Helping Your Resistant Athlete

Today’s Topic:  How to Help Your Resistant Athlete

Is your athlete resistant to mental training?  If so, you are definitely not alone.  I have a question this week from a parent who has already started into the videos and the online trainings that I offer and is seeing massive value, but she has this stubborn, resistant athlete.  So today I’m going to give you some tips on how to help an athlete who does not want to be helped.

My name is coach Rebecca Smith, and I am the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching.  We specialize in one-on-one coaching for young athletes around the topics of fear, anxiety, confidence building, recovery from injury – basically sports psychology.  My pet project that I just love that’s grown like crazy is this community called PerformHappy.  It is a complete online mental toughness training center for young athletes and their families.

I have one member here who asked a question.  Her name is Lauren.  She says,

Q: I’m really enjoying your videos from a parent point of view and have really learned a lot. Thank you so much.  I just wanted to ask your advice regarding my daughter.  She’s very stubborn and has watched a couple of videos that she says it makes her worse and now won’t watch them.  I know if she does it will really help her.  Do you have any advice you can give me to help her understand that this is a good thing to help her PR her progress?

First of all, Lauren, this is totally normal.  I did an informal poll in one of my weekly group trainings and said, “Raise your hand if when your mom mentioned PerformHappy to you, you were like, ‘Yes, I want to do that.'”  Nobody raised their hand.  Maybe one, but for the most part they thought, “That’s weird.  I’m not sure,” and then mom would say, “Just humor me and try it,” and then they did and they showed up live and they fell in love with each other.

There is such a beautiful, cohesive group of primarily gymnasts (we have some figure skaters and other sport athletes in there too) who just adore each other.  They’re all either coming out of mental blocks, rebuilding their confidence after injury, for anxiety, or they’re just there to sharpen their mental skills.

Every single one of them was skeptical at first. 

They were thinking, “What is this thing that my mom wants me to try?  This is so weird that she found it on Facebook.  Are you kidding me?”  Then they tried it and they stuck around and now they’re seeing massive results.  So Lauren, you are not alone in that.  Your kid thinks this is weird and it makes her worse, and I’m going to tell you why.  I’m also going to give you some tips on how to help motivate somebody who’s not motivated to help themselves.

Athlete Wants a Quick Fix

First of all, there are some reasons why it might feel worse once you start digging into the solution around something.  When, when somebody is struggling with a mental block or fear, they often think it’s random.  They think out of the blue.  “I all of a sudden can’t do my skill anymore.  This is horrible.  Why is this happening to me?  I just want to do my skill and get on with my life.”  They don’t want to fix it.  They don’t want to talk to somebody.  They just want their skills back and they want them back immediately.  That’s where that athlete is at.

Sharing the Solution

Then there are parents are saying, “Oh my gosh, I found the solution.  This lady went through the same thing and she helps people with this.  This is what she does.  She has a podcast.  I listen to her.  She’s great.  You’re going love her,” and the kid’s like, “Oh, whatever.  Okay,” and then once they listen, the kid realizes, “Well, yeah, she does kind of sound like me.  Sure, I’ll try it.”

Just Watch the First Video

The first video, the “start here” module of the Overcoming Fear course tells you you’re going to feel uncomfortable because change is uncomfortable.  Any time your brain senses that there’s a risk of change, it starts to go on the defensive because it’s a lot easier to keep running the same programs, seeing the world through the same filter, expecting the same results.  From a brain standpoint, it’s a lot easier to do that then to learn to see the world in a new way.  That’s risky.

Understanding Your Brain

As far as the brain is concerned, the brain likes the body temperature to stay the same, the blood pressure to stay the same – it’s fueled on everything staying the same.  That’s what your brain wants so that your body stays alive and if things start to get different, your brain starts to go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. The can’t be good.  If you go and exercise harder than you usually do, you get the alarm bells.  Stop, stop, stop!  This isn’t good.  This is not good.  Stop.”  Because your body’s changing.  Your muscles are getting stronger, your heart is getting stronger, your lungs are getting stronger, but all your brain sees is change and red flags.

So even though it’s good for you, it doesn’t feel good all the time because of your brain’s tendency to want to avoid change.

Fear is Not Random

Then, once they acknowledge, “Alright, it might be uncomfortable, but I want this.  I want my confidence back.  I want to live up to my full potential.  I will do this.  I’ll hang out with this weird lady online and I’ll give it a try,” then they realize the fear is not actually random.  There are certain things that lead to it that you are in control of as the athlete, and this is almost bad news for some people because if it’s random and you don’t have control, then it’s, “Oh it’s somebody else’s fault.  Poor me.  Hopefully it will randomly magically fix itself.”  But if you’re able to look back at your own personal domino effect and go, “Oh, it was this, oh it was that.  Oh, it was that practice where I didn’t do the right thing.  Oh, I have some responsibility here,” the good news is you have power and you can get through it and you can prevent it in the future.

But sometimes it’s hard to take responsibility.  It’s a lot easier to say, “Nope, it’s random. It’s randomly going to come, the lights are going to turn back on and I’m going to be fine.”  That’s the path of least resistance.  I can tell you when you do this work, you will change, and you will change for the better.  You will build your confidence, you will get a new strategy for living, but the brain doesn’t necessarily want to do that.


Also, the final result might feel worse before it feels better because you become aware.  Before, you were just subconsciously going through life going through practice and you didn’t know what was working and what wasn’t working.  But when you become aware, you start to go, “I’m doing that thing again.  I’m being really negative to myself right now. Oh my gosh, why am I being so mean to myself?”  And it doesn’t feel good, but you don’t have the tools (yet) to stop it from happening.

That’s the first phase in any mental training – you become aware.  If you’re not aware of yourself, you can’t change.  You start to have that Adam and Eve moment where you’re like, “I am doing this.  I am involved in this.  This is partially because of how I’m behaving,” even though, of course, these are good kids or not like intentionally trying to be in this position, they just have certain things that they are not good at.  Maybe it’s communicating, or being nice to themselves, so they have to learn before they can get to the other side.

You Have to Commit

So I say in that first video, “Stick with it, do the whole thing.  Do the whole thing, and then you will get the results.  It’s not going to make you worse.  It’s going to make you aware, then it’s going to make you change, then it’s going to make you better, and if you want to get better, then you have to take those steps in between.”

You know that that children’s book that says, “You can’t go around it, can’t go under it, can’t go over.  I’ve got to go through it.”  You have to walk into your fear step by step, by step, by step, guided with purpose, getting uncomfortable in a measured and manageable way.

And then on the other side is your confidence.  You look back and go, “Oh my gosh, I did it.”  You know those moments when you’ve been working your butt off for a new skill or even an old skill, and when you finally get it you see that it wasn’t so hard.  But you have to look back and give yourself credit for all the work, all the baby steps, and all the discomfort that you weathered to get there.

So that’s why it feels worse.  This is totally normal.  Anybody who has started into the course and gone, “Oh, I don’t like this,” good.  You’re in the right place.  That’s how we got to commit.  You have to commit.  You start with the first video, and if you cannot commit, don’t watch any more videos.  If you’re not willing, then don’t.

Three Reasons for Resistance

Now here are the reasons why people don’t want help when they are legitimately struggling or seeing that they’re not living up to their potential.

  1. Denial – They just can’t see it.  They want to blame.
  2. Lack of self-awareness – Like I already mentioned, if you don’t know it’s happening, you cannot fix it.
  3. Shame – A lot of people feel like they’re a bad person because their identity is linked up with their performance, and if they’re not performing well, they are not okay.  The last thing they want is to shine light on that deep secret of, “I am not okay, I’m broken.  I’m not good.  No matter how hard I try, I’m just not good enough.

I can relate to this on a really deep level.  You don’t want help if it’s going to require exposing the fact that you feel like you’re not good.

But, by saying, “Okay, I want to get through this.  I don’t want to feel this way anymore.  I want my skills back for good.  I want my confidence.  I want my happiness back.  I want my joy,” there has to be this ability to go, “All right.  I’m willing to be honest with myself. I’m willing to do the work and willing to get uncomfortable.  Let’s do this.”

Gaining Tools for Future Success

So any pushback is so normal.  I don’t do this work so that gymnastics scores get higher. I’m not about that.  I do love that because I want people to succeed, but I say it all the time – this is not about you winning the state meet.  That’d be awesome, but this is about when you’re up against fear in relationships as an adult, when you’re up against fear about getting a promotion or being good enough to go for a job, or you’re up against not believing in yourself in college, you have the tools.  You can go into that discomfort and you can just baby step into it and go, “I’m going to be okay.  I’ve done it before, I can do it again.  Fear will not take me down.”  That’s what I really want.  I have been through the discomfort to know it is so, so worth it.

Polling Young Athletes

So I took the informal poll.  All the kids in the live trainings, they don’t want to be there. They showed up, they clicked in, and now they are thriving.  Many of these kids are really thriving and they’re making slow progress, but slow, steady, lasting progress.  It is so amazing and powerful to watch.

My recommendation is to get your athlete onto the live training because that’s where they get to be with 25 kids who are in their exact same boat, who are dealing with the exact same nerves or mental blocks or fear.  Then, there are also kids who have been there a while who are doing their skills and they’re sharing.  They’re saying, “It’s not that hard you guys.  I just did it and here’s how!”  They feel like they just randomly did it, but I remind them to talk about what they’ve been doing for the last couple months.  They’ve earned this.  And we get to give them a pat on the back and we get to celebrate together.

Polling Parents

There’s a private Facebook group for the parents in the community because it’s so necessary to be able to support each end of the equation here.  We have the kids on one side, PerformHappy is all about them.  They have courses and live trainings.  Then we have the parents group where they can come together.  So I did another informal poll and asked, “Hey, if your kids were not into it at first, what did you do?  How did you get them interested in it?”  So Lori said,

“I just tried to explain the benefits based on the videos that I watched and how so many professional athletes do this on a regular basis.  I think she thought it was a little strange at first but decided to try it.  Now my teenage son is a bit harder, he will do it, but he always resists when I asked him to try to do it more often with his tennis.”

Again, resistance is normal, especially with teenagers from the age of 12 to 18.  Their actual job is to push away from their parents and go from needing their help for survival to being independent.  Part of their developmental task is to resist you no matter what it is. They’re doing it for practice so that finally, by the time they’re 17, you’re like, “Get out!”  Or you would never let them go, right?  You’d be like, “Oh, they’re my favorite little person. Don’t ever go.”  You’re like, “No, no, you can go.”  It’s developmental.  It has to happen that way or you would never let them go.

Internal Motivation

I can not even imagine sending my little one out into the world, but I’m sure by 17 I’ll be saying, “Bye, I love you. Call me later.”  The key is that you, you allow them to develop internal motivation around it.  You get them to the first live training and then they have to develop their own internal motivation.

Three Ingredients for Becoming Internally Motivated

Whether you’re trying to get motivated to do mental training or to do your sport or to do your job or whatever, there are three essential ingredients to becoming internally motivated.  You can bribe them to the first training, but then they’re going to have to take it on themselves.

The three things are autonomy, mastery, and purpose/desire.

1. Autonomy

There was a study done on a tech company where they gave their employees 24 hours and said, “You can do whatever you want.  Full creative license.  You can start a brand new project, you can do whatever you want for 24 hours and then just report back and let us know what you did.”  In those 24 hours, there were the most creative and the most lucrative ideas that had ever been created in that company.  So they added into part of their business model giving their employees autonomy, the ability to work on whatever they wanted.  Here’s what I recommend within the community – if she doesn’t want to do the fear course, let her start with mental toughness boot camp.

Let her take the superhero confidence challenge, let her do the meditations or visualize.  Let her know, “Okay, we’re doing this as part of our training, but you get to pick.  Do you want to do live training and not do anything else?  Do you want to do the courses and not go on the live training?”  That’s why there are so many options because that way they get to be autonomous.  “This is your deal.  We’re doing it on the way to gym.  Every Monday in the car you pick.  I don’t care what you do, just do something,” and then if you give them that, then they’re going to start to see the benefits.  Something that will also create autonomy is to visualize their success often.  I have that worked on that in a lot of trainings we do.  They’re seeing themselves being successful.  They’re having that experience of, “Oh my gosh, I just saw what it could be like in a year that felt great.  Okay, I want to do this,” and then they have this good experience.


Also, to get that autonomy built, you want to remind them that they’re capable.  “You can get through this.  I believe in you.  You got this.”  Just reminding them they have what it takes.  “You can handle a little discomfort.  I know you can.”


Be optimistic.  Optimism is one of the key ingredients for getting through fear.  Optimism from all angles.


And then also another thing that builds autonomy is an environment where they can cooperate with others.  That’s when they’re all brainstorming.  We go, “Okay, this is the issue that Susie’s having on beam.  Has anyone been there?”  They respond, “Oh yeah, we all have.  What did you guys do?”  Then they’d go in the chat they share all these amazing ideas where they’re collaborating.  Then, people go and they try them and then they work and then they come up with new ones and we share them.

Friendly Competition

There, when there’s a challenge or some kind of competition, especially among our athletes, that can really help people to feel autonomous.  I am actually upgrading all of the membership site.  I’m so excited.  It’s basically going to be a big video game where you start on one, you go through the next, you get points, you get badges, and you can see who’s where.  You can kind of keep up with your friends along the path, and that alone will help to keep people moving like.

Psychology has dictated that just giving a little bit of a challenge and a little bit of competition can help to keep the attitude up.

Finally, challenging goals, and then for parents, praise the progress, the attitude and self-awareness.  There are a couple of girls who are really active in the forums.  There’s an “Ask Rebecca” forum where people can keep me up to date, ask me questions, and then I coach them personally and they’re saying things like, “I had a terrible day on vault, but this is what I learned, and I know that if I do this tomorrow, it’s going to be better, and I didn’t cry and I’m getting better!”  I look at that as, “Oh my gosh, what a success.  She’s seeing her progress on a bad day and she’s seeing how she’s getting better and therefore she’s opening yourself up to real success”

2. Mastery

Once your athlete starts doing the training and seeing change and success, this will lead to knowledge that they can do anything in life!  Again, they are gaining tools for present and future success.

3. Purpose/Desire

They will start feeling really good, like they have purpose.  Soon they will feel like they can even help others, like what the athletes are doing in the training room.  The new layout of the site will be fun and competitive, and they will want to login, they will want to do better.  They will be able to see and compare their progress and have that desire to keep moving forward!

Tips for Mom

Now mom, here are some top tips for you and then we’ll wrap up.  Number one, remember, this is her journey.  My goal actually with this new rollout of the community is to support parents so much that if the kids don’t even ever log in, the moms are going to be happy.  You’re going to be so at peace knowing that your kid’s fine.


I’m bringing in experts that can support me in supporting you, the parent, so you can ask your questions directly to an expert so your cup is going to be full.  When your kid is being, annoying, irritating, resistant, they’re being at an adolescent/teenagers, you’re going to be fine knowing that this is her journey.  Then you’ll be able to prepare the ground for a good conversation with good questions.  You’re going be listening with an open heart.  You’re going to have clear boundaries and you’re going to give them appropriate information when it is appropriate.

There’s also a course in there that’s just for parents on how to know where your kid is at as far as their willingness to approach change and how to listen, how to empathize correctly in these tough conversations.  Just understanding that your kid does not want to change because she’s human, that can be really useful.  Also, we’ll learn how to listen without creating power struggles, how to rebuild trust in a situation where maybe you’ve like flown off the handle a few times and the kid just does not want to talk to you.

If you’re the person who gets really frustrated with your kid, maybe your spouse is a little bit more patient, maybe their coach or their sibling or their cool aunt, maybe there’s somebody else who would be the person to talk to them about it.  That is something that you might want to be honest with yourself about.


Then just know the right and wrong time to bring it up. If your kid just got in the car, they’re in tears because they’re struggling, that is not the time to say, “You really should log in and do some mental training.”  Even though it feels like the appropriate time, that is not the time.  That is the time to say, “Oh honey, I love you.  I’m so sorry you had a tough day,” and that’s it.  That’s it.  They do not want coaching.  They do not want criticism.  They want a hug and they want food and they want to go to bed and they don’t want to talk about it.  Then, the next day when things are okay, that’s when you ask the right questions. You pave the way you, you encourage them to trust you and then you might say, “Hey, let’s come up with a time or we can just do this every week.  You get to pick what you do.  We’ll let’s just get it on the schedule.  If you did get to finish your course, we get ice cream.”

I’m not opposed to like little bribes to make somebody better themselves.  Remember, don’t do it at the wrong time when you’re tired, when you’re mad, when they’re tired, when they’re mad, when there’s a bunch of their friends around or a bunch of family around or when you’ve been arguing or by texts – none of those are the right time to have the conversation.  Just make sure that it’s setting you up for success.

For anybody who’s interested and who’s not already a member, get on the waiting list if you’re interested.  We’re going to be opening the doors and accepting a few more families right after Labor Day.  I’m not exactly sure when we’re going to open the doors, but if you want to be the first to note, get on that waiting list.  If you have questions, you can always email me at   Thank you for being here.  I’ll see you soon.

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