Reaching Your Full Potential

Today’s Topic: Reaching Your Full Potential

Is your athlete reaching their full potential?  I think this is a conversation that a lot of parents have with their kids and with their kids’ coaches.  They ask questions like, “How do we help her to reach her potential?  How do we help her to live up to her potential?  She’s not reaching her potential.  What do we do?”  So today I’m going to give you the top five reasons why an athlete would not be living up to their full potential.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am coach Rebecca Smith, the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching, a team of six fabulous coaches who work one-on-one with athletes in many packaged sessions to help them overcome things like fear, anxiety and reach their potential.  We also have an online membership community which will be opening its doors very soon, so make sure that you’re on the waiting list at if you want to join us.

5 Reasons You’re Not Reaching Full Potential

So here are the top five reasons that your athlete is not reaching his or her full potential.

1. Fear

Whether you are an athlete or just a human, fear is one of the main reasons why people don’t live up to their potential.  When you’re afraid, when there feels like there is a threat to your humanity, your safety, your social environment, it’s easy to just scale back.  I worked with a tennis player who, if she was the underdog, she was amazing, but anytime that she played anyone at her skill level or even below, she choked.  She fell apart because she had this massive fear of failure and embarrassment.  She would get really conservative in her play instead of doing what she always did because she was so terrified of losing to somebody who was not as good as her.  She wasn’t afraid of losing to the Big Kahuna.  She’d ended up winning or she’d always end up winning the consolation bracket, because once she already lost, she was like, “Okay, good, I already lost, now I can go play.”

She kept staying stuck in second or third place because of this fear of failure.  Anybody who is a perfectionist or can identify with some of the traits of perfectionism, needing things to be just so wanting every little detail to be right – the biggest fear for a perfectionist is fear of failure.


I often notice that those perfectionist type people, they either don’t like to set goals or they set goals really low because they do not want to fail.  They would rather pretend like it doesn’t really matter.  They would rather go, “Oh, it’s fine.  I’m just doing it for fun,” which they’re lying about because they really want to win.  They really want to succeed.  They really want to be perfect, but they don’t want anybody to know that because if they knew, then that failure would be devastating.  I’m very familiar with this one because I relate to this personally.


So number one is fear, and what fear does is it creates avoidance.  It makes you scale back and it makes you get conservative, so you have to learn how to take calculated risks and how to ease into a fear.  What most coaches do and what most parents do, is they’re kind of pushing their kid off the cliff.  The thought process is, “Go handle it.  Go be courageous.  You got this,” when what they need is a very calculated easing into fear that isn’t going to spazz out the brain.  Instead, we allow a slight amount of discomfort over time, become comfortable, which allows the comfort zone to expand, which allows athletes to really get to know what they’re made of.

2. Low Self-Awareness

This is the kid who, anytime you ask them something, they say, “I don’t know,” and you ask, “Did you notice that?”  Their response is, “No, I didn’t notice.”  They don’t see their blind spots.  They don’t even see their sunny spots, and most people don’t see their blind spots.  That’s why they’re called blind spots.  These blind spots are things like not being able to see your own perfectionism, not being able to see that you’re so affected by being watched by other people, not being able to see that you are so intimidated by certain people or certain coaches or certain situations.  Also, not being able to see the amount of pressure that you put on yourself, not being able to see the stories that you tell yourself about how life is.

Finding Your Patterns

“Well, that’s just the way it is.  Oh, what could go wrong?  What’s going to happen?  I knew this would happen.”  Those stories that we tell ourselves, they’re patterns, and they’re things that we don’t understand are false until we can see it in others and until we can have trusted people bringing it up and helping us work through those.

Fear Isn’t Random

So one thing, especially in regards to fear that I hear a lot of, is people saying, “It’s random.  It just happens randomly.  Sometimes I can do it, sometimes I can’t.  Randomly, I’ll just be in this bad mood.  Randomly, my confidence is low one day.”  People really believe that the ups and downs of confidence are random.  That to me is an indicator of low self-awareness, because nothing is ever random when it comes to mindset.  When it comes to the way that your mind helps operate your body, nothing is ever random.

Now, the great news about that is once you identify your patterns, once you see what is the typical pattern that leads somebody to a mental block, you realize, “Oh my gosh, that sounds like the pattern that I had.  Wait a second, maybe it was a weird day and maybe this thing did happen.”  When people become aware of what has held them back, they get to know the pattern, they get to know the red flags, and they get to know exactly where to put their focus.  If confidence starts to drop, they’ve snapped right back out of it because they’re like, “Oh I know what to do.  I know exactly what to do because this happened before.”  So that’s number two, lack of self-awareness.

3. Low Motivation

The third reason why people don’t live up to their sport potential is low motivation.  This one’s tricky because I have parents coming to me going, “How do I get my kid motivated?” and this is really not about that, but it’s got to come from within.  There’s external motivation and there’s internal motivation.  External is, “I want that trophy, I want that metal, I want the acclaim, I want those things outside of me.  I want the next level.”

Competing Commitments

Internal motivation is when you are truly aligned with what makes you tick, and when what makes you tick is pointed in the same direction as your sport, you are absolutely unstoppable.  But if you’re not, if you have a commitment to go compete in college and your sport, but then you also have this commitment to being comfortable or being liked or being the nice girl or guy, those commitments will be competing against each other until you have the awareness, piece one, and then also the motivation where you say, “Okay, I’m willing to not be liked.  Simone biles is not always liked.  I’m willing to work my butt off.  I’m willing to be in pain.  I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get my dream because my dream lines me up for what I want in this life.”

Finding Your “Why”

That’s so critical when you’re setting out on a really big course of action, you have to be in line with what drives you as a person.  For me, I get to these, these moments where I’m thinking, “I don’t want to do this, that’s too hard,” and then I think about why I do this?  I do this because the 12-year-old me didn’t get to have these tools.  Twelve-year-old fearful gymnast needed this and that is why I do what I do. And that’s why I have to get out of my own way and move forward because there is a reason.

Then there’s this other reason, which is my family.  I want to be able to have these tools for my family.  I want my girls to be able to speak the same language I do.  I want my girls to be able to ease out of their comfort zones and to be able to be confident.  I want my girls to be okay when they’re not confident.  There’s this big “why” that comes up for me whenever I’m thinking, “Oh, it’s too hard.  I’ll just keep it status quo,” but I know in my heart that that’s not where I’m meant to be.  So getting in line with what you really, really want, is critical to maximizing your potential in sport.

4. Impatience

The fourth reason why you are your athlete is not reaching their potential is impatience.  There’s this concept by Angela Duckworth called Grit.  A gritty person, falls down in the dirt, dusts themselves off, and gets up again and falls down in the dirt and dusts themselves off and gets up again.  It’s that athlete that gets knocked down and gets up, gets knocked down, gets up, gets knocked down, gets up, over and over and over.  You’ve got your why.  You know exactly why you’re putting yourself through this.  You’re fearless.  You’ve got the awareness coming from yourself and others.  You’ve got support.  You’ve got love.  You’ve got fire and your patient.  As a result, you show up and you put in the work.  You show up, you put in the work, and you don’t lose sight of the big picture that if you go and you bomb a competition, you have a terrible, horrible competition.

Seeing the Big Picture

If you’re not self-aware, all it is is a horrible competition, which leads you to be more afraid of the next competition because of that fear of failure.  If you’re patient, you see the big picture and if you fail in a competition, you go, “Okay, let’s learn what didn’t go so well.  This didn’t go so well.  This didn’t go so well.  Let’s check it out.  What led up to that?  What was my mindset?  What was my focus?  What was my support?  What was my environment that did not set me up for success?  Okay, got it.”

Then you’ve also, through the process of self-awareness, gone, “All right, when was I successful?  What set me up for that?  Okay, good.  Now I’m going to go into training and I’m going to bust my butt and I’m going to fix the things that need fixing.  Then, at my next competition, I’m not going to fear failure because when and if I fail, I know that my level of self-awareness will increase and my ability to tap into my personal zone of peak performance gets even better.”

I’m not afraid of failure.  The kids I work with that are completely self-aware, that have a practice of reflecting, that have the tools to look back over past performances and see the good, see that every single one is a stepping stone until they’re to their eventual success.  They will not give up until they succeed.  They’re not afraid of failure and they get up and they go and they get to be their real selves and competition.

5. Not Speaking Up

The fifth reason, which I want to say is probably the biggest reason why people get afraid and why people kind of put the brakes on their own progress, why people self-sabotage, is going to sound kind of crazy, is that the athlete can’t speak up or ask for help.  If they think, “No, I have to do it alone.  I’m afraid of what they’ll say.  They’ll probably say no.”  They really want to be respectful.  This is why this one is so tricky because it’s always the really nice kids who just want to figure it out.

“I’m just going to figure it out on my own.  I don’t want to ask for help.  I don’t need a spot,” and they feel alone.  They feel embarrassed when their confidence drops and they don’t know how to communicate with their coaches.  They don’t even know that they should communicate with their parents.  They don’t know how to communicate with their teammates.  All they know is, “Just stop cheering me on.  It makes me uncomfortable,” and when these kids can learn to speak up for themselves, it opens the world.

Effective Communication

I always reference Samantha Peszek, a 2008 Olympic gymnast who struggled with mental blocks through her entire career.  From my perspective, the key reason that she was able to be an Olympian and a UCLA gymnast and all American and all-around champion was because of her communication with her coach.  Her coach didn’t always like what she had to say, but she was honest and she communicated.  That is essential.  Being able to learn how to communicate with your coaches requires you to have an understanding of what’s going on in yourself (self-awareness).  Once you go, “Oh, this is what’s happening, this is my pattern.  Okay, this is what I need to do.  Coach…,” and then they speak.

For those of you out there who have a very shy kid or a very quiet kid, or even just a really compliant, respectful kid, this one might be the one.  In order to help them reach their full potential, they’re going to have to learn how to speak up, how to understand what they’re going through, and then articulate it.


The five reasons your athlete isn’t reaching their full potential are fear, low self-awareness, low motivation inpatients, and not speaking up.  So take that and hopefully you can find a piece where there’s a little weakness in your own sport and see if you can get a little bit better on one of those things.  If you have any questions, please reach out to me at and I’ll see you soon.

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