The Real Reason I Quit My Sport

Today’s Topic: The Real Reason I Quit My Sport

Hi everyone. I’m coach Rebecca Smith, the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching. I am really excited to share my experience with you today.  My hope is that if you read through this, you are going to learn a little bit about me. 

It’s been a while since I’ve introduced myself fully on social media or an email list, and today I’m going to tell you a little bit about me, my background, and why I do what I do. But more than that, I want you to be able to learn from my mistakes and have a little hope.

If you are the parent of a struggling athlete, I will tell you what the experience is like to be a struggling athlete. If you are the struggling athlete yourself, I’m going to help you to realize that you’re not alone. If you’re a coach of a struggling athlete or any athlete, I’m going to tell you my experience having done things wrong, and what I’ve learned about the right way to do gymnastics coaching. And then I’m going to talk about my experience parenting a little gymnast.

Hopefully, you can learn a little something that will help give you hope, give you tools, and give you some skills to navigate this crazy world of youth sports.

Where it All Began

As some of you may know, I was a gymnast. I started gymnastics at two, and then my mom pulled me out because I was too hyperactive, my brother and I both. We didn’t go back into gymnastics till I was about eight years old.  For those of you who are gymnasts, you know that that is horribly over the hill to get a start in gymnastics. I went into pre-team and then I went straight to level four. We didn’t compete level four, so the first level I ever competed was level five.

If you’re not a gymnast, don’t worry, this won’t be all gymnastics speak all the time. So I started late, I was too tall, and I wasn’t that confident, but I loved it, and I was actually sort of talented. I was naturally graceful. I always had good posture, I had really nice form, and I could point my toes. Even right now I can squeeze my core and squeeze my legs and have straight legs and pointed toes. I had very beautiful form, so I was really great at beam and floor. The only problem was I would get scared of things.

Fear Sets In

My fear started happening around l level six. I started working on the back walkover on the beam and I would think to myself, “Oh, I don’t know about this.”

Sometimes it was fine, and sometimes it wasn’t. I would have my coach up there with her hand up saying, “Come on,” and then I would go the second she put her hand up to spot me.  The second she would spot me, I could go on the floor.  If she’d spot me on my round off back handspring back tuck, I would go for it. If she wouldn’t, I wouldn’t.

Some days I would go, some days I wouldn’t go.

Good Coach, Bad Coach

I had a couple of coaches. One of them was the younger sister, and the way I remember it, she was really demanding.  Who knows what the reality is. I remember she would kick me off beam and give me conditioning. She wouldn’t let me stand up there for more than a second. She played the bad cop.

Then there was her older sister who was so sweet.  She would always put her hand up and give me the magic one finger spot.  She was really patient with me, but neither of them could get me figured out and it got to be really stressful, especially when I would do my routines perfectly.

I would win beam pretty much all the time.  There was this other girl who I was always competing against (not really against) and my mom would watch her do beam and if she fell, I’d hear here from the stands go, “Woo!” That’s how she knew I had a chance of winning because this other girl, had a five, 10 deduction on beam. So I actually did really well when I would go for my skills.

I was great at beam. It was my best event, but I hated it. I was also really good at floor when I would tumble. I had talent.  I was a little too tall, a little too old, but I was pretty good and I was very passionate. I was a nice girl and really wanted to be liked.

I really wanted to impress my coaches, so I did the best I could and I always tried to do what they told me to do. Sometimes it just wouldn’t work.

I’d get up on the beam and I’d say to myself, “Okay, I’m going to go.  I’m going to go,” and then I would hit this imaginary brick wall.  It wasn’t even fear a lot of the time it was, I just couldn’t get my body to go. It got so frustrating that I started to fear what was coming ahead  Even if I would get my back walkover on the beam that week, I’d think, “I’m going to lose it again” or “Gosh, what about when I start working back handsprings on the beam? What about layouts? Forget it!”

Not Focusing on the Now

I had a lot of negativity about the future for myself because I knew that if I was struggling with these easier skills that were backwards, I didn’t think I could ever pull it together for giants, or giants connected to flyaways.  I was  always looking ahead thinking, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to do it.”

Giving Up

After all of that happened, I started choreographing my level seven routine.  At this point, I was getting my first optional routine and I was feeling really low. I was feeling like this wasn’t for me anymore. I started to make excuses like, “Oh, well I don’t like that coach that gave me too much conditioning.  I want to be in these harder classes. And what about a social life? What a concept! Maybe I want to have a social life.”  So I got all these different ideas of what I wanted to do instead.  I decided that at 14, my ship had sailed and I was just done, and I really believed it. I told myself, “It’s okay. I’m done with gymnastics. Thank you anyway.  Goodbye.”

I can obviously look back and see that was not what I wanted.  I spent about six months as a sophomore in high school thinking, “Dude, what do I do with all this free time?”

My Coaching Career begins

I remember having a conversation with my mom, and she said, “You want it? Get a job?”  And I said, “Okay.” So I called the gym and asked, “Can I have a job?” And then I started coaching. I was 15 and coached all the way up until just a few years ago because I never fell out of love with gymnastics. I loved it more than anything. There were times in my life where I had other jobs, but I always came back to it because I loved it. It was the only job I ever loved. It was my happy place.

Once I began coaching, I started picking up more hours and more classes and I just loved it. I loved everything about it. I was in the gym just as much as I was before because I loved it. I did not quit because I didn’t love gymnastics. I quit because I did not believe in myself. I didn’t believe I could be good enough. And this carried throughout my life. And that’s really the point here.

This is not a story about gymnastics. This is a story about resilience. It’s a story about who the scared perfectionist gymnast has the potential to become.

It’s either the downward spiral or the upward spiral, because we’re pretty impressive and fantastic and wonderful, but we can also be our own worst enemies, which makes life potentially quite difficult.

Deciding on Sports Psychology

After I went into coaching, I decided I want to be a sports psychologist. I knew this actually from two years prior.  Nothing had worked with this mental block business. It was like coach, spot, no spot, can’t go with a spot. I can go, no spot, can’t go. I needed all the mats, I needed all the time. I needed all the special stuff. It was so frustrating. Anyway, I went to a gymnastics camp and there was a sports psychologist there who had us all lay on the floor and close our eyes and do some deep breathing.  She had us imagine ourselves doing a skill that we wanted to be able to do by the end of that weekend camp. For me, it was a cartwheel back tuck dismount off the beam. I was terrified of this skill, but I wanted it so bad cause it was so cool.

It Worked!

I was terrified. I remember lying there imagining myself doing it and feeling confident, feeling like there was a chance.  Then that week, guess what I did?  I got up and I did it. I didn’t just do it scared, I did it confidently.  I thought, “Whoa, that is awesome. That is the job that I want. That is my dream job.”

Sliding into Depression

I couldn’t get to class. By the end of that year, I was really depressed. I was really unhappy with myself. I actually ended up getting a really bad grade point average and I told myself I wasn’t cut out for college. Obviously, you know that this is not how it ended, but that very much felt like the end for me.  I’d go, “I can’t do it. I can even feel it in my chest. Just thinking about it, I can’t do it. It’s too hard. I’m not cut out for this. What can I do that doesn’t require a degree because I can’t handle this.”  And that was the same tendency to bail when things got hard.

And so that’s what I did. I thought, “There’s gotta be an easier way,” and the root was, I was afraid I was an anxious child. I was always hyper-aware. I’m pretty smart and so I’m aware, which actually played against my ability to be happy from time to time. So I went and I got a real estate license.  I thought, “I need to be really rich because I have all this potential and everyone.” Everyone would tell me I had so much potential, but I was not living up to it, repeatedly not living up to it. So I got my real estate license and once I started, I took off.

Things were going really great, but I was so miserable. I was hiding. I was basically living this double life of “Everything’s great.  I’m going to pretend like I’m 30 even though I’m only 19 because I really want to be liked”.

I was leading a double life that was run by my fear.

This fear did not leave me when I quit gymnastics. This fear did not leave me when I quit college. The fear just got bigger and worse because all I was doing was trying to run from it. I ended up getting married out of fear, if that’s even possible. I married this really wonderful guy because I didn’t want to be alone. So I was thought, “You’re cute. Let’s get married. Maybe that will make me feel better.”

Running from my Fears

I always had this thing that just felt not quite okay. I always felt like I was not okay and like I had to run away or do something else or fix it or distract myself. I kept running and running and running from this fear. I couldn’t face it. I didn’t want to face it and I didn’t know how. I didn’t have any tools. I didn’t know how one would face fear or how one would deal with anxiety or deal with people. I just wanted to be perfect and I wanted to live up to my potential and I didn’t know how.

I finally made a couple of moves and started really digging into personal growth work. I decided that this was not what I imagined for my life. I didn’t want to be a real estate agent. I used to do real estate and think, “You know, the only job I ever loved was coaching gymnastics. Why can’t I just do that job?”

A Fresh Start

I actually ended up moving.  I split from that state altogether and moved and decided to coach gymnastics again. That’s where my heart was. That’s what I loved and what I was good at. I was waiting tables, coaching gymnastics, and I was divorced by 22.

I was starting to follow my heart again and I was getting away from the idea that I needed to be successful, I needed to be amazing, I needed to be perfect and great, and that people needed to notice how good I was in order for me to feel okay. I finally decided, “You know what? Forget all of that stuff. I’m going to live in a basement and drive a little truck and coach gymnastics. I’m going to fix me and I’m going to learn some skills.”

Personal Growth

Meanwhile, I took a lot of these different leadership trainings and personal growth workshops that allowed me to look at what it was that I was afraid of and how that all worked in my life to keep me stuck and to keep me safe, but not really safe and definitely not happy. I surrounded myself with communities of people who are likeminded.  I learned tools, various tools that seem simple, but are fundamental tools for how to work through fear in your life: how to deal with a tough situation, how to talk to humans, how to be okay in your skin.

Vision Board

I learned these tools and I got this little nudge.  I’m a very intuition driven person, and I got this gut feeling telling me to go back to school.  At first I thought, “No no no.  That doesn’t make any sense at all,” but I had made a vision board with some girlfriends and on it in big white letters on a black background, it said “the graduate”, and I was like, “What is that doing on there? Why was I called to that? That’s kind of crazy. I just need to keep my life simple.” 

Baby Steps

Here I had this vision board, “the graduate” staring at me and I was like, “Should I go back to school? That doesn’t make any sense. I can’t go back to school. I failed out of school. I can’t go back to school.” I didn’t actually fail, but I got a 1.8 and was on academic probation. I had this deep feeling inside myself like, “No, I’m at failure when it comes to school. I can’t do school,” but that switched to, “You know what? Take one class. Baby steps. What if I just take one class and see if it feels good? I’m going to coach gymnastics, I’m going to take one class, and we’re just going to see what happens.”

Two or three weeks into that first class, I called a friend and was said, “It’s too hard. I can’t do it. It’s too much. I’m working. I can’t handle this. I can’t do the work. I can’t do all the reading. I can’t,” and she said, “Okay, why don’t you just do the homework and go tomorrow?” I said ok, and then I did. And then I did it again. I did the homework and I went again.

Little Nudges

The next day I did the homework, I went again, and I’d have these freakouts and I’d call her and I’d say, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard. There’s no way! I’m not gonna be able to do this. It’s so much school. If I really want to be a sports psychologist, it’s like a thousand years of school. I can’t do this.” She’d calmly say, “Okay.  Well, why don’t you just do the homework and go tomorrow?”  And I would, and I did.

I got an A in that first class.  It was a psychology class and it was horrible. It was this community college psychology class.  The teacher was a thousand years old and would babble on about nothing, and I loved it.  It wasn’t because of that, it was because it was psychology.  I was so fascinated and I knew it was where I needed to be.


Then, all these little symbols lined up and like this is where I needed to be. I took two classes the next semester and then I took three and then I took four. Let me preface this with every semester, three weeks in, I’d be like, “It’s too hard. I quit, I can’t do it,” and my friend would say, “Just do the homework and go to class,” and I would, and then I would get an A and I ended up with a 4.0 grade point average in community college.

I also had a 4.0 as I finished out my degree. I went from failing to cum laude.  I had a really good GPA because I hadn’t received less than an a since I went back. Okay. That’s a lie. I got one B, which a therapist actually said, “Well, what a success! You’ve gotten a B. Your perfectionism isn’t killing you anymore.” I think I still was a little irked by the B. It was in biology. Not my favorite class anyway.

Now I have this degree, and I met this super hot guy. I thought, “He’s really great. Maybe I won’t finish school, I’m just going to be with this guy and coach gymnastics,” but there was something in my heart that was saying, “Girl, you know you need to do a little more than that.”

Continuing to Show Up

But it was really scary. It was scary to be in this relationship with this guy who was so wonderful. I was terrified. I thought he was going to leave me, that I was going to mess it up. Essentially, I just kept doing my homework and showing up. I’d say, “Put one foot in front of the other. Hang in there. Don’t do anything weird. Don’t bail out because of fear.” And so I didn’t, and you know what? I had tools and I had support. I had people on my team who were helping me grow as a human who were like, “Girl, just show up tomorrow.” And I did. And so they did their part encouraging me and I did my part of showing up and, and then I decided to go to graduate school.

Fear of Failure Came Back

I got into this doctorate program and I got married in September. I was supposed to start my graduate program in October and I had this freakout. Of course, the people in my support squad were saying, “You don’t have to do a doctorate. You don’t have to do school for the rest of your life. Just start the program,” and I did. I eased in and I got A’s. I tore into the coursework, I worked full time, and I was married.  I did it, and it was scary. Every time I got a little closer to my dream, it was like I hit a wall and was thinking, “Quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, quit, get out, get out. Too dangerous,” because there was this thing in me that thought if I didn’t pursue my actual dream and I fail, it wouldn’t be that bad. But if I pursued my actual life’s dream and then I failed, then what? It was this big question mark. This is doomy void “then what?” That will be so awful.

Lesson Learned

But I tried it anyway. I keep hitting these walls in my life where either I learn the lesson or I quit and then I have to learn it in another way.  I dated guy after guy after guy and it was the same guy with a different face, right? Then I learned the lesson. I did my own work, my internal work, and then I understood why I kept dating that guy.  Then my husband skips across the screen and is totally different. Every time that I’d get up, I’d want to cut and run. Now I don’t, and that’s because I have tools and it’s because I have support. 

Starting my Business

So I finished my program and I dove in and I started this business.  I thought, “I’m going to be everything to everyone. I’m going to try to help people perform their best -the business people and oboe players and all the people,” and nothing, crickets.

Finally, I decided to talk about my experience and why I got into this.  That’s when I realized why it all happened, ow all the puzzle pieces fell into place. The people who I loved to work with are the 12-year-old gymnast, that 13-year-old figure skater, that 14-year-old pole vaulter, the person who is a perfectionist, who’s smart, who is too aware of all the risks and too aware of all the possibilities for failures. They’re too aware of their potential and it’s crushing and it crushed me. It crushed me in sport.

It crushed me in my first round of college, and what I know now is that there are tools that are so simple and that’s what we need. That’s what this type of personality that I am and that maybe you are or maybe your athlete is. 

What we need is tools. What we need is support.  We need to not feel alone. That’s what I’ve created.

At first, I started with these one-on-ones that I would do with athletes, what I still do to this day, where it was all the same thing. It was fear, mental blocks, perfectionism, performance, anxiety. I would help athletes to feel better because then they were free to do what they want to do and not be running on fear anymore. Then they get their confidence back.

Growing my Business

They’d get their confidence back, and it would come and go, go up and down. What I realized is that they needed exactly what I needed. They needed not just tools, but support. Tools and support and to not feel alone. That’s why I created PerformHappy, which is my online community. Athletes will come in and they’ll do their training with me or with one of my coaches, and then they stay on. They get live support every week from  25, 12, 13-year-old gymnasts and figure skaters who are on there helping each other. That is where I’m seeing these permanent results. It’s amazing.

Here to Help

I’m here to help those kids not cut and run. I’m here to help them not bail and not get stuck in fear and everything. As a result, which obviously didn’t get ruined, I had this circuitous path. It could have been a lot straighter if I had known what was going on.

So, we only open the doors to this community for existing one-on-one clients, or we open it quarterly to new people. We’re going to do it right after Labor Day, which is in September, about a month away.  Keep your eyes and ears open if you want to join us, and just know that you’re still not alone.

If you’re struggling with fear, reach out to me. I would love to help you personally with what I’ve learned. I just want you to know that there’s so much hope that you’re not just stuck. If you’re a perfectionist who gets afraid easily, there’s so much hope, so feel free to reach out if there’s anything I can do to help and I’ll see you around soon.

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