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 amazing 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 work with me to overcome fear and build lasting confidence in sport and beyond.

Mean Coaches and Stressed Out Parents

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

Mean coaches and stressed out parents can contribute to the stress of their athletes.

These poor 12-year-olds 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 today’s 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.  Without the support of an understanding coach, 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 a flashback from when I was coaching gymnastics.  I’m not proud to admit this, but…

A moment I’m not proud of:

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.  Floor warmup was rough, and when she went to compete it, 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.  It was a travel meet, there was a big time difference, and she didn’t go for her 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.

It’s not okay to belittle your athletes

It’s something that does need to be brought up, and I believe her mom mentioned something to us, as she should have.

Her mom said to us, “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? Yes, I was disappointed, but she’s absolutely not a disappointment.

My point is that we’re human.  Coaches make mistakes.  It’s not okay, and I learned from it.  I hope that any coaches who are reading this stop to think, can I do a better job of empowering my athletes?  Am I helping them to realize that they are worthy of respect, even if they make mistakes?

We’ll start with the fear question…

Coaches don’t get it

Another mistake I made when I was a gymnastics coach was not understanding fear, which is ironic, because those of you who follow me know that I struggled with 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.

Have some compassion

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 coach’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 big crazy drama going on, it was kind of in the recession so money was tight in the gymnastics world and the head coach was the gym owner.

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.  There were other things going on, but it was an easy scapegoat to pin our frustrations and worries on the kids.

(Again, not my proudest moment)

If possible, have compassion for your coach and think, “Hey, what’s my coach going through?  My coach’s dad is sick… or my coach has a baby and they’re not sleeping much, or whatever.”

Put yourself in their shoes and ask, “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.”  Easier said than done, but if you can do this, you will be a happier person, regardless of your coach’s inappropriate or unkind remarks.

What’s good about 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.  I know that they care, they’re just not showing it in the best way.”

Then for bonus mental toughness points, you reflect on the past and ask, “What do I have to be grateful for?  How is this coach making a positive impact on my life?”

Changing your perspective to gratitude can change everything.

Your coach doesn’t understand

Understand that they don’t understand your fear.  They may never understand it.

I didn’t understand what my athletes needed.

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: you just get up and go or you get punished.

That’s how I was taught, so that’s how I taught my athletes–even though it didn’t work for me!

When it comes to fear, coaches can’t see what’s going on in your mind.

They can see that 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, you did it before.

“Just go for it!” 

But, 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!”

You freeze up, balk, can’t go for it. 

Your 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 body just won’t go, I don’t know why it’s not working.”

Coach says, “If you wont go for it, get out.  You have to try around here.  Don’t be lazy!”

They think you’re not trying.  But what’s really happening is: your brain and body are short-circuiting and not working together.

Why forcing doesn’t work

If you don’t use the right process to get your brain to cooperate, you actually create more stress and pressure, which compounds the problem.

Sometimes an athlete can be forced to go for a skill that feels unsafe.  This is the typical “old school motivation” method.  “Just go or get out of here!”

Even if you are able to get yourself to go for it under these circumstances, it will not solve the problem.

Yes, you did the skill, but it was so terrifying that it actually reduces your confidence for the skill.

Those of you who are going through the overcoming fear course in PerformHappy, you know 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 for the diver, this could be really tricky.

You might go to your coach 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 in a later tip.

At least attempt to let them know, like my gymnast’s mom did by saying, “My kid feels like a disappointment.”

When I heard her reaction I immediately thought, “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 realize, “Yikes. 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 for you coaches, 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, hang in there.  You’ll get through it.  But remember, communication is essential.

Speak up!

When you’re dealing with fear or a mental block, you have to speak up.  Even though your coach won’t completely understand, keep speaking up.

now for those of you who are people-pleasers and get terrified of confrontation, this could be the hardest part of the confidence-building journey.

You probably don’t want to go up and talk to your coach because it’s the scariest thing ever.

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.  It’s even hard for adults!

So for those of you who are more scared of speaking up when you need help, 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.

Consent is critical

Nobody can make you do anything.  It’s your body and nobody can make you do your technique correctly, 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 forced to try a skill you don’t feel ready for (even if you’ve done it before!) they can’t make you do it.

Louder for the ones in the back: THEY CAN’T MAKE YOU DO IT.

Even if you have competed it in the past.  Even if you’ve done it perfectly.  Even if you did it perfectly 5 minutes ago, no one can make you do it.  You are in charge of your body. Full stop.

You have to stand up for your brain

If your brain thinks you’re going to blindly listen to anyone who yells at you, it will start to get conservative.  It will stop letting you go for skills that may in fact be safe.

When you start standing up for your brain, acknowledging that something doesn’t feel safe in the moment, and asking for help, things will shift.  Your brain will start cooperating again.

Put up a filter

When dealing with a lot of negativity around you, put up a filter.   Create a filter that only lets in the good stuff, what’s possible.

If coaches are sending out messages like, “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 words that make it feel impossible, it only allows in words that are constructive.

If you have a coach who says things 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, and you’ll just hear, “Get your arms in the right position.”

Filter out anythign that implies, “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?  “Get my arms straight. Okay.”

How to Avoid Getting Stressed Out by CoachesNegativity out, confidence in

If your coach says, “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?”

Don’t think about the impossibility. Focus on what you need to do in this moment to move forward and boost your own confidence.

If they’re not going boost your confidence, do it yourself.

Set a mini-goal.  Maybe you can’t get your arms all the way straight, but you can get halfway there.  What looks like a failure to your coach becomes a little success for you.

Maybe it’s not going to be perfect, but it will be moving me forward.  That’s the way you want to think, in little increments of success.

How can you get a little better?

Your coach  might not be thrilled or happy because they want perfection, but you can be happy with your progress.  You can filter out the negativity and all the things that make it feel impossible.

Set your own goals

Let’s say your coach says, “You need to make five of that skill on the high beam with no mats by the end of practice.”  But you know your brain is not at a place where that’s gonna be possible for you 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 trying to force it is not setting you up for success.

You might think, “Alright, coach wants me to do that, but 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 a stretch for you, you get to feel great.  Even if your coach is rolling their eyes and huffing and puffing, you can think to yourself, “I did it.  I feel good about what I accomplished today.”

Of course you want to do what your coach asks, 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

Back to our diver, If your coach won’t let you try a certain progression that you need, or you can’t attempt the 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.

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… but do something different if you need a confidence boost and you’re not getting it from your current situation.

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 be upset.

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

If you have a question you want answered, email me at and I will do my best to get to them.  Of course PerformHappy members get priority for asking questions 24/7 here and in the member forums.  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!

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