Confident Sport Re-Entry: Day 2 – Mental Toughness

Hi everybody.  I’m Coach Rebecca Smith, the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching and the PerformHappy community.  I’m here for day two of the successful sport re-entry video series.  We were live yesterday talking about resilience and self-worth.  I’ll recap that in a minute.  If you haven’t already, please join our Sport Confidence Accelerator group, our free Facebook group where we give tips, tricks, mental strategies, and a whole bunch of awesome sport families are there who want to support you and your athletes.

Recap on Day 2: Resilience

As I said, this is our second day.  If you missed yesterday, I’ll give a quick recap.  I talked about the ingredients of resilience.  There are 10 things that you must have in order to be able to bounce back when things are hard, when you are quarantined for three months, when you have an injury, or when you have a bad competition or just one of those bad days.  If you have those 10 things really solid, you will be able to be that bouncy clown that just comes right back up with a smile on his face.  Every single time you just keep getting back up.  It’s the difference between being a ball that bounces that’s resilient and playdough.  I want you to be bouncy balls because life happens and we want to be able to just get right back up.

The other thing we talked about yesterday was having healthy self-worth is a critical make or break when it comes to confidence.  I don’t just mean the confidence of walking around looking like you know what you’re doing.  I mean the type of confidence that is unshakable.  We’re going to talk a little bit more about that tomorrow, but it’s that kind of confidence that even if you have a bad day, even if you didn’t sleep, even if your coach yelled at you, even if there’s drama on your team, you stay confident.  It’s unshakeable and self-worth is one of the three key ingredients for that.

Quiz Time!

Right now I’d like to give you all a quick quiz.  Grab a piece of paper and grab something to write with.  You’re going to rate yourself on a score of zero to two on each of these five things, so you’ll end up with a score between one and 10.

1. How well do you handle pressure?  If you freak out and fall apart and you become totally inconsistent, you’d be a zero.  If you’re kind of inconsistent, but not chaotic, you might be a one.  If you are totally in your element when pressure is on the table, you would be a two.

2. How well do you rebound from failures?  Look back at when you’ve made a mistake.  If you easily jumped back up and go, “Let’s try it again.  Let’s learn from our mistakes and go forward,” that’d be a two.  Or maybe you got frustrated and it lasted a little while but didn’t kill your whole day, then that might be a one.  If after making a mistake you’re thought process is, “I failed.  I’m the worst.  I can’t believe this happened.  What’s the point?”  And it takes you maybe a day or two to get back to where you were before for longer, that would be a zero.

3. Do you persist in the face of difficulties?  Are you the kind of athlete (or even parents you can ask yourself) that goes, “This is hard.  I quit.  I want my mom to do my homework.  I don’t get it. T his is too hard.”  That would be zero.  If you’re a one, you say, “Alright, this is hard.  I’m going to try.”  You still might have some negative thoughts about it and you still might want to give up, and you might end up not giving it your full effort because it’s challenging.  If you’re a two, your attitude is, “Bring on the challenge, bring on the difficulties.  I know this is going to make me better.”

4. Do you stay positive in a crisis?  If something is going sideways, are you the one who says, “Oh, I knew this would happen.  Oh my gosh, this is not good.  Oh no.  My mental block is back”?   Do you go to the drama side of things or are you just a little panicky but trying to hold it together?  Or, are you the one who is just easy peasy, smooth sailing, confident in your ability to handle that crisis.  Rank yourself zero to two there.

5. Do you have a good attitude about problems, pressure, and mistakes?  When those things come up, a problem like practice is closed, or there’s a meet in two weeks and you don’t have your skill yet, or you’re so frustrated that you keep messing up – are you on the negative side, are you neutral?  Are you the one who sees the silver lining and goes, “You know what, I get to get stronger.  I’m at home in quarantine.  I get to get better at my mental training.”  Are you the one who goes after it?  If you say, “Alright, we have a meet in two weeks.  That means I have two weeks.”  That’s seeing the silver lining.  Are you optimistic or are you tired of dealing with things?

Find Your Score

Give yourself an overall score of one to 10.  What score did you give yourself?  Some of you might have a zero and that’s okay.  That’s going to give you an indication that there’s definitely room for growth here.  If you’re a one, good job.  You know you already have some skills in place.  If you are a 10, amazing.  I want to hang out with you.  You are the people that I want to be around.  You have that good attitude that just rolls with it.  Life knocks you down, you get back up with a smile.  You try it again.  You bring your teammates along.  You’re like, “Bring on the crisis.  I can handle it.  What do you need me to do?”  Those are the people that I want in my life because that’s the person I want to be.

If you have a bunch of friends who are those chaos, drama, negativity people, or maybe even a coach or a grownup that are like that, you might want to go, “Huh.  That’s interesting.  I think I want to hang out with the people who are more mentally tough.”

Finding Room For Improvement

Where do you notice the most room?  Maybe it’s your attitude.  Maybe it’s you don’t rebound so quickly or that you give up easily.  When things get really hard, maybe a crisis will rattle you.  Look through this list and decide which one of these you want to get a little work into?  Where do you have room for growth that you want to focus in on?

Yesterday we looked at those ingredients of resilience and we picked one to do better with. This isn’t about beating yourself up.  This is about gaining awareness and all mental training starts with awareness.  If you don’t realize you’re doing it, you can’t change it.  If you don’t realize you’re falling a little short, you can’t improve it.  So just check in with that.

How Well Do You Handle Pressure

Next, we are going to do a little exercise that is one of my absolute favorite exercises to do with athletes when there is pressure.  That was number one of our mental toughness questions – how well do you handle pressure?  We’re going to do an exercise that will boost you.  If you already have a handle on pressure, then amazing, but I think pressure is one of the biggest issues with confidence.

I work a lot with gymnasts.  The optional gymnastics season starts in December, January, so every November, people are saying, “Oh, I lost all my skills.  I’m falling apart. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  I can’t do my backward series anymore.”  We call it nervous November around PerformHappy because everyone gets real nervous because there’s this pressure.  I want you to be able to handle that pressure like a champ, and here is how we’re going to do it.

Pressure vs. Challenge

I want you to think of a time in your life and your sport career where you were feeling a massive amount of pressure.  Maybe it was that you had just had a couple of successful events, there was one more to go, and it was the one that you were afraid of and you had to get a certain score so that your team could qualify for X.  Or think of a time where you had to get a certain skill by a certain point, otherwise you weren’t going to move up to the next level or you weren’t going to test.  Whatever your pressure situation is, go ahead and type that in.  What is it that puts extra pressure on you?

Exercise 1

What we’re going to do is actually close our eyes and experience this again.  Make sure that you’re in a place where you can safely close your eyes and imagine, and adults feel free to join in on this because it’s something that can really change your ability to handle pressure.  Okay.  Close your eyes.  You’re going to start with a nice deep breath in, through your nose and out through your mouth.  Do a little body scan and keep breathing.  Notice if you’re holding any tension anywhere in your body, your neck, your shoulders.

Body Scan

Scan down all the way through and with each out-breath, allow yourself to get a little bit more relaxed.  Imagine that you are right back in that situation, feeling the pressure.  You’re about to experience it again.  Notice the thoughts that are on your mind as you find yourself back in that situation that puts so much pressure on you.  Notice what you’re paying attention to.  Are you talking?  Are you by yourself?  Are you in the performance arena?

Set the scene, trying to see it in full detail.  Notice what happens in your body.  When you go to this time, maybe you feel a little nervous.  Maybe there’s a little tension.  Maybe you feel it in your stomach, focusing on the pressure and what’s at stake.  Maybe you don’t want to disappoint somebody.  Maybe you just really don’t want to fail and it’s really important that you succeed in this moment.

Go through that situation feeling it, noticing your thoughts, noticing the pressure.  Notice what it does to your heart, to your body.  Notice what you feel, what you see.  That memory comes to an end, and notice what that was like.  Slowly start to open your eyes when you’re ready.  What was that like for you?  Did it feel great?  Did it feel awful?  Did you get tense?  Did you get nervous?  Did you get butterflies in your stomach?  Then, think about how that performance.  Was it your best?  Was it awesome?  Was it not your best?  Did you choke?  How did it go?

Exercise 2

Now we’re going to change that pressure into a challenge.  We’re going to redo that memory.  You just went through the memory just as it was in real life. Now we’re going to change it a little bit.  We’re going to take control of that memory.  When you think about that situation, instead of focusing on the pressure, you’re thinking of it as a challenge.  Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to go to this college, and that college coach is standing at the end of my beam.”  Either the pressure crushes you or you, or you can think, “Oh my gosh, what an amazing challenge right now that I get to, that I get to rise to.”

I like to ask my athletes this question.  Are you competitive?  Would you say you’re competitive?  When I sit down to play a board game with my family, I am out for blood.  I want to win.  I love competition, and also I would rather play against like my nerdy uncle who’s also really good and really competitive because if I beat him, it feels so good.

Do You Like a Challenge?

You can ask yourself this, too.  Would you rather win against an easy team or against a hard team?  I know the hard team, of course.  Would you rather get an A in an easy class or in a hard class?  Some of my best college courses were the ones that I barely scraped by with an A and I earned that A and I loved that A.  If you’re the kind of person who would rather get an A in a hard class and who would rather beat the state champion rather than some kid who just showed up that day – if you’d rather win the hard thing or do the hard thing, then you can confidently say, “I like a challenge.”  It feels so much better to do something amazing than something that’s meh.

Anyone who chooses the sports that I typically talk to, you like a challenge.  You would not be a gymnast or a figure skater if you didn’t like a challenge.  I don’t even know what you would do, but you definitely wouldn’t pick that.  With that in mind, let’s just say you love a challenge and you’re going to go back into that situation with that in your blood and your bones in your mind.  I love a challenge.  I want to reach this challenge.

Switching Your Mindset

In a pressure situation, you’re thinking, “I need to, I have to, oh gosh, I better not,” but in a challenge situation, you’re thinking, “Hey, I want to.  This will be cool.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if I perform well in front of that college coach right now?  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we beat the undefeated team?  Wouldn’t it be amazing if I stuck my routine?  Let’s try.”

Instead of those pressure thoughts, we’re going to go back in and relive that memory from a challenge mindset and see what happens.  Again, you’re going to get comfy and take a couple of nice deep breaths.  Allow yourself to get a little bit more relaxed into your chair.  Notice if you have any tight muscles and just breathe it out.

Now I’m going to rewind back to the beginning of that memory.  You’re walking in feeling excited.  Maybe you still feel the butterflies, but there’s this feeling in you that you want to rise to that challenge.  It’s challenge.  It’s going to be difficult, but that’s why it feels so good to go and try.  Notice what you see, notice what you pay attention to.  As you focus on that challenge that’s in front of you.  Notice what your thoughts do.  As you begin, go after that challenge.  Go rise to it.  Notice what it feels like, what you see, what you’re paying attention to, what your body can do.

Noticing the Difference

What was that like?  What was different?  If we can completely shift you from pressure to challenge, take out that “have to, need to”, that sort of frantic grasping for a certain outcome, and instead step into that, “want to, how cool would it be, that’d be awesome”. you’re going from, “What if it goes wrong?” to, “What if it goes right?”  Just a little shift.

What did you notice?  When most people do this exercise (and there’s no right or wrong way to experience this – all mental training is going to hit you in the way it’s meant to because our brains are all different), but typically in this situation, people will notice, “Wait, I did my routine so much better.  I was much more confident, less nervous, and I wasn’t thinking as much.  I just did it, I trusted it, and I had more fun.”

Now I’ve used this exercise on elite gymnasts and just this exercise is enough to take you from choking under pressure to having a sort of lightness about you when you walk in.  You want it, but you don’t need it.  It goes back to yesterday.  You don’t need it in order to be okay.  You’re already okay.  You just go as you are with your flaws, with your failures, with your mistakes, with your bad mood, you are good enough.  Then you can go after a challenge.

Time to Return

As you go back to practice, see it as a challenge.  I’m in California.  Our state is barely opening so we could say, “It’s not fair.  Florida and Georgia are open and those kids are already getting all this practice.  They would have private lessons for months and wham!”  Or, I can say, “If I go out and win nationals from California, that’s even better.  How amazing would that be?”

Go in and face that challenge.  You may be thinking, “My hands want to rip into a million pieces and my wrists hurt, my back hurts, everything is hurting because I’ve been out for so long.”  Well, that’s a challenge.  You’re going to have to stay in tune with your body.  Go after it with that in mind.

Action Steps

Just like yesterday, I want you to love and accept yourself no matter what progress you’re able to make.  If you have a terrible day and make zero progress, that’s okay.  You don’t have to love yourself anyway, because you know what any re-entry any is going to be uncharted territory.  You just have to be okay with whatever progress you can make today.  Then view it as a challenge and rise to it.

I’ll be back tomorrow for our third day where we’ll be talking about confidence.  Thank you for being here and I will see you again tomorrow.  You can email me if you have any questions.  My email is  I’ll see you soon.

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