Knowing When to Take a Leap | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: Knowing When to Take a Leap


About Me

Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca.  I’m Rebecca Smith, founder of Complete Performance Coaching.  We are  a group of highly experienced sports psychology experts who specialize in helping young athletes age 8 to 18 realize their sport goals through building confidence, overcoming fear, and finding flow.

We do this through online Skype or FaceTime one-on-one sessions or through our Perform Happy Community, which is a complete self-service online mental training facility.  Check out either of those if you’re looking for more help in the mental training department.

This is the time when I take Perform Happy Community member questions and do my best to answer them.

Building Courage

Today’s question is really exciting.  It’s the kind of question I think a lot of people can relate to no matter what sport they’re in.  It’s all about courage and how to help a young athlete, in this case it’s a nine-year-old.

Build courage to be brave.  I have a three-year-old that gets scared around new adults, which is great, you know?  I don’t want her to be too comfortable around new adults, but at the same time, I do want her to try new things and learn that she can cope and she will be okay.  If it’s not the same swim teacher as it was yesterday, she can still swim.  Those are the sorts of things I want her to learn.

I’m going to give you a crash course in courage.  For you parents and coaches out there who have athletes who you want to help to build courage, this is for you. For the young athletes who are listening, try to take on some of these suggestions yourself and see if you can do a brave thing this week that you wouldn’t have otherwise done.

Here’s our question.  It comes from a gymnastics mom.  She says,

A:  My daughter is a UK competitive gymnast who is currently on the regional grades pathway with aspirations of doing Nationals one day.  Her problem is she’s an emotional girl who beats herself up when things go wrong.  Let’s face it, that happens a lot when learning new skills.  She works on her strength and flexibility at home, but I honestly think it’s her mental strength that has her down or let’s her down.  How can I help her?  She’s nine-years-old and has had to deal with knock backs within her gymnastics career, health issues of her own, seeing Mom deal with a chronic illness, all of which has made her a very compassionate young lady who I’m proud of.

But it’s also left its mark.  I want to be able to help her grow into the gymnast that she longs to be, but I’m not sure how.  I feel like I’m letting her down because she feeds off my energy vibes and they aren’t always great.  Any advice how I can help a nine-year-old navigate the emotional and courage highway would be gratefully appreciated.



Well Mom, you are not alone.  Even just reading this I was thinking about how I want my girls to navigate that courage highway and to be resilient and able to deal with big emotions.  I want them to be able to feel those emotions and feel the fear and the anxiety and then proceed anyway.  That’s why this question is so particularly close to my heart.

The first thing I want to talk about is what courage is.

What is Courage?

Courage is different than confidence.  We talk a lot about confidence, but courage is not the absence of fear.  When you think of Simone Biles walking into competition with her shoulders back and her chin up and just a sweet, kind, confident smile, she does not look afraid.  That’s the thing about courage, too.  Courage does not look afraid.  So you look at somebody who’s brave, who’s confident and you think, “Gosh, that person is not afraid.”

But you know what?  They might be, and that’s the true mark of courage.  It’s not that there isn’t any fear, it’s that you’re not letting it stop you.  The fear is there and you proceed anyway.  That’s the difference.

Having Confidence

We obviously want the confidence which is built through past experiences of success and feeling like you can do it and being told you’re ready.  Those sorts of things build confidence, which is a pillar of success, but courage is that thing that happens when you don’t know if your foundation is in place.

You don’t know if it’s a good choice, but something in you says “do it” and you just have to leap.  That’s courage.  There have been moments in my life where I’ve had this feeling that I call “go-time,” and you might be able to relate.


For you parents, coaches or athletes, think about a time when you weren’t sure when something was the right thing to do.  You had a decision to make, you had to do something or not do it.  The best way I can articulate this is that it didn’t make sense, but it felt right.

You knew you had to do it but you didn’t know why.  For me, that was this time when I was up in Oregon.  I was selling real estate.  It was the only time in my life that I wasn’t coaching gymnastics, and while I was comfortable doing this job, I’d walk around the office saying, “You know, the only job I ever loved was coaching gymnastics.”  I’d say that and I had been to school for psychology, but I somehow ended up selling real estate in Oregon.

Getting Too Comfortable

Life put me there and I had this moment where I thought, “I need to move to San Francisco,” or at least Portland or somewhere.  I had this feeling like I needed to get out of the stagnant place I was in.  I was too comfortable there.  It was not where I had hoped to head.  I needed to move.  Then, I came to San Francisco and we ended up looking North of San Francisco.

It felt right.  It made no sense but it felt right, and within a month I had moved.  I had left that job, and there I was renting a tiny apartment in a place that cost twice as much.  I was waiting tables, and then I had found this job coaching gymnastics again. My heart started to bloom back into my passion.  All I’ve ever done is coach and do real estate.  I took this leap that didn’t make sense, my marriage fell apart, I lost a house to foreclosure and got a car repossessed.

Was it a Mistake?

It’s looking like this was not a good idea, right?  But meanwhile, I ended up back in school for my Masters in Sports Psychology.  I ended up getting out of a marriage that wasn’t a good fit.  I ended up finding this life that I completely blossomed into.  As a result, I met this amazing man who is now the father of my kids.  All of this because of this one decision that didn’t make sense, but I knew I had to do.  I knew it because of the way it felt in my body and it wasn’t like I had rationalized, “Well, let me do the math on this.”

No, I needed to do it.  It felt scary.  It felt weird, but I did it, and then everything unfolded after that.  That’s what I hope my girls will be able to do, is to say, “You know, it feels like the right thing to do.  I’m going to leap.”

In that leap I had to risk failure and actually have some bumps along the way.  I had to fail, I had to crash, I had to burn, I had to look bad, I had to feel bad.  I had to go from driving this really nice car to this junky Buick because I had no money.

Taking a Leap

That’s the thing about courage – you might take a leap of faith and you may not know it’s the right leap until later.  You might look back and go, “Oh, thank goodness I did that.”  It’s not like you do it and you’re thinking, “Yes, I’m amazing.”  You might.  That would be awesome but it’s not always guaranteed.

How do you Build Courage?

I’ll give you a few ideas of how to help build courage in your kids.  The first thing is to talk to them like they’re already brave.  Talking to them like they’re already brave will sound like, “I know how brave you are.”  If your kid’s standing there, for example I’m thinking about my little one getting ready to do swim lessons and she’s saying, “That’s not my teacher.” I respond with, “I know how brave you are.  You are going to be so great with this new teacher.”

Actually ‘See’ Your Athlete

Let them know that you see it in them.  Another thing you could say is, “You might not feel brave, but I know what it means to you to make this sort of decision even though the other way might feel easier.”  You could also say, “I know it might be easier to not get in the water today, but I know how brave you are and you can make a tough decision like that even though it’s not the easy one.”  I start reflecting it, showing her I see how brave she is.

Let them know you see those tough decisions they make and let them know they’re one of the bravest people you know because that was not easy for them.  Acknowledging that sort of thing is really useful.

This was something I give my perfectionist as homework.  This next one is legalize failure.  I work with a lot of figure skaters and figure skaters are almost worse than gymnasts as far as needing to be perfect all the time.


I tell them, “Okay, you are allowed to fall 400,000 times in your program.  Gymnasts, you’re allowed to fall of that beam 27 times in one routine.  That’s totally allowed,” and they look at me like I’m insane.  They’re say, “Okay, how is that going to help me be successful exactly?”  But what happens is when we say they’re allowed to fail, the only thing they have to do is learn from it if they actually do.

Failure is Good

If you don’t fail, great, but if you do fail you have to learn from it.  There’s this thing that happens when you fail or you’re rejected, it requires bravery.  You can look back on it and go, “You know what?  I tried.  Now what?”  That’s when you get the experience, the knowledge, and the wisdom that comes from those failures that then sets you up for success that you wouldn’t have had without that experience.

How many times can you look back on your past and think, “That time was pretty awful, but if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am.  I wouldn’t have learned what I learned.”

The next tip in helping your kids become more brave or courageous is just knowing that you might not feel ready.  I do a lot of work with kids around fear on specific skills.  You might not feel ready.  I didn’t feel ready to move to San Francisco, but I knew it was time.

Not Feeling Ready

I work with cheerleaders working on their back handspring.  They’re working on it and they’re starting to get comfortable.  They’re starting to get comfortable and then it’s not like they just say, “Yea, it’s time!”  You’re going to say, “It’s time.  I know I need to do it.  Go.”  That’s when you need a loving supportive coach to push you.  A lot of the time I’ll tell the coaches to back off.  I’ll say, “Don’t push.  Take the pressure down,” but there’s a point where you get comfortable enough, and then you need that little push.

The Soft Place to Land

Parents, don’t mistake this for you needing to push them.  Your job is stay that warm and fuzzy place, that soft place to land after their coach pushes them out of their comfort zone and they are stressed, they’re afraid, and then they do it and they feel amazing and you just give them a hug.  Don’t be the person who pushes.  That’s not your role.  A lot of parents make that mistake, which then makes them part of the threat, when really the kid just needs someone to love them and be there for them.

Be the Example

This means you sharing your stories of when you leaped and you were afraid.  Maybe a story of when you failed, what you learned, times when you felt small but you did something big, when you spoke up, when you got out of your comfort zone.  Mom, if you’re struggling with illness and she has an injury, you have experience and you can say, “You know, this was tough and I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know how to explain it, and then I did.”  Or, “It didn’t make sense that I would make this change in my life, but I knew I had to so I did.”

When you share experiences that are scary to you, they see you and think, “You know, if my mom is brave, then that bravery in her must be in me too,” because that’s the way kids see it.  They see their parents and go, “I’m half of you and half of you, so what I see in you I must have.”  When you show that and you stand up and say, “I tried and I failed, but that was a brave move,” they’ll start to realize its a good thing to try and fail.

Give Them Space

Another thing is to give them space to think courageously and to disagree.  You might even share an opinion that you have and then give the space to completely disagree with you.  This is something I love to do with kids too.  I ask, “Do you want my opinion?  Here’s my opinion.  Now I could be way off base and it could be completely wrong, you know, but what do you think about that?”  Often kids will respond, “No, that’s not the way I see it,” but what it does is it opens up the ability for them to be honest with themselves and not try to please me.

What good is that going to do if you’re trying to break through your demons?  Don’t please me.  Be you, be open and be courageous and disagree, darn it!  Don’t go with the flow.  If people are zigging and you want to zag, let’s talk about it.  Maybe it’s not the way to go, but let’s at least talk about it.  Help them use their intuition.  Intuition is a big thing that I use personally and you can call it whatever you want; it’s that gut feeling.


For me it’s like when  you’re driving down the road and you realize you should probably get gas.  You look at your gas gauge and think you can make it, so you keep going.  Two days later you’re out of gas and you’re late.  It’s those things that you start to notice, like that little voice was probably going to be helpful, you go against it, and then the consequences come.

The voice may be telling you when something isn’t a very good idea, but you do it anyway.  Next thing you know, you’re suffering the consequences of having made that choice.  It’s starting to listen to the big voice that’s like, “Stay safe, stay comfortable.” “I don’t feel like it.  I might not look good if I do that.  What if people don’t like me?” That’s the big voice.  That is not the intuition.

Intuition is the little, tiny, quiet voice that says, “Hey, why don’t you try that?”  And then you’ll think, “What?  Why would I do that?  That doesn’t make any sense.”  That’s the thing you do instead of the, “Don’t do it.  It’s too scary.”  You know, “Abort mission.  Don’t do this skill.  This will hurt.”  Any of those.  But if the little voice is saying, “You know what?  It’s time.  Your coach has you.”  That’s when you want to go with it.

Trust Yourself

You’ve heard the big voice.  The big voice is like, “Cha, cha, cha,” all day long.  The little voice, though, is usually the one that gives you the good stuff.  It’s not the one that gives you the comfortable stuff.  It’s not the one that keeps life easy.  But that little voice will get you what you really want if you trust it and if you take leaps and you just go.  When you have that feeling you just go.  You don’t question it, you just pick up the phone, you do the skill, you get on the beam.  Whatever it is you say, you raise your hand, whatever it is that you need to do in my experience, it works out.

The way that you teach your kids to trust that is ask, “Hey, what does your gut say about this?”  I’ll often ask, “What’s your gut?”  People say, “What do I do?”  I say, “What’s your gut?”  You almost always know.  Then they’re like, “That can’t be right.”  I say, “Well, what if it is?” Try it and if you try it and it goes horribly wrong, you get wisdom.  You get the building blocks for success, that knowledge.

Knowing When to Take a LeapYou Can Cope

Then, you get to learn that it didn’t kill you, that you could cope, that you do have the resources to get through a failure, and it isn’t going to kill you.  The best way to get through debilitative perfectionism is to start failing and noticing how you didn’t die.  You didn’t get kicked off the team, you didn’t get kicked out of the family, you still got to eat dinner.  You were the only one worried about perfectionism.

If it was you coaches and you family, well then, send them to me, because everybody needs to chill out a little bit if that’s going on.

Be Adventurous

Parents, you can also encourage a sense of adventure.  Try new foods and go new places.  Go where you’re all going to be out of your comfort zone a little bit.  By doing this, you get a chance to have rocky situations come up.  You will maneuver and these situations and realize you’re more resourceful than you thought you were.  You will find times when you were brave and it worked out, even if it’s as simple as speaking up and asking for directions.  Whatever it is, they file away those little memories that then lead to their intuition becoming even stronger.

Another suggestion I love (this might be be my favorite one) is to encourage celebrating courage.  This means maybe once a week you’re having dinner and you say, “What’s something brave you did this week?”  You can all share.  Mom’s sharing, Dad’s sharing, kids are sharing, dog’s sharing, whoever’s there is sharing something they did that was brave.

They’re Brave

You have to stop and think and say, “Gosh, what did I do?  Well, my heart was pounding when I showed up for this meeting at work.  I really didn’t want to do it, but then I spoke up and I talked to my boss.  I said something I didn’t want to say that I wasn’t comfortable with, and I got the promotion.”  It doesn’t have to be huge like that.  It can be small like, “I got a little scared when I saw that German Shepherd and then I slowly went up and let it sniff me and then I pet it.”

This is to get in the habit of talking about what you did that was brave and the kids will start to see their family struggles with this too, and you’re all just doing your best to try to get through these tricky moments.  Then they might be up there on that balance beam thinking, “Oh, I really want this to be my thing I say on Sunday.  Okay, let’s do it.”

That just encourages everybody to get outside their comfort zone.

Encourage Your Athlete

Mom, you already have this amazing daughter who’s becoming empathetic, who’s becoming a wonderful person as a result of the setbacks, so just keep encouraging it.  Fail, get back up.  Fail, get back up.  Don’t focus so much on the outcomes.  When you’re focusing on outcomes, it’s usually a series of failures until you get there, whereas if you’re focusing on the journey, the goal is actually courage.  Imagine if you went to a competition and instead of thinking, “I want to get on the podium, I want to be brave today.”

“I want to be courageous today.  I want to be resilient today.  That’s my goal.”  Then you go through and you do that at that competition, and the next one, and the next one, and what happens is you get the outcomes both internally and externally.

Set Internal Goals

It’s easy to think you have to be perfect and that you’re not good enough as you’re walking home in tears, even though you did better than half your teammates.  Those sorts of thoughts don’t make you the human that you want to be.  And for you parents,  you want your kid to be able to pull their shoulders back, walk into the fire and say, “I got this.  I know I’ve got this because even if I fail, my parents still love me, so let’s go. Let’s either win or learn.  Either way we win, right?”

I know it’s hokey, but if we can think this way, it’s just a much happier existence.  So, to recap, courage is not the absence of fear, it’s walking through it.  Do something this week that scares you.  That’s my challenge to you – share it with your family and share it with me.  I would love to hear it.

Thank you so much for being here.  Go be brave and I will see you again next week.

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