What Not to do Before Season Starts | Q&A with Coach Rebecca


Today’s Topic:  What Not to do Before Season Starts

Hello everyone.  Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca.  I’m Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching and the PerformHappy Community.  I’m a High Performance Coach along with several other amazing individuals on the coaching team.  We work with clients one-on-one, via Skype or FaceTime, or through the PerformHappy Community, our online mental toughness training center.

Today I’m going to talk about what not to do before season starts.

For a lot of optional level gymnasts, this time of year things start to get a little crazy.  I get so many calls in late fall from families with kids who, out of nowhere, start losing skills and losing confidence.

Coaches are mad, parents are frustrated, and start wondering, “Do we quit?”  It’s always this time of year and it’s not a coincidence.

So, I’m going to give you five things not to do so that you can hopefully not be one of those families that is melting down in the fall.

1. Don’t Focus on Time

First of all, my first tip on what not to do before season starts is focus on time.  I can’t tell you how many 12 year olds I’ve talked to who say, “I’m getting old and I’m running out of time.  I’ll never reach my goals.”  I tell them, “You’re only 12!”  But I get it.  In gymnastics, if you’re not signed or you don’t have a verbal offer to college by 13, then you are over the hill.  So, if that is the only thing you’re going for in sport, then maybe, but do yourself a favor and stop thinking about time.  Stop thinking about only having a month, six weeks, one week, or four years.  Whatever it is, time can be such a big distraction for so many sports, especially for swimmers.  All I hear is that there’s not enough time.  But you know what?  There is as much time as there is.  So stop worrying about it and don’t let it be such a big distraction that it stresses you out. 

If you have a coach who’s saying, “We only have one month until your first competition,” you have to decide to focus on something else when your coach brings that up.  Decide to think, “I have an entire month to improve my skill.  This will be a challenge.”  Then just scrap the thought of time all together.  You’re going to be doing yourself a huge favor.

2. Don’t Rush

My second recommendation of what not to do before season starts is don’t start rushing.  Don’t start rushing progressions, don’t start trying to cram harder skills into your routines, just keep doing what you’re doing.  When you are rushing, you tend to ignore your intuition.  Your intuition or your fear is actually feedback.  It keeps you safe.  If your intuition, fear, or anxiety are coming up around certain skills or certain connections and you’re in a hurry, you’re more likely to end up injured.  You’re basically saying, “Sorry brain, I don’t have time for safety.  I have to get this skill or my coach isn’t going to let me compete.”

You might find yourself in a position where you’re not confident doing a skill but feel like you should be.  Maybe your teammates are doing it so you want to throw it anyway, and yes, that can get you through.  That’s the type of decision that actually, over time, erodes confidence because you’re really relying on things out of your control. You’re relying on luck and hoping that your muscle memory is strong enough, when really it probably isn’t, so you’re going to be 50/50 on it.

Losing Your Confidence

If you’re relying on luck or muscle memory, you might be making mistakes or bailing out in between which is a devastating blow to confidence this close to season.  If your fear is saying, “I need more build up, I need more prep, I need more progressions,” you have to trust it, especially if you’re running out of time.

Of course we’re not going think about that, but if you’re running out of time, the best thing you can do is slow down and do it right.  You don’t have time to hit a wall and lose all your confidence, so you’re much better off just staying the course

3. Expecting the Worst

The third thing not to do right before season is expect the worst.  How many of you moms out there are listening to your kid say, “This is going to be horrible,” or how many moms are like, “Oh gosh.  This is going to be a rough season.”  Be careful what you wish for, because what you’re saying and expecting might actually happen.

If you’re saying it’s going to be rough, that’s what your brain interprets as instructions.  If you’re thinking, “This is going to be a bad one,” your brain will agree.  So instead of that, think about it as something fun, as a challenge.  Be excited for an opportunity to show what you’ve been working on.


If you trap yourself in the “what ifs” or any of that stuff, then that negativity is going to breed anxiety.  You start to feel like this horrible thing is about to happen to you, like this competition season is going to be awful and uncomfortable.  You’re going to be anxious and it’s not going to go well.  Then your brain goes, “Okay, this is a big huge threat.  This is not going to be good.”  Your body tenses up and your skills get weird.  Has anyone experienced that?

So why why make that up?  If you’re making up stories, you might as well make up the story of, “This is going to be the best season of my life!”  Obviously if you haven’t put the work in that might not happen, but don’t expect the worst.

4. Don’t Take on Outside Stress

The fourth tip of what not do before season starts is don’t let your coaches intensity stress you out.  There are many times when we have to remember… coaches are human and coaches get really intense, especially when competitions are coming up.  They’re constantly reminding people, “You should have this skill by now.”  Should, should, should.  A lot of that is ego on the coach’s part.  If you know you’re doing your very best and you’re putting in the most effort you possibly can, then you can feel okay if you enter your season imperfect.  You’ve done the best you can.

If your coach is obsessed with time, perfection, and getting things really amazing, great, that’s fine.  But if they’re getting to the point where it’s becoming not so nice and they’re really getting on you about it, that’s their ego.  They probably just want to go out and look like an incredible coach because they’ve sent these amazing children out to do what they’ve taught them.

So, if you’re doing the best you can, you’re giving full effort, and your coach is stressed, that’s not your problem.  Do your best to let it roll.  Remind yourself of some kind of mantra like, “I’m doing the best I can.”

5. Don’t Hold It In

The fifth and final of the five don’ts for a preseason – don’t keep your stress and fears to yourself.  A lot of the time, people shut down and they don’t say anything about rushing progressions, not feeling confident, or not believing that they’re going to have everything in order by the time the season starts.  If you’re in that boat and secretly thinking, “I don’t feel ready, I don’t feel safe, I feel nervous this is not going to be good,” say it out loud.

Talk to Somebody You Trust

Talk to somebody who can really be there and hear what you’re saying.  You’ll want to find someone other than your coach.  Their response might be, “Well fine then.  You don’t get any playing time.”  Talk to somebody neutral who has your back.  If you say out loud to a friend, “I don’t know if I’m going to get this skill in time,” and then your friend responds, “I felt that way last season, too, and just in the nick of time, I got it and I stayed positive.”  If you can get those types of hopeful stories and experiences from people, that can be really useful.

Also,  just to get a pat on the back and someone saying, “It’s okay if you don’t get there, we’ll love you anyway,” helps to confirm that.  With your parents, just say, “Hey mom, if I don’t get this skill will you still love me?”  You know every mom is going to say, “Of course I want you to get the skill, but yes, no matter what, I love you,” and that can be really useful to remember

Now we know what not to do:

1. Don’t focus on time

2. Don’t start rushing

3. Don’t expect the worst

4. Don’t let your coach’s intensity stress you out

5. Don’t keep your stress and your fears to yourself

What To Do

Now that we’ve discussed what not to do before season starts, below are three things you should do.

Stay the Course

The first thing to do is stay the course.  I already kind of mentioned this, but like Dory says – just keep swimming.  You are where you are.  Ideally you will have everything in place six weeks before your first competition.  You will just be fine tuning, and if you’re not, it is what it is.  Can we change it?  I don’t think so.

You can’t change the past, you can’t change the future, so you are where you are.  If you can just accept it and say, “Here’s where I am.  I’m, 75% of what I would like to be, and it is what it is.  I’m going keep focusing on tracking my progress, be proud of that progress and my little wins along the way, and then I’m going to take this as a starting point and get better.”

So your first competition is just the first point on that line of your season, which is just a little segment of the line of your competition years, which is just a little segment of the line of your life.  One competition, you go in and you bomb it, worst case.  Well, the next one you can get better.  That’s what you want to focus on.  Obviously you’re not setting out to bomb it, but you want to have a realistic perspective.

Just keep training, keep doing what you’re doing, don’t rush, stay focused, and work hard.  If you do all of those things, you will get the results that you’re looking for.  It’s only a matter of time, and it might not be on your time or your coach’s time, but if you stick with it, you will get what you want.

Build on Your Foundation

The second thing to do is to build on an already strong foundation.  As I mentioned before, six weeks before you want to be ready to do a full routine, a full program, or a full run-through, if you don’t have that ready, then rushing is not going to make it happen.  You want to take the foundation that you already have and build on it.

Prepare For the Worst, Hope for the Best

You want to be prepared for what could go wrong and what could go right.

As far as what could go wrong, I will never forget the story of Michael Phelps.  In 2008, he was in the finals (I think it was the 400 IM) and his goggles filled up with water making him blind.  This was the finals.  This was the Olympics.

Fortunately, he had already practiced with his goggles full, with his goggles cracked, with his goggles off with his goggles backwards…

Michael had practiced every possible way, just in case.  He had counted his strokes and he knew how to swim that stroke blind, and he won.

He got the gold with his goggles full of water because he prepared.

If you think, “What are all the things that could go wrong?  What are the distractions that could potentially happen?  How will I deal with it if it does happen?” and you get a whole list of things that could go wrong and how you will deal with those situations, then you have this extra confidence in your back pocket.  You know exactly how to handle anything that happens.

If you fall off the beam, you will take a breath, reset, and you will say your mantra.  You’ll get back up and finish a beautiful, strong routine.  You will have this positive experience.  If you’re ready for it then you don’t have to be a ball of nerves at your first competition.

Mental Rehearsal

Mental Rehearsals preparing for what could go right.  This is where you are taking the time to visualize the best possible scenario in your mind.  You’re seeing yourself doing your routines up to the absolute best of your potential – full of confidence.  You know you’re feeling confident as you go through that routine.  In your mind, you stick that landing, you smile, and you hug the people who love you.  You wave at your parents in the stands and you have an overwhelming feeling of success, accomplishment, and satisfaction over and over because that’s the instruction you want to be sending your brain.

What you don’t want is to be thinking, “This is going to go horribly wrong so let’s get good and nervous.”  Instead you’ll go, “This is going to be awesome.”  You want to feel it, and feel it again, and feel it again, three times a night.  Before bed, allow that perfect performance to happen and feel it through your bones and through your emotions so that it becomes almost as real as doing it.  If you do all of that, you’re setting yourself up for success.

Alright, that’s it for me today.  If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me rebecca@performhappy.com.  If you are looking for some one-on-one coaching, you can find me or the other amazing coaches at completeperformancecoaching.com.  That’s where you can go for a free 20 minute consultation.  If you want to go the online do-it-yourself route, check out performhappy.com.

Thanks for joining me.

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