Improving Social Connection Outside of Sport | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: Improving Social Connection Outside of Sport


About Me

Hi everyone!  Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca.  I’m Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching, a one-stop-shop for youth sport mental toughness training.  We are a group of expert coaches who specialize in helping athletes age eight to 18 maximize sport performance and enjoyment.  We also run a full do-it-yourself online mental training program called Perform Happy, and you can check that out at

Today we’re going to answer a question from one of the members of the Perform Happy community. She’s been with us for about at least a month, and she’s been one of the most pleasant girls to work with.  This is her mom asking the question.  Her daughter is a gymnast, and she was reporting her success.

She said,

Q: “Huge successes here.  My daughter is following her ladder charts and working through the superhero challenge.  She did 15 back handsprings on low beam without a spot, which is a huge success for this one, who had been struggling with a mental block on going backwards on beam.  Then she worked her fulls on tumble track.  She’s now wanting to advance her skills and move up a level, even if that means she’ll be by herself.  Her team is splitting and she’s struggled watching her friends go a different direction.  Do you have suggestions or a training to help separate love of gymnastics from friendships and weathering through changes?”



What a huge success!  It was backwards tumbling that killed my confidence when I was competing. Ok, here are my tips on dealing with the social upsets that are inevitable in sport.

Lonely at the Top

One contributing factor to my personal mental blocks was that I had this belief system that “it’s lonely at the top.”  I don’t know where I learned that, but I had this fear of success when I was this age, when I was around 11, 12, 13.  Honestly, even until probably my 20s, I was afraid that if I was too successful, I’d be all alone and people wouldn’t like me.

That’s what the risk is as you go up through the levels in sport – the recreational kids drop off, and especially as you turn 13, kids start prioritizing the social factors.  If you don’t have your big team with you, it can be hard to stay motivated.  I get where this mom’s coming from.  She knows her girl loves gymnastics but doesn’t know how to support her if/when the team splits.

My Experience

This made me think of an experience I had when I was coaching gymnastics.  There was this big drama, and about half of the optional team left.  They went to another gym.  The head coach of the gym I was coaching at asked one of the parents who had been kind of causing trouble to leave.  She was the ringleader of this mass exodus.  Then this team of 20 went down to 10 or even eight overnight.

I was actually on my honeymoon.  I came back and was shocked.  The girls were shocked.  They were all thinking, “These are the kids we grew up with.  Now what?”  I do a lot of work with local gyms in my area, and same kind of thing.  It happens all the time where you have this big group of level 10s, and then all of a sudden you have three.  It’s hard when these teams grow up together, some or most leave, and the rest are supposed to stay motivated.

Having No Team

So we had this big mass exodus, which left our optional team at only six girls.  One of them, the top-level, was on her own.  She was the only one in that level, and she was the kind of kid who was a really hard worker, and really motivating.

She basically took on the role of, “I am going to make this team work.  I am going to make sure that we hang in there because I love gymnastics, and I’m going to college.  We’ve got to keep it together, team.”  She did that.  She became the motivator for the team.  But then there was also the fact that she was the only one practicing for that extra hour two nights a week, just her and the coach, and that started to weigh on her.

There’s a couple of things that you can do.  One of them is taking it upon yourself to go, “Okay, who’s left?  Let’s band together and be best friends.  Let’s do this, be gymnasts, and love each other.”

At the end of this post I’ll give you some ideas of things you can do to bring the remaining teammates together.

Why is it so Important?

The two biggest motivators for athletes age 12 to 17 are feeling like you’re good at it, and your social relationships.

Obviously this girl is starting to feel like she’s good at it again.  Maybe she didn’t for a while when she was struggling with fear, but now she realizes she can do it.  She can set a goal and she can reach it.  She’s starting to feel confident, and she’s starting to love gymnastics again.  It’s fun for her again because she’s good at it and she is working hard to get good results.  That is the number one thing that will motivate kids in sport.

Having Confidence

Even if this social stuff isn’t totally in place, if your team is small, or you’re the only one practicing at a certain time, if you tell yourself, “I’m good at this and I love it,” it’s not going to matter as much as if you’re someone who’s not so confident in your skills.

If you’re thinking, “Gosh, I’m not the best one, I don’t know if I’m good at this.  I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.  My coach is mean and I can’t visualize myself going beyond this point,” then all your teammates quit, it’s more likely that you’re not going to be as motivated.  But for this girl, I think she’s definitely on the right track.

Those are your two strongest motivators and ways to increase confidence.  If you (or your kid) lack confidence, and you’re social relationships aren’t strong enough but you really want to stick with it, then what you have to do is break down your goals into bite-sized action steps and start making progress.

That’s what this gymnast is doing right now that’s allowing her to feel confident.

Confidence Roadmap

She started breaking down her goals into small pieces.  That’s the first step in building lasting sport-confidence.  Check out the other six ways in the sport confidence roadmap which you can download for free here if you don’t have a copy.  The worksheet will get you from fearful to cheerful, and you will have success after success instead of waiting until you’re perfect to feel confident.

That’s the pitfall of a lot of type A perfectionists, people-pleasing gymnast folk.  They think they’re failing until they’re perfect.  Well, that’s not going to build confidence.  That’s just going to make you feel awful and never good enough.

Believe me, I know this from experience.

Watch Others

Another way to feel confident is to watch other people who are at your same skill level be successful.  If you are a cheerleader, and one girl just did a tumbling pass, you’re just as strong.  You train just as hard, you’ve been doing it just as long, and when she does it, you look at her and think, “Whoa, you just did that?  Okay, I’m going to try.”  That’s one thing.  That’s another reason why the social factors are so important.

Being in a good mood is just as important.  Surrounding yourself with positive people, how you talk to yourself, how other people talk to you.  Again, the people stuff is coming up for how you build confidence.  Then finally, the way that you visualize – those are all the ways that you can get your confidence flowing.  A lot of them have to do with other people.

Feeling Competent

The way that you build up social confidence is you have to have three things in place.  You need to feel competent.  That goes back to that first one of feeling like you’re good enough, feling like you’ve got what it takes.  Feeling like you can do it!  The second one is feeling in control, and the third is feeling connected.

In order to feel like, “I can do this.  I can set goals, I can reach them, I’m having fun, and I’m motivated from within,” you have to feel like you’re good at it, like you’re being successful.  You have to get your confidence in place.  Then there’s this also this other element of social connection.

A lot of this stuff is within your control, right?  If you’re working on your confidence, the Perform Happy Community is here to help you figure out how to build confidence and strengthen it, and get to the point where you can automatically just trust yourself, the highest level of mental training.

Improving Social Connection outside of SportImproving Your Social Connection

Here are some ways to improve that social connection.  First, build relationships with your teammates.

Whoever’s left, you build a relationship with them, and there are different ways you can bond.  One thing we used to do at my old gym was we had a Halloween sleepover.  All the kids would come in costume, the coaches would make the scariest haunted house ever (that I did not want to go in because I would pee my pants – there was always somebody getting ready to jump out and get you).

They would do this big haunted house, a costume parade, and watch a movie.  We’d be up all night and then send kinds home really tired for their parents on Sunday.

Do Something Other than Your Sport

You could host a pool party.  If anybody on the team has a pool, and it’s warm enough, and you don’t live in Minnesota in February, host a pool party.  Have people come over and do something other than gymnastics.  Of course you’re all probably going to do back flips into the pool because that’s how it goes, but do something other than gymnastics. Or do something other than your sport if you’re not a gymnast.

Go to the park and play volleyball.  Do something that allows you all to fire a different part of your brain off, and then the kid who’s the best in gymnastics might not be the best at badminton.  Everyone gets a chance to learn more about each other.

Do Things Together

Try costume weeks, theme weeks, or spirit weeks where everyone wears a certain color, or everybody creates something where the team shows up.  Just watch, all of the little kids will say, “Look at that team, they’re all dressed up!  That’s so cool.  I want to be on their team.”  And then you strut around in your little pink outfits or whatever it is, and you feel like you’re a part of something, you feel like you’re connected.

Another idea is a potluck dinner.  This could be a great way for parents and kids to come together, especially if it’s a smaller team, so make sure there’s enough room for everybody.

Try volunteering together.  My brother was a Class-1 gymnast in the 2000s, which was the equivalent of level 10.  He used to go and volunteer at the Special Olympics.  You can take your team and go volunteer at the Special Olympics, you could serve Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter, anything where you can all get together and rally behind a good cause that makes everybody feel good.

You could do “Secret Santa”, where you pull a name and you would bring little goodies, like a Hershey kiss and a note every practice up until Christmas.  Kids would leave clues in the notes like, “I have brown eyes, I have a sister, I’m in fourth grade,” etc, little clues so they feel special when they get their little gift and they get to know a little bit more about the person.  Then, at the holiday party, everyone finds out who their secret Santa is and exchanges little gifts.

You could do a scavenger hunt either in the gym or outside, a sleepover – the more you can do together the better to get that new team coming together.


After the mass exodus at my old gym, these six optional girls became so close, they had each other’s backs, and they noticed that a lot of riff-raff, a lot of the drama, a lot of the mean girls left with that exodus.  They were left with this nice, tight-knit group of people who got a lot of attention and a lot of turns, and they were really grateful.

Training Alone

This girl, the team motivator & cheerleader who was competing alone, training alone, ended up going, “All right, I’m the only level nine, I’m going to a gym that has a dozen level 10s because I need someone to look up to.”

If that’s the case for your daughter, after she’s done the best that she can, and she’s feeling good about herself, but she just needs the social interaction, then you might consider shopping around and see if there is a group of kids that are her age, at her level, that she can really get excited with.  In that case, it’s going to be a little bit easier for her to weather the storm of gymnastics, which is all up and down.

All right, send me questions to  I’ll do my best to answer them live.  I always prioritize member questions.  If you want to join us you can go to

And remember to grab your FREE confidence roadmap here.  Thanks, everyone!

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