Interview with Samantha Peszek

Interview with an Olympian

Hi everybody.  Welcome to a special episode of the PerformHappy podcast.  To listen to the Podcast, click here!  I have a very exciting guest for you today.  She was a member of the 2008 Olympic gymnastics team that won the silver medal.  She was the youngest member of the US national team at age 12, and she was also on the Pan American Games team that won gold, as well as the world championship team that won gold.

Background

She had an incredible elite gymnastics career, all the while being able to go to a traditional school, which is pretty amazing.  After she graduated high school, she went on to UCLA with a full ride scholarship and joined their legendary gymnastics team.  There, she won NCAA championships on beam her freshman and senior year.  She won all-around at her last universe senior year, which is pretty amazing as well.  She also won 17 All-American honors and was on the honor roll every quarter at UCLA.  Please welcome Samantha.

Samantha:
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Rebecca:
I’m so excited to have you.  The main reason is that you are the perfect inspiration for most of the girls that I talk to.  You’ve lived every little gymnasts’ dream, but from what I hear, it wasn’t easy for you.  I’m excited to dig into that and get some tips and help inspire those athletes who maybe don’t have the straightest path to their dream.  I hope you can help them understand that it’s possible.

Samantha:
Sounds good.  I’m excited.

Rebecca:
So when did you first fall in love with gymnastics?  When did you know it was your sport?

Falling in Love with Gymnastics

Samantha:
When I was five.  I started when I was two doing mommy and me classes, and when I was five, I watched the 1996 Olympic Games on TV and my mom was actually there working.  My dad set up his camcorder and I would just watch the girls on the TV, Amanda Borden specifically.  I would memorize their floor routines and try and pretend like I was flipping. Just watching them compete looked like so much fun.  They were smiling, they were getting to compete in front of a big crowd, and I remember after watching that, I told my family that I wanted to go to the Olympics one day.  I was really lucky that I had very supportive parents and even though I was five, the constant message they told me was that I could do anything I set my mind to, and that was kind of when I decided that I was going to go to the Olympics one day.

Rebecca:
Awesome.  Now your mom was also a collegiate gymnast and she worked for USA gymnastics.  So was there pressure?  What were the drawbacks of having a mom that’s so knowledgeable about gymnastics?

Family Legacy

Samantha: 
So it’s funny because I didn’t realize this until I got a little bit older that people assumed my mom was putting a lot of pressure on me because in our house.  It was totally not like that at all.  My Dad was also a collegiate athlete, so I think because they were both athletes, they were more hands off.  I did soccer when I was younger.  I also did dance.  They didn’t really care if I went to the Olympics or not, they just wanted me to be involved in a sport and to have fun with what I was doing.  They really let me take ownership of my own sport, which I think really attributed to a lot of my success later down the line.  But it is funny because a lot of people started asking me that the better I got, asking, “Oh, is your mom pushing you?  Are you doing this for your mom?”

It’s funny because growing up, I just thought my mom had the coolest job of life.  I couldn’t wait to meet everybody on the national team.  I asked her to put me in the magazine one time and she was like, “No, you gotta earn your place in the magazine.  I can’t just put my daughter in the magazine,” And so I got to go to the office and really be a part of that.   I watched these girls, these icons that grow up in the sport, and one day I wanted to be like them and compete in front of big crowds.

My Inspiration

It was really special for me to get to watch these girls and to feel like I had a connection with them.  So if there’s any advantage, I think that was having that constant inspiration.  I used to tell people at school that they were like my sisters because I wanted to be related to them.  I wanted to get to know them.  My mom actually had them wish me good luck at a couple of meets that she couldn’t be at because she was traveling internationally.  Things like that kept me motivated when I was younger.

Rebecca:
So you were already part of that family and you just knew, “This is where I belong, these are my people.  I’m happy, I’m going.

Samantha:
Definitely.  I didn’t realize it was going to be hard.

Rebecca:
You were like, “I’m just going to the Olympics.  That’s what can happen.”  Okay, now you had some setbacks, you had some injuries, you’ve had some fears.  What would you say was kind of the biggest obstacle to you reaching your dream?

Fear of Going Backwards

Samantha:
I think the biggest obstacle for me was definitely my fears.  I had to repeat level four and level five because I wouldn’t tumble backwards.  I wouldn’t do a round off back handspring on floor and my coaches were way more patient than I probably would ever be.  I’m so thankful and gracious that they were patient with me.  They rearranged my floor routines so instead of going diagonal I would do a round-off back handspring down the side of the white line, so they were technically standing right there.

My Motivation

A couple of times I messed up my floor pattern and ended up on the wrong side and then balked a bunch of times and landed on my head.  My mom told me yesterday that one of my first meets, I was getting fours on the events, so I wasn’t good.  I wasn’t a child prodigy gymnast at all, and it really hit hard when all of my friends got to move up to the next level and I had to repeat the level.  That was crushing for me because at that point in time, yes I did want to go to the Olympics, but I really went to the gym every day to hang out with my friends.  So for me, the motivation to get over my fear was to catch up and be with my friends because I wanted to play with them and hang out in the gym.  I would definitely say fear is where the biggest obstacle was for me, not just when I was younger, but all the way through when I made the national team.

Rebecca:
I love that about you.  I’ve used you as an example with a lot of clients I worked with, and you have to tell me if this is true.  I don’t know where I read it, but that you needed a warm-up spot to do bars pretty much all the way up until up and through elite competition.  Is that true?

Coach Support

Samantha:
I always had my coach stand there on release moves, but it wasn’t really a fear thing.  It was just, he just did that.  I would say the majority of my fears were on beam.

Rebecca:
Okay. And that was somehow your best and favorite event.  Was it always your favorite?

Samantha:
Yeah, no.  Definitely not there.  After I got over my round-off back handspring on floor fear, then I kind of progressed and things are great.  I had to do a series on beam, back handspring, back handspring for some reason were the death of me.  I couldn’t figure them out.  They didn’t make sense to me.  I think looking back, I had so much power that I was nervous of my own power.  I think if I had to really think back on why I was so afraid, it was because of that reason.

Hoping for Divine Intervention

There were times I would go to sleep at night and I’d pray to God, “Dear God, I promise I’ll only ask for one thing and nothing else for the rest of my life. When I wake up in the morning, please let beam not be an event in gymnastics.”

So every day I would go to the gym thinking, “God loves me.  He’s going to take away this and that for me,” and apparently it doesn’t work like that.  Every day we would be there and it was so sad to have to do my series and figure out how to get over it and how to work with my coaches.  That was a really tough time for me because again, all my teammates, no one else had fears except me.  I kind of felt like I was on an island and that no one in the world had fears except me.

Beam Queen Bootcamp

That’s kind of a big reason of why I wanted to start Beam Queen Bootcamp to let other kids know it’s okay to have fears.  It’s normal to have fears.  People that you look up to have fears and you know, it’s just about how you’re going to decide to get over those fears and have that willpower.

Rebecca: 
So how did you, how did you make peace with the series?

Samantha: 
That’s the million dollar question.  Everybody just wants to know how and what’s the one thing you can say to get over your fears?  For me, it was definitely a long process, trial and error of what works, and I think everybody is a little bit different in terms of what works for them.

For me, first and foremost, I was very open with my coaches.  I had a great, healthy relationship with my coaches and they could sense how hard it was on me and how much I wanted to do it, and I just couldn’t figure out how.  So they were great at working with me and saying, “Okay, we’re going to do the assignments three times on high beam.  You’re going to do that four times low beam, and then you’re going to do five times out on the floor.  Just get those repetitions in, those numbers and build that muscle memory.”

Goal Setting

So that’s one thing that I did was kind of set goals with my coaches of, “Okay it’s not gonna happen this week, let’s try for next Tuesday.  We’ve got to mentally prepare until next Tuesday and then we’re going to do it on high beam.”

So goal setting was something that helped me, visualizing was something that helped me, which is way harder than it sounds. and then the last thing is positive affirmations.  So reminding myself I can do this, I can do this.  Replacing any of those negative thoughts with positive thoughts or neutral thoughts, even.  I went through this phase where I would only do a series if I set an ice cream flavor before I went for my series.  I would do the series and then cross off the ice cream flavor, and one of the coaches would give me a different ice cream flavor and I was on the national team when I was doing that.  I was so embarrassed. No one ever knew that I had fears like this until I went to college because I did a pretty good job of hiding it.  But it was this constant obsession that I was nervous, that at a big meet, I just wouldn’t go.  I had no idea why!  I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt.  I didn’t know why I was so afraid.  My coaches at meets and national championships, they wouldn’t say, “I hope she makes her routine,” it was, “I hope she goes for her series.”  So it was really a roller coaster and I appreciate my coaches for working with me so much through that whole time.

Rebecca: 
Amazing.  For any coaches out there, those are good tips – be patient, take it slow.  How did that play a part in you being such a confident beam worker?

Giving Back

Samantha: 
I’ve thought about that a lot too.  When I graduated, I wanted to give back to the sport that gave me so much and I really was thinking, “What can I do to bring my unique experiences to help gymnasts in what I believe is the most difficult sport in the world?”  Having that transition of hating beam to it being my favorite event, I was like, “Okay, I gotta really self reflect.  What did I do in my life to really get to where I was,” and there were a couple of things.  I did so many repetitions on the floor because I was scared.  Even when I was doing them on the high beam, I would get off and do a couple on the floor and then get back up and go.  I think the number of repetitions I did on the floor really built that muscle memory.

I was so tight on beam because I was so scared, and that’s another component that I thought of.  Also, I just love the challenge of beam and I love figuring out how to work it robotically almost, where I can get up and instead of it being this nemesis, it was definitely an asset in my gymnastics career.  I got to the point where I was looking forward to beam at competitions because I knew that I was going to hit it.  That’s the kind of edge that most of my competitors didn’t have, so I think me going through that really tough time was what I needed to find my confidence on beam.

Rebecca: 
Amazing.  Looking at it like a gift.  I think so many athletes, gymnasts especially, and figure skaters, have this idea of, “I’m the head case”.  I was the head case when I was a gymnast.  You were the head case.  There’s always one per gym basically, and there are 3,500 gyms in the U.S., but you always feel like, “Oh my gosh, I’m the only one.  This is so horrible,” But if you can look at it like, “…and because of this I get to make five times the amount of them and when I get up to compete,” it’s going to be amazing.

Having a Competitive Edge

Samantha: 
I think too, when you have fears, especially at a younger age, usually two things happen – you get over your fears or you decide that you really can’t and you quit, decide to do a different sport, whatever.  But for the people that decide to have that willpower and figure out how to get over their fears, looking back, I’m so glad that I went through that because it made me such a strong competitor in elite and in college.  That was my thing – being that solid competitor and I had to have such a strong mind to get over my fears.  Building that strong mind also helped with competition.  It helped with other events.

When I got to college, I was on a team with so many talented gymnasts, but there were a few girls on the team that really couldn’t figure out how to compete or they couldn’t get over their fears in college, so it really made me appreciate that time in my life that I did have all of those struggles because I think if I didn’t go through that, I wouldn’t have been the gymnast that I was.

Rebecca:
Awesome.  So your first fear was the backhand springs on floor and then the series.  Did you have any that that popped up in upper-level competition that really got you still in college or were you pretty much through it by that point?

Getting Over New Fears

Samantha
I guess the best way to explain it is the first time I was afraid of a skill was a round off back handspring and that took me, I would say, a year and a half to get over that fear – working so hard to figure out why I was afraid, how to do it, how to get myself to do it.  You know, that was a whole process of really learning myself and being self-aware.  The second time I was afraid of a skill was a backhand spring, backhand spring, but instead of it taking me a year and a half to get over my fear, it only took me six months maybe.

Then the next skill I was afraid of, it took me half the time.  It’s not like when I got to college I didn’t have any fear, but instead of me being scared of a skill, it would mean me being nervous of a skill, and instead it taking weeks or months, it would literally take a big deep breath in, breathe out, and then go, and that’s because I had to go through that work all throughout JO and all those levels of finding out what worked for me and how to fix it in literally one second instead of it taking days.

Rebecca: 
Yeah.  I love that.  It’s such a perfect example of that once you get through it, it gets easier and easier to get through it again and then you just can deal.

You also had some injuries along the way.  Did you ever have a moment where you were thought, “This is too much?  I don’t know if I can keep going.”

One Moment of Doubt

Samantha:
I was one of the weird gymnast’s.  Through all the struggles, I never wanted to quit except one day, I couldn’t do my back handspring layout on beam.  It was a team thing and I let my teammates down in practice and the world ended for me.  I was like, “You know what, I don’t deserve to be a gymnast anymore.”  I felt so guilty that I couldn’t do it and I was like, “I’m done”.

In the middle of practice, I just told everybody, “I’m done.  This isn’t for me anymore.  I can’t handle it.  I’m not tough enough to be a gymnast.”  So I went in the locker room and I was bawling.  I was so sad that I forced myself to be done because I didn’t believe that I deserved to be a gymnast to wear that badge of honor.  30 seconds later my teammates come in and they’re saying, “Sam, you’re not quitting.  We’re not mad that we lost the game that we were playing in practice.  You’re going to get through this.”  They gave me a pep talk and 30 seconds later I un-quit.

Rebecca:
So it was the team that ultimately kept you going.  So, to the teammates of the kid with the fear, what can you give them?  What do you do to help your teammate who’s struggling? What’s the best thing you can do?

Leaning on Teammates

Samantha: 
I would just say be that positive affirmation or just ask, “Can I help you?  Is there anything I can do to help?”   Help talk them through it and bring that self-awareness to the girl that has the fear because they’re probably trying to figure it out themselves.  You asking questions and just being that helpful friend and teammate would really mean a lot to them just to show that you care, I think.

Finding and Maintaining Balance

Rebecca: 
Now I have a question about balance.  The fact that you were able to do traditional high school, meanwhile training elite, was there any balance?  Did you have any moments of being a normal kid?  How did you maintain that?

Samantha: 
Looking back, I really do feel like I got the best of both worlds.  I went to real schools since I was in first grade.  Obviously, when you’re in first grade, it’s not like you’re this prodigy gymnast.  All the kids that I started off with, we were just first graders together.  They actually were the same kids that went all the way through high school with me.  I went to a smaller school so they really got to know me before I was this elite gymnast.  Me being in the paper all the time and me having to miss school to compete for USA when I was 12, they were seeing this dual life of me.  They thought it was cool and stuff, but they didn’t treat me differently.

Making Compromises

I got to go to birthday parties.  There’s a lot that I did miss, obviously, like birthday parties, but I would try to go to as many as I could.  I went to one prom, I missed one prom and that was crushing to me.  Football is my favorite sport, so the year before the Olympics, I talked to my coach and I asked him if Friday could be my easy day so I could finish practice and go meet my friends to the football game.  He was really great at working with me and letting me do as much as possible because looking back, I think everyone’s different, but I really needed the outlet of school to be able to function in the gym.

I think it would have been too much for me if I homeschooled.  I know people that feel the opposite way.  I think it’s whatever works for you.  For me in particular, I missed the first month of my sophomore year of high school.  That summer I had to work with a tutor to do all of the homework that I missed.

Academics Always Came First

My school is really strict academically and they let me miss school on the pretense that I was getting A’s and I was doing really well.  The only thing my parents really cared about was me and my academics and they made that very clear from when I was little.  I didn’t like that at the time and looking back, I’m so appreciative that that was their main focus.  They obviously wanted me to be happy and healthy and they wanted me to do well in gym.  I wanted to do well in gym, but the thing that they cared about the most was school

Rebecca:
Great.  And that showed in your college honor roll and the fact that you’re able to do not just elite lead training, not just collegiate gymnastics, but also be a really strong academic participant.  That’s it.  That’s all.  You’re such an inspiration.

Samantha:
Thank you.

Rebecca: 
As an Olympian, you’re gifted this platform where you can inspire young athletes.  What’s your favorite way to do that these days?

Samantha:
Definitely Beam Queen Bootcamp.  Obviously taking the collegiate route means you can’t have an agent and you can’t make money, so the only way that I was able to make money was coaching camps in the summer.  For nine years I coached other people’s camps in the summer and I loved it.  I loved traveling all over and getting to meet up and coming gymnasts.  Most of the time I was on beam, but it was starting to wear on me and I was thinking about why and it was really because I didn’t feel like I was helping them as much as I felt like I could.   That was because I didn’t have enough time on beam to really break down the basics, talk about the mental side of beam.  There was so much of beam that I felt like people were missing.

Coaches don’t have time in normal practice to sit everybody down and talk about X, Y, and Z and really make that a priority. Coaches just don’t have that time, so that’s kind of what got me started thinking about Beam Queen Bootcamp and what I can possibly bring them.  Adding confidence training and just sharing our beam stories with the girls up and coming, because I know once I got good on beam, that’s what really gave me the edge in all the other events.

So really going there and hearing these girls’ stories about their fears and how they always fall in competition or, you know, just all the struggles that I went through.  I mean, I’m laughing now, but it’s not funny because I remember how the world is ending and how horrible it was, but looking back and putting myself in their shoes, it’s so fulfilling to be able to tell them, “You know what, this is a horrible time and I remember being in your shoes, but once you get through it, you’re going to look back and appreciate this time and be thankful that you are able to persevere and do that hard work to get through it.”

Being able to share that message with them and then having them engage with us on social media after the event and seeing the end result is really special and very fulfilling for me.

Rebecca: 
Oh cool.  You must just get floods of videos.

Samantha: 
Yeah, it’s awesome. And I am bad with names, but I’m great with faces and obviously with gymnastics, so if a girl sends me a video, I remember exactly who it is.  I’ll send it to the staff in a group chat and we’re really like rooting this girl on, even though we only got to work with her for two days.

It really is a cool community that we’ve been working hard to build.  I remember how hard it is to be a gymnast and to go through all this stuff and to feel like your coaches are mad at you and to be mad at yourself.  There was so much that I wish I could’ve appreciated during that time that I’m hoping to relay the message so it’s not as horrible as girls growing up.

Rebecca: 
Yes.  Well, I find that just talking now, your story is the story of every 12-year-old level seven who’s afraid of going backwards.  It’s like that story.  It’s the same exact thing that they hear. So just being able to hear you say, “Yeah, I felt like the only one.  Yeah, it was really hard,” but you never gave up.  I mean there’s the desire factor that underlies it all, too, and the community, you keep going and keep going.

So now, today, are you still active athletically?  What do you do to keep that part of you? I mean, as an athlete you kind of always have to have that going right?

Coming Full Circle

Samantha:
In terms of physically I definitely work out a good amount, still.  Nothing wild.  I’m not a cross fitter, I’m just like a normal worker outer now.  Then in terms of working my mind, I definitely feel like the company that I started has kept me so busy in working on those life lessons that I learned in gymnastics and on beam.  I was just telling this story to someone else of everything that I kind of need to remind myself as a young female entrepreneur.  When I first started Beam Queen Bootcamp, I didn’t know anything, and so I teach everything myself, learn everything.  There would be days I was so frustrated and I was down on myself and you know, that negative self-talk would creep in, like, “I’m not smart enough.  I’m not old enough, I’m not experienced enough to be able to handle this role.  What am I thinking?”  I would have to take a deep breath and literally give myself the exact same message that I give the girls at Beam Queen Bootcamp, reminding myself to have confidence and know I can do this and I can do this because of x, y, and z.

It’s kind of funny that everything comes full circle.  All of the life lessons that I learned in the sport of gymnastics are coming back and it’s hitting me like a freight train, you know?  I have to stop myself and laugh sometimes because you would think a lot of people telling me, “Oh, an Olympic gymnast would always have confidence.  An Olympic gymnast can do anything,” and it’s like, yes, but we also are human and we still go through those negative days or those insecurities or whatever it is to humanize us that everybody else goes through.  So I just keep reminding myself that on a daily basis that it has been an interesting journey.

Rebecca: 
Isn’t that amazing?  That as you teach it, it gets really reinforced.  That’s what I notice.  A lot of the girls who get through fear, I think, “Okay, which kid are you going to help?  Who are you going to share this with?  Your friend on the team is having trouble?  Yes.  Go get her!  Go help her.  Let her be your project.  You’re in this together.”

That’s when it really gets reinforced.  That we can learn something and get through the fear and then it’s like “Fear, oh my gosh, what do I do?”  But then you go, “Okay, I know this stuff. ”

I noticed in childbirth I used all the things from gymnastics.  It’s crazy how in any tough situation you’re ever in, your gymnastics experience, being able to push through fear, will carry you through.

What are the other big life lessons that you feel like are carrying you today?

You can do anything you set your mind to!

Samantha:
One of the things I know I mentioned at the top of the podcast that my parents always taught me when I was little is I can do anything I set my mind to.  When you’re a little kid you don’t have a fear of failure.  I remember when they told me that it was really cool.  I thought, “Oh my parents said I could do whatever I want to, I just have to believe in myself,” and to me, it seemed so simple, like why doesn’t everybody just believe in themselves and do what they want to do?

I remember thinking that as a little kid, so when I made that goal of going to the Olympics, I had no idea how hard it was going to be.  I had no idea of the challenges that were going to come, but I just made that goal that no matter what, I was going to go to the Olympics.

That sort of immaturity and that youthfulness of kids is something that I want to continue to have as an adult.  I think a lot of adults don’t pursue their own dreams and goals because of the negative self-talk or those insecurities or they can see the obstacles before they even make the goal.  It’s harder to make that decision and to say you’re going to do something because you already know how hard it’s going to be instead of making the goal and no matter what happens, you follow through the goal.

I know with Beam Queen Bootcamp, I was young and I wanted to go to business school and so it seemed like a fun project to me.  I had no idea how hard it was going to be.  On the hard days, I remember not knowing if I was going to be able to do it and if I wanted to even do this.  It was that message that came back to me that you can do anything you set your mind to.  It reminded me that I set my mind to go to the Olympics.  That was not easy with the Olympics.  I can do anything.

It’s the same thing with gymnasts coming up.  I’m sure there’s a skill that they were once too afraid to do and then they did it.  So having that little chip on your shoulder, that memory of, “Okay, I’m scared of another skill.  Well, I got over that fear so I can get over this fear,” and really made everything a really easy, like A+B=C situation kind of always helps me rationalize with myself when I’m kind of crazy or out of control or having an emotional day.

I think that’s something that everyone goes through, no matter if they’re an athlete or just in the gym or in business.  You have those thoughts that are just crazy, but you start believing them instead of just taking a big, deep breath, and thinking about A+B=C here because if it doesn’t, then you’re just having an emotional day.  That kind of helped me when I was off the ledge, I’d just reel it in.

Rebecca: 
I have a good one – where are your feet?  When I get all spun out about, the sky is falling because one little bit of bad news and it’s all ruined, I go, “Where are my feet?  They are under my body, I have a roof over my head.  Everything is ok.”

Samantha:
I think everyone has a little different thing for when things are spinning out of control, like what’s your go to?  Hopefully everybody has something, but I love hearing everybody’s thing that’s equivalent to mine.

Rebecca: 
Well my husband, when I met him, his was, “Everything’s messed up.  I knew this would happen.”  He was the Ying to my Yang.  I would say, “It’s going to be great.  It’s fine.  Let’s try it,” and he was like, “It’s going to get messed up.  I know it,” and over time he’s come around.  Now he’s the one, anytime I get worried, he’ll say, “Oh yeah, you’re going to fail.  Okay.  Just like all the other stuff you do,” and I’ll say, “Yeah.  Okay.  All right.  You’re right.”

That’s what we do!  We have these families, these teams, these coaches that know us better than we know ourselves.  It sounds like you had just the most amazing coach.  What would you recommend to a coach who is struggling with fear or who has an athlete who’s struggling with fear?  What did your coaches do right that you’d recommend they do too?

We’re All on the Same Team

Samantha:
My coach always made me feel that we were on the same team.  I’m not sure what came first, the chicken or the egg, but I felt like I was always a respectful, scared gymnast.  You can either be really respectful or get really crabby and cranky to everybody around you.  I think when I saw girls at my gym take that route, no one wanted to help.  You’ve already decided you’re not going to do it, they don’t want to help you.  You kind of shut the door and you’re shut down completely.

I know I always took the other approach, not consciously.  I just was so upset with myself and I think my coaches saw that I was always really up front with my coaches.  “I’m really afraid of this today.  I don’t know why.  Please help me.  What can I do?  Can I have an alternate assignment?  Can I do double the next day?  What can I do to do the assignment the way I can do it today?”

Getting Creative with Individualization

They were always really great about individualizing my assignments where I was probably doing more work than the other girls, but it kept my muscle memory going and got me to do my series the way I could do them to start building that confidence.  I remember I would go from the low beam to the low beam with mats to the floor and then back and I would have to do this circuit.  Eventually I kind of got sick and tired of being sick and tired and it became, “I’m tired of doing 300 series, I just want to do three like everybody else on the high beam!”

Positive Reinforcement

I think that there are different things that work for everybody, but I know my parents and my coaches got really creative with me.  Just them showing how much they cared and how creative they would be like, “Okay, let’s try this,” and I would always be so thankful.  We would celebrate together and they would hurt for me when I had a bad day.  Having them feel like we’re on the same team and we’re working together and we’re setting these goals together made me feel like I could do this one too.

I had one coach who got really frustrated with me and I was the type of gymnast that didn’t do well if people were negative to me.  I think the coach that took me to the Olympics really learned early on that I needed the pep talk, that “you can do it” not the “you’re doing it wrong” and “that’s not right”.  I needed positive reinforcement.  For them, learning that early on and being that for me, I think really helped me in my career, otherwise, I probably would’ve quit the sport because I shut down.

Rebecca:
That’s such a good perspective to give.  Coaches get a bad rap that they are mean and domineering.  Then again, if you’re silent in a corner in tears and you don’t speak and they don’t know what’s going on, they get frustrated.  So if you’re in tears, go to them and say, “I want to do this, what can I do? Help.

Samantha:
Totally.  That’s what I always share with the girls, too.  I’m like, “It’s not your coach’s fault that you’re afraid of things.  You’re not trying to be afraid of things either, but they’re frustrated because they’re on your team.  They want you to do this because they care just as much about your dreams as you do.”

If you are a mature gymnast and go to them either before practice or whenever it is, and really respectfully try and have a conversation like, “Listen, this is what I’m going through today.  Please help me,” they’re going to be upset because you’re upset, but they’re not going to be upset at how you’ve handled it.  I think controlling those reactions to the fears is just as important as going through the fears because that’s how you’re going to get coaches and teammates to want to help you instead of being frustrated and angry that you’re taking time from the other gymnasts that are doing their skills.  And so I do think that there’s a way for a gymnast to handle it also.

Rebecca:
Such good advice.  If you’re busy blaming the coach and all they see is, “She’s not doing anything, why is she here?  Why is she being lazy?” But mom’s like, “Why are you so miserable?  Why don’t you quit?”  Meanwhile, the athlete’s just like, “I just want to do my skills and I feel like everyone’s against me,” yet what you’re saying gives them power.

Samantha:
Yeah. I think that no matter if you’re scared of a skill and you can’t do it, I mean you should be doing something else.  You should do four times the amount anywhere you can do them because otherwise, you are lazy.  I think that’s where a lot of gymnast’s get in trouble.  They just wait for the coaches to tell them what to do.  Yes, the coach gives you an assignment, you do it, but if they’re busy and you’re option is you standing there or you doing more on the floor where you could do them, then get working!  Do what you can do, exhaust all your options, and then the coach is going to notice how hard you’re working and how bad you want to do it.  I guarantee you they’re going to want to help you more than if you’re just standing there crossing your arms.

Rebecca:
Yep.  Then you’re setting little goals and you’re reaching them and then your confidence is building and your brain is chilling out around the skill.  It’s all working together and the coach sees the effort and the teammates see your heart and it builds from there.  So good.

So, I always like to wrap up with top tips to perform happy because my theory is if you’re miserable, then what’s the point?  It’s so many years of your life, why be miserable?  What did you do or what do you recommend people do just to keep the happiness going in a sport that’s difficult?

Performing Happy

Samantha:
That’s good. Yeah, it’s a monotonous sport.  There’s not a lot of fun at training always.  You know, you condition a lot.  Thinking about it, wow, you spend so many hours in the gym.  For me, there weren’t, I said I only wanted to quit once, but there were so many days where I thought, “Why am I doing this?  Why am I doing this?  My body hurts, I’m scared of these skills.  I surpass my friends at this point.  I’m not even training with my friends, which is what I love to do.  Why am I doing this?”  I would literally have to take a second and ask myself why am I doing this?  And the answer was always because my goals.

At the time, it was going to the Olympics.  For anybody else, it was to get to the next level or to get a college scholarship, but for me, it was always my goals.  It was reminding myself that I’m killing myself each day to work my butt off to accomplish my dream of going to the Olympics.  And then that moment, that hard moment I was dealing with in the gym, it was like, “Okay, my option is to continue practice and give my 100% until I try and reach this goal, or my other option is to quit and I’ll never know if I was going to reach my goal or not.  I’ll always have that regret.”

Giving myself the “why” was like a splash of cold water on my face and it kind of reignited in me, “Okay, this isn’t super fun right now, but if I get through this it’s going to be easier and I’m going to be a little bit closer to my goal,” and that was really fun and exciting for me.

Rebecca:
And then you get that moment when you’re standing there looking at the American flags and feeling like, “Okay, it’s all worth it.”  And was it?  Was it worth it for you?

Worth the Work

Samantha:
Definitely.  I remember walking into the ’08 arena for the first time.  I had watched the Magnificent Seven VHS tape over and over, and I saw them walking into the Georgia Dome and everyone was chanting “USA”.  I had all these flashbacks from that moment when I walked into the arena because I was finally one of those girls that I always wanted to be.  I was walking and competing for my country and it was like all of those hard times in my sport that really no one knows except you and the coach and your parents probably.  All of that kind of came full circle and it was like, wow, thank goodness that I continued down this road and that I pushed myself and gave 100% because I have no regrets.  And my dream came true.

Rebecca:
That’s amazing.  My heart is pounding with the excitement of that moment. So everybody out there, just take a little bit of Sam’s success with you as possible.  Now, if somebody wants to check out Beam Queen Bootcamp, where do they go?

Samantha:
You can go to our website, BeamQueenBootcamp.com.  And actually, right before this, we just announced that we added one more location in California.  It’s going to be in LA.  I think we launched it an hour or two hours ago and it’s as close to being full.  So if you’re still wanting to come, five locations are completely sold out, but I think that there are a couple of locations still available.  You can check out the events page or any of our social media at BeamQueenBootcamp.com.

Rebecca: 
Great.  Thank you so much Samantha.  I am inspired by you.  I know that there are so, so many gymnasts who are going to be inspired by just hearing you talk.  Thank you so much for your time and for everything you do to take care of these girls who want to get up there and rock beam like you did.

Samantha: 
I love it.  I love it.  Good luck to all you listening.  Thanks for having me on the show.

Rebecca:
Thank you.

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