we were like, “Ah! Everything’s not cool!”  There were other things going on.  Have compassion for your coach and go, “Hey, what’s my coach going through?  My coach’s dad is sick or my coach is having a baby and they’re not here right now, not sleeping, or whatever.”  I’m speaking for myself here.

Put yourself in their shoes and go, “Are they having a hard time?  Maybe that’s why they’re being extra rough on me and maybe I can cut them a little bit of slack.”  Again, be grateful.

Stay Confident in Your Coach

It’s really hard to be grateful for a coach who you feel like is being a jerk.  I get it.  But it’s easy to feel judgmental or critical about somebody if that’s what you’re looking for.  If you’re thinking, “My coach is so mean, my coach is humiliating me, my coach is putting me down.”  If you’re looking for that, you’re gonna see it.

Even in the best coaches, you’re going to see them slip up or make mistakes or say mean things.  What you have to do is look for the good, and go, okay, so my coach is a jerk about this certain thing, maybe they’re having a hard time.  We’re going to just let it slide, and even though that’s not cool, can I let it go and think, well they’re great at this and they helped me with this situation and I know that they care, they’re just not showing it right.  I can tell that they care because this happened.  You look back through the past and go, “What do I have to be grateful for for this person?”

Changing your perspective to that can help not take it all so seriously.

Your Coach Doesn’t Understand

Understand that they don’t understand.  I didn’t understand what my athletes needed even though I should have.  Should, I mean there is no should, right?  I should have understood what they needed to get through fear, but I didn’t because I was used to that old school coaching mentality that you just get up and go or you get punished.  That’s how I was taught, so that’s how I taught as a result even though it didn’t work for me.

When it comes to fear, coaches often can’t see what’s going on in your mind.  They can see you did it on the line, you did it on the low beam, you did it on the beam with the mats.  All they can see is you can do it, you’re doing it perfectly, you are safe, you are fine, just go for it.  That’s what they see.  What’s happening in your head is the second that you get rid of that extra little mat, your brain goes, “Not safe, not safe, not safe, nope, not gonna do it, can’t do it.”

Freeze up, balk, can’t go for it.  You’re coach says, “Why are you being lazy?  Why aren’t you trying?  Why don’t you just go for it?”  You respond, “I don’t know, my brain is preventing me from going, my body just won’t go, I don’t know why it’s not working.”  They’re say, “If you don’t go for it, get out.  You have to try around here.  Don’t be lazy.”  They see that you’re not trying, when what’s really happening is your brain and body are malfunctioning and short-circuiting and not working together.

Your Athlete may have Hidden Problems

If you don’t use the right process to get your brain onboard, you actually create more stress and pressure of just go or get out of here, even if you are able to get yourself to go for it, it might not solve the problem because it was so terrifying.  It might not actually build your confidence.  Those of you who are going through the overcoming fear course in the Perform Happy community, you know all of what I’m talking about here.  The thing is, your coaches don’t get it.  They cannot read your mind.  They can’t understand.


If you don’t tell your coach, they’re not going to know.  So with the diver, this could be really tricky.  You go to them and say, “You know, when you say stuff like that to me, it really affects the way I feel and it makes it hard for me to focus.  Would you be willing to try not to say those sorts of things?”  The coach may respond with, “What are you talking about?  Get over it.”  We’re gonna talk about that one in a later tip.

If you can at least let them know, like this gymnast mom saying, “My kid feels like a disappointment,” and me saying, “Oh my gosh, that’s not what I wanted to do there, let me make this right.”  Your coach may have a moment like that where they can go, “Oh, yeah. That’s not the way I wanted to come across.  I’m just frustrated.  How can we work this out?  What are some cues that we can use to make sure that she knows this is important and that I make sure she’s focusing on the right technique?”

Now coach, be patient because it does take time to break bad habits.  That’s muscle memory, for better or for worse.  Practice makes permanent.  Athletes, if you’re being patient with yourself and your coach isn’t being patient with you, then that’s okay.  You’ll get through it.  Communication is very important.

Speak Up for Yourself

With fear, if you say to your coach, “I don’t feel confident enough to try it without that mat right now. Maybe in a couple of days I can.”  Or, “I feel like after a couple more tries I might be able to go for it.”  If you’re able to speak up then they will better understand, although maybe they won’t completely understand, so you might have to keep speaking up.

For those of you ten year olds who are such people pleasers and get so terrified of confrontation and you don’t want to go up and talk to your coach because it’s the scariest thing ever, this will be your journey.  It’s having to go, “Hey Coach?  I feel like I’m making progress and I know I’m getting better, but I don’t think I’m quite ready for that.  Is there something else I could try?”

That could be the scariest thing you do all month, just having that conversation with a coach that you know, love, and trust.  It’s hard for kids.  So for those of you who are younger and more scared of talking to adults, make a commitment.  This week, I’m going to speak up one time.  At least once, I’m gonna speak up when I don’t feel like things are right and I need to say something, then see what happens.

There is Always Consent

Consent is where nobody can make you do anything.  It’s your body and nobody can make you do your technique correct, nobody can make you do that skill that you’re scared of, it’s up to you.  If your brain is telling you, “This doesn’t feel safe,” or, “I’m not ready,” or, “I need more practice,” and your coach is threatening you, that’s something that you tell an adult later on.

If you don’t feel safe and you’re being threatened and it feels unsafe and you’re being forced to try a skill you don’t feel ready for, they can’t make you do it.  Even if you have competed it in the past, or you’ve done it before, or it is actually gonna be safe when you do it, from their perspective, no one can make you do it.

Feeling Safe

Make sure that you know you are in charge of your body.  If you don’t feel safe, nobody can make you do something.  As soon as your brain starts to feel like you’re going stand up for it, say, “You know, this doesn’t feel safe, so I’m not gonna do it.  I’d like to try something slightly different,” or, “I need a little help with this still.”  Then your brain will go, “Thank you for standing up for me,” and your brain will start to do a little more for you in exchange.

Put up a Filter

I get this from another sports psychologist whom I’ve always looked up to, him and his techniques.  He says to put up a filter that only lets in the possibility.  If they are sending out messages that make it feel impossible, saying, “Why even come to practice?  You’re lazy.  You don’t even try.  You don’t even care.” Or, “What’s the point?  You’ll never get to college.  You’ll be flipping burgers.”  You’ll be amazed at the things I’ve heard that coaches have said to kids.  Absolutely heartbreaking.  You put up your filter.

Your filter does not allow the impossible, it only allows things that are constructive.  If you have a coach who has a manner of speaking that’s negative, like, “If you don’t get your arms in the right position, why even bother?”  You get rid of the “why even bother”, filter that out, listen, and you’ll hear, “Arms, okay, I have to get my arms straight, I have to keep my arms straight.  If I don’t get it together, I’m going to be kicked off the team.”  Listen for the correction. What is the thing that’s gonna be constructive?  “I gotta get my arms straight. Okay.”

How to Avoid Getting Stressed Out by CoachesBe Your Own Confidence

For fear, if they’re telling you, “If you can’t get this skill, you’re not moving up, you’re never gonna get to the next level.”  Then you just think, “What do I need to do to get this skill?”  You don’t think about the impossibility, you think about the constructive.  What do I need to do in this moment to move forward and boost my own confidence?

If they’re not going boost your confidence, boost your own by being successful and say, “Okay, I don’t think I can get my arms all the way straight, but if I can get them halfway there,” or, “If I can make sure to pay attention during this piece, maybe it’s not going to be perfect, but it will be moving me forward.”  That’s the kind of way you want to think, just in little increments.

How can I get a little better?  And no, they’re not going be thrilled or happy because they want perfection, but you can feel happy and you can filter out the negativity and all the things that make it feel impossible.

Set Your Own Goals

That’s basically what I was just saying.  If your coach says, “You need to do five of them on the high beam with no mats by the end of practice,” and you go, “Okay, my brain is not at a place where that’s gonna be possible for me today.”  I’m not saying be negative.  I’m thinking, let’s be realistic.  If you made five on low beam yesterday and high beam felt like jumping off a cliff, then getting up and doing it is probably not setting you up for success.

If you think, “Alright, coach wants me to do that, that doesn’t feel like the right goal for me today, if I can get up to the medium beam and make three, I will feel happy with myself.”  Coach might not be happy with you, but if you know that you made progress, and it was hard and you had to work for it and that was a stretch for you, even if coach is like rolling their eyes and huffing and puffing, you can go, “Yes, I did it.”  That’s what I’m talking about.

Of course you want to get the goal that coach wants for you, but if that’s not within reach today, what is? Stretch yourself a little bit and give yourself something to feel proud of, even if your coach is going to  huff and puff about it.

Get Creative

If your coach won’t let you try a certain progression that you need that’s along the way, or you can’t attempt this technique without getting ridiculed, go to a different pool. Go train with some people who are not as good, or the standards are lower so you can feel good about yourself.

Figure Out a Different Way

Get a lesson with a different coach.  Try out another facility.  Not that you necessarily need to jump ship because your coach was mean and hurt your feelings one day, like we all have bad days, but do something different if you need a confidence boost and you’re not getting it from your current coach.

Control the Controllables

This is something I bring up almost every single week, because if you focus on things that are not within your control, you’re going to get upset all the time.  Think about what is within your control.  You can’t control your coach.  You can’t control their reaction, their thoughts, their expectations, what other people think, but you can control what you focus on, what you let in.

For those of you coaches, try to be a little bit more kind.  For those of you athletes, let’s be more compassionate for the humans that are spending their lives coaching us.

Alright everyone, thanks.  I will see you again next week.  Send me questions, and I will do my best to get to them.  Of course Perform Happy members get priority for asking questions, so come on there.  You can also ask me questions 24/7 in the forms that I will directly answer myself.  That’s a great way to get my coaching without having to do the one-on-one thing.  Alright, see you next week.  Thanks for joining me.

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