Does What Happens at School Impact What Happens at Practice? | Q&A with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: Does What Happens at School Impact What Happens at Practice?

Hi everyone.  I’m coach Rebecca Smith, founder and Director of Complete Performance Coaching.  We specialize in helping young athletes age eight to 18 overcome fear, build confidence, and find their flow.  We do this through two methods – through one-on-one coaching over Skype or Facetime with one of our awesome coaches, or through the PerformHappy community, our complete online mental toughness training center.

I am taking a question today from a mom in the PerformHappy community.  She’s a gymnastics mom and she had such a spot on question.  I’m going to read it exactly as she wrote it.  She says,

Q: Hi.  So my little gymnast has been on a bit of a rollercoaster again recently.  She’s had to sit out voluntary levels (competitions in the UK) due to knee pain that is now sorted thanks to physio.  A couple of weeks back, just as she started tumbling again, she got a new skill.  Since then, a bit of fear and doubt has crept in and she’s struggling with it again.  After talking with her in general, I can’t help but feel some of her issues are possibly coming from school.  Could things that happen in school impact what happens in the gym.  Basically she sits next to someone who has high anxiety and is constantly putting himself down when they’re talking and working.  Plus she gets unwanted attention from the boys, which really winds her up because these negative vibes and feelings may be contributing to how she feels or deals with her gym life.  She’s also not eating as well as she used to and she’s overthinking everything and then she says she’s going to get back into the courses, but any guidance would be much appreciated.  Thank you.


Short answer, yes.  School is affecting her confidence.  Yes, absolutely.  For any parent of an adolescent who’s having competence issues, I can guarantee there’s a school aspect to it.

Jar of Stress

I was just talking to a girl the other day who deals with anxiety a lot in life.  We decided that she has what we call a jar of stress.  So, think about a mason jar.  That is how much room she has.  That is her complete capacity for stress before she can no longer cope.  Actually, the definition of stress is feeling like you cannot cope with what’s on your plate.

So she has this jar, and once it’s full she cannot handle it.  She just can’t.  She has to sit out, she can’t do gym, something has to give if her jar is completely full.

Filling Your Jar

Think about your jar.  You have these big rocks inside of it which represent big sources of stress.  If you have a fear or a mental block, that’s a b big old rock of stress in there that you’re probably thinking about all day at school, which affects your confidence in school.  It may also affect you if you’re having typical 11, 12, 13 year old issues of “who am I?”

“Am I cute?  Am I ugly? Am I funny?  Am I smart?  Am I cool?  Am I popular?”   That’s your job.  You’re supposed to figure out, “Who am I, what’s important to me?  Where do I fit? Where do I belong?  Who likes me?  Do I like myself?”  That’s a big old rock in itself.

Stress Overload

So you have these two big rocks in your jar and then you have other ones like chores, homework, and sibling.  Maybe they’re not as big of rocks, but they start to take up space in the jar and then you pretty much don’t have room for much else.  Now your jar starts to overflow and you go into shutdown, meltdown, freak out mode.

If you can identify a couple of big rocks in your jar, those are the ones that you want to start looking at either shrinking or taking out of your jar.  You may want to even replace it with a different one because otherwise, you’re going to run out of capacity.

It will manifest in school.  It will manifest at home, in relationships, in practice, wherever you run out of capacity.  If there just isn’t enough room in there, you’re going to overflow and you’re going to be affected.

Decreasing Your Stress

There are some ways that you can decrease your jar of stress (I’ll give those to you in a minute) but I want you to think about confidence like the opposite of fear.  Confidence is the other end of the spectrum.  If your confidence is going up, your anxiety is going down.  You’re feeling like, “I can cope with this.  I have more skills to cope, I can handle this.”  That’s confidence.  Confidence is going, “I have what it takes to handle this situation.  Stress and anxiety are saying, “I do not have what it takes to handle this situation, and that makes me scared.”

Confidence Capacity

We want to be increasing confidence.  If your confidence is going down at school, then you’re starting practice at a deficit.  Let’s say your capacity is 10 out of 10 for confidence, and you had the worst day at school.  You failed a test, someone made fun of you, a boy hit on you, and you weren’t sure if they were messing with you or if they meant it and somebody is in a really bad mood.  You just had the worst possible day at school.  Then you walk into the gym, out onto the ice, or jump into the pool at a six out of 10 for just general confidence.  What you need in order to take leaps of faith into bigger skills, harder progressions is a seven, so you are already below.

Four Inputs

At that point, you basically need to walk in and go, “Okay, how can I increase my confidence?  What can I do right now to increase my confidence?”  There are four inputs that directly affect your ability to perform at your best and be confident.  One of them is mental training, the second is physical training, the third is food and water, and the fourth is rest and recovery.

We’ve touched on a couple of these in this mom’s question.  The food maybe isn’t exactly where it needs to be, the mental training, well, we can all do better at that.  The physical training, if you’ve been out with knee pain or you’re fearing injury, you might be not putting in as much physical as you possibly can.  If your jar of stress is already full at the beginning, you’re going to need to get the other inputs really working for you.

Mental Training

Here are my suggestions on how to increase confidence in that sort of situation.

1. Imagery

Coach Taryn did a fabulous live video on starting an imagery practice and she gave some good examples for figure skaters, but they apply to all sports.  If you get into a regular practice of working with imagery, the imagined experience in your mind of you being successful, that will increase your confidence.  There was a new article that just put out new research on imagery.  Now, this is something that I’ve been doing anecdotally in my practice for a long time, but it’s great to have research that really solidifies that if there’s some memory, skill, or trigger that creates this anxiety, almost like a phobia, f you imagine that memory, that’s kind of scary memory or skill or situation, it will make you feel scared.

Imagery Research

You probably don’t need me to tell you that if I say, “Imagine yourself doing the thing you’re terrified of,” yes, it’s going to make you feel scared.  But this MRI imagery research study shows that your brain lights up in exactly the same way whether you’re imagining it or if it’s actually happening.  The good thing about that is they also noticed that the more you imagine it, the less it starts to work.

The way that your brain is lighting up, over time, starts to actually calm down to the point where you actually unlearn the fear through repeatedly going through the scary thing in your mind over and over and over, which starts to take your fear response down, it sends your confidence up.

So, if she can do imagery of all of these situations, dealing with the negative person in her class, imagining herself being happy and walking to a different place to sit and work with another person – if she can actually walk herself through those school situations that are stressful, and it might seem really stressful in her mind at first, she will eventually realize it’s not so bad.

Overcoming Fear

Side note – people who go through the overcoming fear course in the beginning sometimes go, “Oh, it makes me feel worse before I feel better.”  I say, yeah, that’s good because you’re actually dealing with it instead of just avoiding it, which is what your brain wants you to do.”  The more you are willing to look at the fear, look at the discomfort, imagine it happening. imagine it going right, the more your brain will unlearn the fear.

So, back to our gymnast, the imagery of whatever it is she is having trouble with the confidence on can be really powerful in not only building confidence, but helping her overcome the fears, and then just having a game plan.  If she knows that she’s going to walk in and see that person that stresses her out and she’s already rehearsed in her mind saying, “Hey, it’s so nice to see you.  I’m going to sit with this person today, have a good day,” and then she goes and sits down, she’ll go, “Okay, that wasn’t so bad,” in her mind, and then she can go and do it in reality.

2. Confidence Ladder

Next is a confidence ladder, which I love for all my athletes to have.  It’s just little bite-sized goals all put in a row, building from the easy ones up to the hard ones and you start imagining them as you go.  Use Imagery as you go up your confidence ladder, checking off successful boxes as you go.

3. Self-Talk

Self-talk is another thing that’s huge.  If you’re hanging out with people who go, “Oh, I’m so ugly, nobody likes me,” then that’s what’s going to come out of your mouth too.  That’s the desire to fit in.  It’s so strong at those ages that it’s really easy to jump on the bandwagon.

Adults do it too.  If somebody is being negative saying, “Oh yeah, my kids are so annoying,” I don’t like that.  If I’m hanging out with someone who’s like, “I adore my kid and she’s so magical,” I’m inclined to sayings like that as well.  It’s just, it’s a matter of sticking with the people who are going to help you bring out the best in yourself to the extent that you can control that.  You can’t always control it, but that’s a really good way to start, especially for those of you who are in the 11 to 15 age range.  Hang out with people who are encouraging and positive.  It’s way easier than trying to be positive around negative people, but that’s possible too.

Keeping Track of Self-Talk

Making sure that you’re aware of it is really important.  I love the trick of putting a hairband/rubber band on one wrist.  Anytime you catch yourself being negative to yourself, just switch it to the other side.  It’s a realization of, “Oh, that was negative.”  And then switch it back if you catch it again.  Keep switching and you’ll start to notice, “Oh my gosh, I am not being nice to myself.”  Each time you switch it, switch your thought.  Come up with something nice to say.  It can even be something neutral.  Instead of saying, “I’m so dumb.  I’m horrible at math, ” just go, “I’m good at English.”  Something simple.  It can be neutral, too, like, “I’m okay, I’m going to graduate someday.”  It doesn’t have to be, “I’m the best,” but just catching it and putting something else that’s more positive in its place can be really useful.

4. Reduce Negative Inputs

Don’t watch scary movies.  Don’t watch the 5:00 news.  If your jar of stress is full, you don’t have room for that.  Don’t put anything unpleasant in your jar if you’re at max capacity.  If you’re smooth sailing, everything is great, then feel free.  Watch your movies, but don’t put any negative inputs into your jar if you don’t have room.

Physical Training

For the physical training, like what we do with the mental training, set small goals and get little successes along the way.  Also with school, if you have had to miss classes because you’re so stressed, then set a goal of making it to one more tomorrow, making it a little bit longer before you need to go to the bathroom and just calm down.  Whatever it is, set small goals that you can physically manifest in practice and at school.

Food & Hydration

These are critical, as well as sleep.  If you’re not getting enough to eat, your jar is shrinking.  If you’re not getting enough sleep, your jar is shrinking.  Your capacity for dealing with stress is shrinking.  If you don’t know what to do with your kid’s nutrition, there are so many good resources out there.  There are books, when in doubt, consultant, nutritionist, ask a professional, get help.  “What should my athlete be eating?”  Then help them help set them up for success by sending them stuff.

Rest & Recovery

I know you have so a bunch of kids and a ton on your plate, but this is really important.  I know I don’t have to tell you that, but it’s one of the hardest things to do to really take care of that nutrition piece and then make it a point to get nine hours of sleep.  I know it’s hard, but see what you can do.  If you can add 20 minutes of sleep, that will help give your jar a little bit more capacity so you can handle some of this stuff.

So yes, school is definitely affecting confidence.  The good news is when you increase and improve your confidence in sport, it will improve your confidence everywhere.  It will have an impact on your school life, on your relationships, etc.  If you’re looking for ways to build confidence and get those mental skills in place, please join us at  We have courses and a whole flow chart that will help you figure out exactly where you are and what you need to do to get your performance maximized and get back to happy.

All right. If you have questions, please send them to me. Perform Rebecca perform or of course parents in the community. You know where to find me in the private facebook group and I will be back again soon. Thanks for watching.

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