Building Mental Toughness for the New Season | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: Building Mental Toughness for the New Season

About Me

Hi everyone.  Welcome to Q and A with Coach Rebecca.  I’m Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching.  I’m here to give you your weekly dose of tips for better mental toughness, more enjoyment under pressure, and an overall better sport experience primarily for athletes aged 8 to 18.

I received a question last week from a gymnastics coach.  His compulsory gymnasts are getting ready to get back into their competition season.  Some of you I know it’s the beginning of the school year so there are a lot of people getting back into things, starting the fall sports season.

I’m going to give you some tips on how to manage your mindset as you get back to competition season.

Complete Performance Coaching

For those of you who are new with us, Complete Performance Coaching is a team of amazing coaches who specialize in all different sports and all different ages.  If you are not a gymnast aged 8 to 18, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.  We provide one-on-one coaching through Skype or FaceTime across the U.S. and beyond.

We also have a one-stop shop for mental toughness training the “do it yourself” way at  Of course I’m in there actually guiding you through.  There are a couple of options if you are looking to up your mental game a little bit for this coming season, and here are my tips.

Preparing for a New Season

First of all, I want you to think about the last time that you were getting ready for a new season.  You know, I was a gymnast.  Back in July when we started working routines for the compulsory season (which starts around December) I started to get nervous.  We’re talking months in advance.  My nerves would ramp up and get a little bit more intense as I got closer and closer.

The coaches get a little more intense, too, because they’re saying, “We only have two months.  They don’t even have their skills.  They’ve got to be hitting these routines.”  They start to up the pace of things which ups the pace of thinking for a lot of people.  When you get into that maybe that week or so before or even the day before it’s like you’re going up a rollercoaster.

Think to yourself – are you the kind of person who loves roller coasters?  I am.  I love roller coasters.  Or are you the kind of person who hates them?  I love whenever I ask this to a roomful of people; there’s always around three people who say, “I actually don’t like roller coasters at all.”  If you’re one of those people, no problem, you’re going to help us with this example here.

The Rollercoaster Effect

When you’re going up the rollercoaster, think about what happens in your body.  Your heart starts to pound, your stomach starts to butterfly, your thoughts start to go, “What was I thinking?” or “Oh my gosh, this is awesome.”  Your thoughts speed up.  You focus in on something, whether it’s the thing you’re holding on to or the feeling in your stomach.  You start to breathe heavy, you might get a little stiff, and you might just hold on and brace yourself.  It might feel like you need to throw up or like you’re going to need to use the restroom when you get finished.

Those are all the experiences that you have whether you love roller coasters or whether you hate them. The difference though is what?  You’re having that heart pound, you’re all getting sweaty.  You’re stomach does flips.  But the people who hate roller coasters are saying, “Oh no this is a very bad feeling. This means I’m in trouble.  This was a bad choice.  Oh my gosh.  Get me out of here.”  The people who love roller coasters are saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming, we’re almost there, this is gonna be awesome.”  Then they go.

Hating Competition

For the person who hates it, it’s a terrifying experience.  They are tense the entire time.  Maybe they actually even do lose their lunch.  For those of you who enjoy them, it’s this awesome feeling.  They’re glad to be there and they want to do it again.

So the difference is the way you look at it, the way you interpret it.  If you hate competition, if you’re always getting nervous, thinking it’s going to be bad, and your heart is pounding, then you’re going to be tense.

You’re going to be shaky, you’re going to be jittery, and you’ll do strange things under pressure.  For instance, the routine you hit twelve times in a row on Friday will all of a sudden completely elude you. You won’t even remember your routine or you’ll forget something, or you may do something backwards.  It’s crazy how that pressure and that tension makes your brain shut down.

Loving Competition

Then there are people who love competing, who are crazy competitive and want to get there.  They are eager to do their best at meets.  They can’t wait to get there!  They’re going to be the ones who get super power adrenaline and are really fired up and excited.  Their focus narrows in on exactly what they’re supposed to be doing and their training comes into place and everybody’s so ecstatic about their performance.

What’s the difference?  If you have two athletes and they both train twelve hours a week.  One athlete doesn’t like competing and gets nervous and chokes under pressure, at least that’s their story in their head.  The athlete on the other side is good under pressure.  The same amount of effort and the same amount of “talent” has been put into these two individuals, but the athlete with the confident mindset is going to be the winner.

Achieving a Confident Mindset

I mean is it as simple as just going “I’m excited, yay”, even though you feel like you’re going to throw up?  Well there was a study done (I’ve told it enough times that hopefully I’m still getting the details right) where they took three groups of people and had them do three stressful tasks.  One of them was singing karaoke in front of a judge, one was taking a math test, and the the third group had to play a video game.

So these groups are doing these stressful tasks, and one group is primed with this idea asking them to focus over and over on how nervous they were.  They were supposed to think, Oh gosh.  I’m so nervous to sing karaoke, I don’t want to take a math test,  or I’m not good at video games.

Then the second group was primed with something neutral – think about chili cheese fries.  The third group was told to think about how excited they were for each of these tasks.  Then they sent all three groups out to do these tasks: to sing in front of a judge, to do their math test (that was timed), and play the video game.

Next, they judged them and they compared all of their scores.  The group that was neutral had their success rate, and the group that was nervous was significantly below. As far as their performance, they performed poorly because they were supposed to prime themselves to choke.  The group that was excited significantly increased their results.  They not only performed well, but way better than the other two groups.

The Power of Positive Thinking

It proves that just thinking the words “I’m excited” and not letting the nerves creep in has a huge difference in your performance.  So there you go.  First thing to do is literally just lie to yourself if you have to and think, I’m excited.  Because what will happen is you’ll start to say, “Well this is kind of exciting.  I am excited to see my friend.  I’m excited because I’ve been working on this.”  It will become true the more that you think it.  So that’s the first thing you can do, super simple.  Just tell yourself you’re excited and then you will perform better.  How cool is that?

Building Mental Toughness for the New SeasonFeeling Pressured

Now, the next thing that I want you guys to think about is what happens when you’re feeling pressure.  Think of a time when you were feeling a lot of pressure.  Maybe it was something that mattered.  Maybe it was the big game, the big competition, the big test, the big speech; whatever it was where you knew it really mattered.

Take a second and close your eyes.  What was going on?  Think back through that memory.  What was the pressure?  Did you have anything to lose?  What were you risking if you didn’t do well?  Start to notice what you feel in your body when you are overcome by that pressure and remember how well you performed.

How did you perform?

A lot of the time there’s rushing, tension, or choking.  Sometimes people do great.  You might be one of those people who completely thrives when there’s a ton of pressure; there’s nothing wrong with you either way.  We’re kind of getting a gauge.  Now, I want you to take that same memory and switch it to a challenge.

Instead of thinking that there’s so much pressure, go back and look at it through the lens of it being a challenge you really want to rise to.  Instead of  thinking you have to do this well and you have to do that well, you’ll think, It will be cool if I did well here.  That would actually be awesome.  What a great challenge.

Think back through that same memory and put that picture back in play, but with that mindset of it being a really great challenge.  Do it in your mind again.  As you repeat the scenario, notice if you perform any differently in that image in your mind.

Take Notice

Sometimes when people do this they can actually rewrite the past just by giving it a new perspective.  Take another minute and embrace that concept of challenge in this situation.  Notice how you feel in your body, notice your thinking, and notice how you performed.  I’ve done this with a lot of athletes all the way up to the elite level.

Of course we spend a little more time.  You’re welcome to take your time and go back into that pressure and then go back into the challenge and notice what’s different.  It’s a completely different vibe for most people when they go to the challenge place because it’s not that we want to get rid of that extra motivating factor that comes with competition, we just want it to be a positive motivator.  What we don’t want is the mentality of if you screw this up it’s going to be really bad.  So don’t mess it up.  That just gets your mind going nuts and your body gets really tense, and then it just leads you to make mistakes you wouldn’t normally make in that situation.

Everybody’s Different

You might be the person who freaks out under pressure, you might be the person who thrives under pressure, or you might not know which one you’re going to be from day to day.  You want to get more consistent.  Here are some things you can do to get yourself in the mode.  Remember, everybody’s different.  I was just working with a group of gymnasts the other day and and one girl said, “I can’t watch the girl right in front of me who’s going on beam.  I have to kind of tune into myself because if the girl in front of me falls, I’ll get psyched out and feel like I’m going to need to fall.”  She has her thing down.  She turns her back, she breathes, and she visualizes.

Some people can’t spend the time focusing in because they’ll get too stressed.  They actually need to have some kind of positive distractions like a stress ball, a friend who can chat with them about kind of nonsensical things, or they can watch a different event or read a book.  A lot of people have different thing; they can sing a song in their head or do something that makes them happy.  Some people need to be really focused.

My Mental Toughness Log

What I want to leave you guys with today is something that’s called My Mental Toughness Log.  I use different versions of this for different trainings because in order to increase awareness you have to be keeping track of what’s going on in your head.

Our free download is a Mental Toughness Log template.  I just tweaked it so anybody who’s had a version before, any members of the community, go ahead and grab this one anyway because I’ve condensed it and made it very efficient for daily use.  Ideally people will use it after every practice and after every competition.

What you’ll notice is that you start to see what those patterns are in your head.  Are you the excitement person or are you a nervous person?  Once you can see your patterns, you can say, “Oh looks like when I think about this I crash and burn, and if I think about this I do really well.  Interesting.”  Then you also know if you’re too focused you get stressed or if you’re not focused enough you don’t.  That’s the way you’re going to figure out for yourself exactly what you need to do before competition.  There is no one size fits all in mental training – you have to figure out what works for you.

Mental Toughness Download

You can download that Mental Toughness Log here.  Go ahead and grab that and then reach out to me if you have any questions at  If you want any more training on this I have a couple courses in the Perform Happy community that directly relate to this.  One is called Anxiety to Confidence and it starts out with how to handle those crisis feelings of nerves, exactly what to do in the moment, and then we start building confidence to make it so the anxiety doesn’t even hit to begin with.

We also have another cause that’s called Mental Toughness Boot Camp that’s a quick five week course that just dials you in; it gets grittier, more focused, and out feeling more confident.  You can always check out the Perform Happy community to see if it’s a fit for you for 30 days risk free.  There is always a money back guarantee on the first 30 days and that’s at  If you’re looking for one-on-one support, you can find us at here and check out the coaches.

Thank you so much for joining me this week and I’ll see you again soon.

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