5 Tips for Dealing with Tough Coaches

Hello, everyone.  My name is Briley Casanova.  I’m super excited to be here with y’all this morning to talk about dealing with tough coaches.  At some point in an athlete’s career, it’s inevitable that there are going to be tough moments when communicating with coaches.  If you’re in a sport like gymnastics where you have judges, everything is so emotionally driven because of the investment and the young age that we have our young athletes in sport.

I want to give you a couple of tips, just my perspective on how to deal with tough coaches or just coaches on tough days.  I’m not saying all coaches or negative or anything.  That’s definitely not why I’m here and definitely not the purpose of today.

About Me

I’ll share just a little bit about me before I begin since I may be new to some of you.  I’m a former collegiate and international gymnast.  I was on the USA national team for two years (2008 to 2010) and those are great memories for me.  I really enjoyed it.  I’m really glad I got the opportunity to do that.  I was also a collegiate gymnast for the University of Michigan.  I was an all-around scholarship athlete, so again, very grateful to have had that experience.

Normalizing the Conversation

I feel pretty confident in saying that I’ve experienced tough times with coaches, but it’s been a great learning lesson.  I’ve learned so much from it.  I don’t think it should be a taboo thing to talk about.  As long as we’re all being open and kind and respectful to each other, this doesn’t have to be an issue that is super intense or draining; it doesn’t have to be as negative as we think it has to be.

I have five tips here for you today.  I think one of the great things about sharing these tips today is that it’s not just athletes who can use these techniques.  Parents and coaches can use these to communicate with other people.  I think we can all learn something here.

Tip #1: Control What You Can

I’ll start with a tip I tell my athletes all the time.  No matter what issue or situation you are in, control what you can control.  This is a huge mindset shift.  You have to ask yourself this question all the time – whatever situation you might be in, ask, “What can I control?  What is my role in this?  What can I do to react or take action or move forward?  How can I respond in this situation?  More specifically, when I say “control what you can control”, in a situation where you’re dealing with a tough coach, I’m really referring to your thoughts and your actions.

I don’t think we really realize how much power we truly have over our thoughts, our reactions, our behaviors, and our responses to things.  Moving forward, that can be one tip that you can apply when there’s a miscommunication or an issue that comes up, whether you’re the athlete listening and you’re talking to the coach, or even if you’re a parent and you’re witnessing this happen, whatever your role is in that situation, control what you can control in the moment.  This also applies to how you communicate with people in your circle.

Tip #2: Communicate Openly

We say this all the time, but I want to emphasize to everyone listening, communicate openly.  Communication is a two-way street.  It’s not just you talking to someone else, it’s you listening to someone else and internalizing what they’re saying.  Maybe you’re communicating with your environment, picking up on and listening to your environment and what it is telling you and what you’re telling it.  Communicate with kindness, respect, and an open mind.

I think the open mind part of communication is something that we don’t really talk about as much or emphasize, but communicating with kindness, respect, and an open mind goes such a long way.  We might not realize that because we’re always in our own heads.  When we communicate with someone else, we’re thinking our own thoughts.  We are so in tune with how we think, but having an open mind and being able to listen to someone else communicate an issue that we maybe aren’t super open to, is super helpful.  Especially as an athlete, I know we’re all perfectionists and we want to do well.  We don’t like hearing the negative things or the “tough love”, or any tough feedback.  Being able to have an open mind and being willing to listen to that and accept that is a huge skill to have as an athlete.

Tip #3: Listening & Feedback

This next tip is really taking tip two to the next level.  Being willing to listen and hear feedback is huge.  This one is a challenge for me.  I was a gymnast, and to this day, I still have a hard time taking criticism.  It’s a harsh reality sometimes, but I think it’s important to learn to listen and not react or get defensive when we hear critical feedback.

Then there is the notion of thinking introspectively and asking yourself, “What’s my part in this situation?”  I think that’s the biggest question to ask yourself when you’re dealing with a coach on a tough day or dealing with someone with whom your personalities just don’t necessarily match, but you still have to communicate to solve a problem or get information.

Listening, Feedback, & Communication Outside of Sport

There are going to be times in all of our lives, whether you’re an athlete, parent, or coach, where you’re all going to have to find ways to communicate with people you may not necessarily get along with right away.  This is when you listen to the tough feedback and ask yourself the question, “What’s my part?  What’s my role?  Maybe I’m not thinking of the situation or taking the critical feedback clearly.”  I think it’s being vulnerable enough with yourself to honestly ask and answer, “What’s my part in this situation?”

Tip #4: Benefit of the Doubt

This next tip is another piece of communication, an aspect that I recently shared with my athletes.  Thinking about myself, at least back when I was an athlete, I’ve always had a hard time getting and giving tough feedback, especially with coaches, teammates, and parents, but I’ve learned to give my coach the benefit of the doubt.  Again, that’s something that you’re not always initially willing to accept.  Understanding that your coach wants you to do well as an athlete is very difficult for some reason.

Making the Wrong Assumptions

When I was an athlete, that always seemed to slip my mind.  I always assumed that the coach was out to get me, or they were just going after me for no reason.  In reality, I was so lucky to have such great coaches who wanted me to succeed.  We want to do well and we want to fix mistakes, so when we don’t fix or correct mistakes in practice, it can be really tough and exhausting and frustrating.  This is why understanding at the end of the day, it would be a mistake to assume that the coach we have doesn’t want us to do well.

I hope you don’t have that mindset.  Until you prove otherwise, assume your coach wants you to do well, because if anything, you are a representation of them.  In practice, when you go to competitions, I think it would be a mistake to assume that your coach doesn’t want you to do well because it would reflect back on them.

Generally, I feel confident in telling you to give you coaches the benefit of the doubt and give them that understanding of we know that they want us to do well.  Try being open to that and being willing to listen to their side, whatever the tough situation may be or whatever the tough day is like.  Kow that they want you to do well, and that they’re coming from a place of purity and sincerity.

Tip #5: Telling Your Coach What You Need

The thing to keep in the back of your mind is something I don’t think we tell our athletes enough, has to do with dealing with an injury.  Getting an injury is one of those things that, for the most part, is inevitable for most of you at some point in your career, and your coach may be frustrated with the recovery process.  Maybe it’s too slow, maybe doctors aren’t clearing you to do certain things, and everyone’s getting frustrated with that process.

I’ve gone through an injury and the healing time took longer than expected.  What helped me was telling my coach what I need to succeed and not being afraid to stand up and say, “Hey, I think I just need more time,” or, “I need more physical therapy,” or, “I just need to not do this skill today because I’m hurting.  I’m in pain and I don’t feel confident enough yet.  I just need more time to use mats, have you spot, or just not do the skill yet.”

Prove It

The communication tip that I gave earlier ties into this as well.  There are kind and respectful ways to talk to your coach without getting defensive.  Simply tell your coach what you need to succeed, and prove it to them.  Show them what will work for you.  At the end of the day, even if the coach doesn’t necessarily like it or appreciate it, if you’re able to prove you know what you need to succeed and you’re willing and able to do that, whatever the result is at the end of the day, they will come around and they’ll respect that and appreciate that and value that.

Let the main takeaway from today be that the coach-athlete relationship is so important; it requires so much trust, honesty, and positive communication.  I’m so lucky and grateful to be able to say that I’m still in touch with the coaches that have coached me in the past because of some of these things that I’ve shared with you.  I’m sure they would have no problem being able to say that I was a tough athlete that sometimes too, but looking back, we all learned how to communicate better with each other and move past the tough times.  I really think I got the most out of our relationship during those intense training, competitive years.


I hope these tips help you in some way.  I’ll give a quick recap before I head out.

  1. Control what you can control – your thoughts, your actions, and how you respond.
  2.  Communicate with kindness, respect, and an open mind –  this is on both ends, athlete and coach.
  3. Be willing to listen and hear feedback – think introspectively and asking yourself the question of, “What’s my part in this situation?  What could I be doing wrong?  What am I not noticing?”  Those types of questions.
  4. Give your coaches the benefit of the doubt – know that they want you to succeed and do well, not just for us, but also because you’re a reflection of them, so why would they go in with bad intentions?  They want us to be happy, healthy, productive, and successful.
  5. Tell your coach what you need to succeed – then proving it to them.  You really have to know what you need in order to succeed and be able to tell your coaches that, so be confident in knowing what you need.  Don’t be afraid to tell them or ask them for what you need to do well.  If the coaches are doing their job right, hopefully, they’ll eventually come around.  If it’s not right away, they will eventually come around and learn that you’re confident in what you need and you’re willing to do it, no matter what the situation is.

I hope that this live session was helpful.  Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.  My email is briley@completeperformancecoaching.com.  I look forward to your feedback, questions, comments, and I look forward to seeing you again in the future.

I have live group sessions in the PerformHappy community on Thursday nights at 8:00 PM central time.  I’d like to see some new faces.  We’ve been cultivating a really good group every week.  That’s one of my favorite things to do.  Anyway, I hope to see some of y’all there.  Thank you for listening.  I appreciate your time and I’ll see you next time.

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