Athletes, Coaching, Confidence, Mental Training, Preparation, Safety, Skill Development

The True Asset in Skill Development: Building Confidence for New Skills


One of the biggest challenges students have when learning new skills, is getting over fear and gaining confidence. It is amazing how emotions take control of an individual when the time comes to perform a skill without assistance. In many cases, it takes much longer to build the confidence needed to perform the skill than the physical effort required to complete the skill. This can be frustrating for both the student and the coach, but it needs to be understood and approached cautiously.

It is amazing to see how well a skill is performed while the coach is providing a spot, even the slightest spot. It is obvious the student can perform the skill but it doesn’t happen. Why? Because they are terrified!! Although this is frustrating, it is completely normal. In fact, it is not uncommon for students to take weeks or even months before they are emotionally ready to go solo on a skill.

The coach plays a major role in helping the athlete gain confidence. This is done primarily by spotting the skills (The Art of Spotting) as the athlete progresses through the stages of development. As the athlete gains better understanding and awareness if the skill, the coach can begin to lighten the spot.


Although the objective is for the student to perform the skill without a spot, the coach needs to be aware of the emotions of the student. In many cases, when a student is attempting to do a skill without a spot for the first time, they are not thinking about how to do the skill, they are thinking about how bad it’s going to hurt when they crash. The coach should recognize the signs- if the student is stalling for a period of time, it is a good indication that they may not be ready. In this case, the coach should stand in to give emotional and physical support.

I have seen cases where students are forced to perform a skill without a spot, even if the student asks for one. This may be acceptable depending on the risk factor of the skill. For example, a front handspring has a much lower risk factor than a back handspring. If the risk factor of the skill is low, the student can be encouraged to “go for it”. If the student fails, there will likely be little physical or emotional consequences.

If the skill has a higher risk factor, however, the student may suffer an injury and possibly serious emotional consequences. The most sever is the “Mental Block”. When this occurs, it is a huge step back in progressive development.


It is our job as coaches to assist the athlete to grow in a positive direction. Every athlete is different both physically and emotionally. Some will have a low fear factor and others will have a much higher fear factor. This is why many students learn skills quicker than others. Patience is important and coaches need to work with the student to help build confidence. What’s even more important, is Safety. A coach should never put a student in a position where they are not comfortable or emotionally ready to perform a skill.  Let’s keep them safe, happy, and moving forward in a positive direction.


My Beginner Tumbling Training Guide is available and ready for all to use. This is a great training aid for any and all programs who offer tumbling training. If you would like to order your copy, follow this link:

My training manual for the Round-Off Back Handspring is also available. It is full of detailed progressions and technique that will allow for a positive and productive training. Follow the attached link to order your copy or e-book today!!

Scott Johnson is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Communication, Confidence, Mental Block, Mental Training, Safety, Skill Development

Confidence and the Mental Block

athlete success

There are many factors that come into play when considering what it takes to be successful.  Of course hard work, determination, motivation, sacrifice, and confidence are all major contributors in the journey to success. Unfortunately, so is the always lurking Mental Block.  In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the role that Confidence plays in preventing and overcoming the Mental Block.

When a person is confident at what they are doing the task at hand is accomplish with ease, it gives us a feeling of security. It affects everything we do each and every day.  Confidence not only makes you feel good about yourself, it’s contagious and can even influence those around you to also be confident. A lack of confidence conversely can create fear, panic, and at times a Mental Block.

So how is confidence achieved or how does one become confident in what they are doing and trying to accomplish?  Participating in a positive and energetic environment certainly helps.  Most importantly, however, is the consistency of accomplishment.  Building confidence in something usually does not magically happen, it must be developed.  It takes time and effort in a positive environment for confidence to begin to build.  Communication and positive reinforcement from the coach is a major factor in helping to build confidence in the athlete (Coaching: The Communication Factor).  Words of encouragement and using a positive approach should always be a part of the training process.  This approach in itself is very powerful in building a strong sense of personal strength.


vollyball girl serious look

When a person is attempting an acrobatic skill that requires you to turn upside down for the first time there can be a feeling of apprehension, even fear.  This is natural, what’s unnatural is turning upside down when you’re used to walking around right side up!

In sports such as gymnastics, cheerleading, trampoline, and tumbling where athletes are learning to flip and twist there is always some level of fear that must be overcome with confidence.  When the activity involves inherent risks, the level of confidence required to minimize any fear of failure requires that both the athlete and coach fully comprehend the task at hand. Through a structured and disciplined training program, athletes are more likely to achieve the level of confidence needed that will enable them to succeed.

When a person has a lack of confidence in what they are attempting to achieve, it is an emotion that must be changed in order for the person to move forward. This is when the Mental Block comes into play.  Not only is this a very frustrating experience but one that can end a career or participation in an activity.   In addition, a lack of confidence can also result in an injury if a student is attempting something they are unsure about or scared to perform.



This is where the coach or instructor plays an important role.  It is the coach that trains the athlete and the one that is responsible for the development of skills.  When the coach has the knowledge of progressions and drills, it helps to guide the student to learn skills in a non-stressful environment.  This is crucial in building confidence in the athlete (The Technique Controversy).  If the student is placed in a stressful environment or forced to attempt a skill they are scared to perform, their confidence will almost assuredly be diminished.

There are two basic factors that allow one to attempt a gymnastic skill. Being able to perform the skill physically, and being able to comprehend it mentally. In most cases the ability to comprehend the skill mentally is the larger concern.


Learning a new skill usually begins with a number of mechanical drills to mimic the body positions and motions it will go through to successfully complete the skill.  The next step may be for the coach to spot or assist the student through the skill for their safety, and for them to feel the sensation of rotation. After a period of time when the student demonstrates they can physically execute the skill safely with little or no spotting assistance the instructor may step back and allow the student to attempt the skill on their own. This is when the level of their confidence and mental state will most likely show itself. How many times have you coaches spotted back handsprings but the moment the student doesn’t feel your hand there, they will not go?  Why?  because the athlete has not developed the confidence needed to go solo – they are afraid.


Failure pic

I have worked with many students that have lost all confidence in a particular skill and developed the “Mental Block”.  Most are a result of the student attempting a skill they were not mentally ready to perform without assistance that ended badly – scaring them, or worse, resulting in an injury.  Another cause for the development of a mental block could simply be that the athlete starts to think of negative things or watching someone else take a fall or get injured doing a particular skill. Once a mental block has evolved the athlete will struggle to advance the skill further. Even worse, if the athlete cannot overcome the mental block there is even the possibility they will discontinue participating in the sport.

This is very common in almost every program and one that must be dealt with carefully.  When an athlete has lost their confidence in a skill, they should never be coerced into attempting the skill. Doing so will only serve to perpetuate the Mental Block or worse instill even greater fear. The signs are:  the student hesitates, or stalls for a lengthy period of time.  What are they thinking about?  In many cases, they are thinking about getting hurt if they fail which creates fear.  This thought process needs to be eliminated and can be accomplished through additional training.  Sometimes, it may be best for the athlete to relearn the skill from scratch and focus on drills and mechanical technique. This process takes time but in many cases, will cure the block so the athlete can continue to progress.

I have always believed that champions are created in a positive training environment. Such environments are critical in helping the students feel good about what they are doing which is a big factor in building confidence.  When an athlete has a great sense of confidence, they will be more aggressive in their training development.  The more aggressive the training, the better the chance of success!!




I would love to hear your comments. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at:  

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Confidence, Mental Training, Preparation, Stress, Training

Stress in Sports

running serious

Stress is a natural emotion and it occurs in all facets of life. It is certainly no fun to deal with stress, especially if the anxiety becomes so extreme that it affects one’s physical ability to function. Stress in sports is a common occurrence and needs to be recognized and controlled as much as possible. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the stress athletes may encounter, and ways it can be controlled.

Stress can disrupt a person’s physical and emotional state and can even cause major medical problems. The results of serious stress can create health problems such as high blood pressure, depression, and many other dangerous issues. Today there are a number of medications that can aid in helping to control stress or anxiety, but the better way is to learn to control it without the use of these medications.

While they may be better at hiding it than most of us, athletes will almost assuredly have to deal with varying levels of stress throughout their competitive career. With that said the competitive athlete’s must find a way to deal with stress and anxiety on their own. No matter how remote the reality, competitive athletes today are restricted from using most if not all of these medications due to the possibility of performance enhancement.


runner on dock

In order to reduce or hopefully even eliminate the anxiety we must first determine what’s causing the stress. Is it self inflicted? Meaning that the athlete is putting stress upon themselves to perform at a particular level or accomplish a specific goal? Or is the stress coming from an external source like a coach or parent? If the stress is coming from an external source, this is more difficult to control and could escalate to serious levels.

yoga cat stretch

Self inflicted stress is very common and usually relates to ones emotions concerning their own abilities and performances.  It is a normal emotion and most experienced athletes are familiar with it and have their own means of controlling it.  When getting ready for a major competition for example, the athlete may have certain rituals established that keep them focused and in control.  When I was preparing for a major competition, I would often find time alone to practice imagery, almost like meditation.  Often, finding a hobby that can be used to distract the mental emotions of an upcoming competition is a useful tool for control.  Self inflicted stress is much easier to overcome because the individual is in control of their own emotions.

External stress is much more difficult to control and in many cases can lead to devastating results.  This type of stress can be caused by pressures inflicted from other people such as a coach or parent.  I have seen many athletes under extreme stress due to the expectations of their coach or parent. Unwarranted stress like this is unacceptable!!


woman stressed

This form of stress can cause adverse health issues that in many cases will affect the athlete the rest of their live. I have always believed that the individual no matter if they are a recreational student or an elite athlete should be treated with respect in a positive environment.  It is for this reason the United States Olympic Committee and each individual Sport’s Governing Body have created what is called “SafeSport”.  This program was created to protect the athletes from abuse in all areas: verbal, mental, physical, and sexual.  There are now serious consequences for a coach or instructor if they are reported in treating an athlete in such a manner.

Angry parent anim

A serious problem that has little or no consequences is stress created by a parent (Coaching the Parents).  Of course, physical abuse can be reported and consequences will follow, however, verbal and emotional abuse is difficult to manage.  When it is apparent the stress is a result of pressure by the parent, the coach may be able to help by discussing the issue with the parent.  It could be possible that the parent is not aware of the stress they are inflicting on their child.  It is common to see parents coaching their children on the sidelines at little league events.  Although they may think this will improve their performance, it many times increases their stress level. Not only does this distract the athlete from focusing on what the coach is trying to accomplish, it may also prevent the athlete from being able to focus on the task at hand.

All athletes will incur stress throughout their careers and each athlete will deal with it in their own way. Stressful situations are common, such as a competition or learning a new skill. The athlete that can control their emotions in these situations will have a much better chance of a positive outcome. There is no doubt that it is stressful for most people to be involved in a competition, the more serious the competition the more extreme the stress.



The most stressful event I experienced in my competitive career was preparing and competing at the 1984 USA Olympic Gymnastics Trials.  I have trained many years for this one chance to accomplish my dream.  If I would make only one mistake, my dream would not become reality.  The pressure was Huge!!  I was prepared physically for the Trials, but I had to control my emotions leading up to the event as well as during the event.  I am certain most all the competitors had to deal with the same emotions.  Leading up to the competition, I would go out to the lake alone and go fishing.  This was a relaxing and non-stressful environment that allowed me to clear my mind and focus on only what was important. I must have controlled my stress well as I had a great competition and found a place on the Olympic Team.

Stress can be very unpleasant and will reoccur throughout the athlete’s career.  It may take years to control, but the patient athlete will learn how to control it and move forward in their development in a positive manner.  When I first started giving motivational speeches to large groups, for example, I was terrified.  I even froze up a few times in my first few presentations.  I believe most speakers deal with this emotion when starting out their career.  After some time and experience, my presentations flowed like clockwork and most of my apprehensions were gone.  Through consistency, I was able to control my emotions and feel confident in what I was doing.  Of course, having a great support group is certainly a great benefit to assist in building confidence and relieving stress.

Successful athletes have dealt with many stressful issues along their path to achieve their goals.  Stress cannot be eliminated and is part of being an athlete.  It is how one deals with it that is important, and there are many methods that one can utilize to help keep this emotion under control.  Let’s all be the positive support group that helps these special people achieve their dreams and goals.




I would love to hear your comments. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at:  

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Mental Training

The Motivation Factor

motivation wordWe have all heard that it takes a lot of effort and hard work to reach goals and become successful.  Some may have to work harder than others depending on their talents and background and it makes sense that those who work harder will accomplish more.  There are a number of factors that can influence success, such as: time, accommodations, environments, outside influences, and FEAR, to name a few.  But I believe the most important factor in achieving success is Motivation. In this post discussion, I will focus on the motivation factor – how it is created, maintained, lost, and even destroyed.

We all have ideas on how to inspire and motivate students.  For the coach or instructor, this is one of the most challenging aspects of skill development, especially for those athletes training for competitions or special events.  Motivation factors will vary depending on the level of participation.  For the beginning student, motivation is not necessarily a challenge to achieve as the student is mostly participating for fun.  However, as the student progresses to higher levels and the need for disciplined training is mandated, the motivation factor plays a much larger role.

coach and athletes

So, where does motivation come from?  It is different for each of us, however, it is directly related to the goals and desires of the individual.  The stronger the desire and passion to achieve something, the stronger the motivation.  This type of motivation is considered to be Internal Motivation, which means the person is self motivated without external assistance.  This is the strongest and most effective type of motivation.  Most people who have achieved great success are driven by internal motivation.  The desire and passion to achieve a particular goal is so strong that the individual is most often very motivated.  Another type of motivation factor is called External Motivation.  This is where it becomes challenging for the instructors.  If the student seems to be losing their desire to achieve, the instructor needs to find ways to motivate the student, which can be very difficult.  Instructors need to be extremely creative at times in order to keep a student or group of students motivated.

It is almost impossible to expect a person to be 100% motivated 100% of the time.  Even the most successful people will experience a deep fall in their motivation several times throughout their careers.  This drop or loss in motivation may be one of the most difficult challenges to overcome.  I have experienced this scenario several times throughout my competitive career and it has always been a true challenge.  There are many factors that may cause a loss in motivation: injury, dramatic changes in one’s personal life, negative environments, and burn-out are a few examples.  However, no matter the cause, every individual is different and the approach to addressing the problem should be done on an individual basis.

Be happy pic

As mentioned earlier, the coach/instructor needs to be creative in attempting to motivate a particular athlete or group of athletes.  I have always had a philosophy that in order for someone to be motivated to achieve their goals, the person needs to love what they are doing.  If a student loves what they are doing, they will be more likely and motivated to put out the effort it takes to be successful.  One example:  for you parents out there, how difficult is it to get your child to clean their room?  Although, some (very few) children are great at this, the norm is the opposite.  Why?  because it is no fun!!  I have yet to hear of a child who is motivated and excited to keep their room clean at all times.  So what can the parents do to motivate their children to be excited about doing this terrible thing?  Well, money surely is a good thing:), gifts, promises of something fun?  These are certainly incentives that may spark some motivation.  Another tactic that is used, which I do not particularly agree with in most cases, is threatening or negative consequences, especially if the motivation blocker is fear.

It is true that this type of action works to enhance performance and effort, but the influence in this type of behavior is considered negative external motivation which can possibly intensify the students’ negative behavior and feelings.  There are students who respond positively to this type of action, but may only last for a short period of time. I have seen consequences such as conditioning, sitting out, or even being kicked-out of the gym to attempt to get a student to motivate in their training.  In many cases, when the student loses their motivation and desire, it may be short-lived and the student bounces back.  However, if the problem persists for a longer period of time, the coach/instructor needs to re-evaluate the situation and determine if the student needs to make a major life change and possibly end their participation.  We see this especially in the older (teenage years) of an athlete.  As social environments become more involved in a person’s life, desires certainly change.  When once the young athlete wants to become a great athlete and champion, as the child grows, this desire may fade away.  It is a choice the student needs to ultimately make- not the coach or the parents.

Failure Depression pic

I have experienced cases where it is obvious the desire and spark has left the athlete, however, still forced to attempt to continue in a serious matter, which typically ends in failure and disgrace.  This is not the way a career should end.  This is a very difficult situation for all involved.  There may have been years of sacrifice (time and money) for a child’s growth in a program with hopes of future success – whether it be an Olympic dream or for a collegiate scholarship opportunity.  However, if the student has lost all desire to achieve, failure will certainly prevail.

Evaluation of the loss of motivation needs to be considered.  It may be a short lived scenario and should be worked through.  One common issue is that of Burn-Out.  This is a common scenario and can be overcome through time and patience.  I have experienced this problem numerous times throughout my career and it has always been a challenge.  There were times when I had no motivation at all and even wanted to quit the sport.  This would occur especially after a very busy competitive season.  The best cure was to take a step back in training and change the training environment where it is more relaxed and fun.  After a period of time, the spark re-ignites and the motivation continues as before.  Coaches need to understand this transition and be patient with the athlete.  If burn-out occurs during the competitive season, it becomes a challenge for all and the issue may escalate to a dangerous level.

Failure pic

Another issue affecting a loss in motivation is that of failure. Everyone has failed at something in their lifetime, some more than others.  There is nothing more degrading and miserable than failing, especially at something you live your life to achieve.  If failure is consistent, motivation will be very difficult to restore and the person will most likely end their participation.  However, failure can be a powerful tool in restoring ones internal motivation.  We have all heard the phrase “learn from your mistakes”, and if the individual is able to heed this advise, then the passion may return.  This scenario was a major factor in my own success as an athlete.

Failure phrase

Following our Olympic success in 1984, I made the decision to continue with my career and shoot for the 1988 Olympics.  In 1985 and 1986, my motivation factor took a big plunge.  I didn’t train the way I should have and it drastically effected my performance in competition.  In 1986, I performed so poorly at our USA National Championships, that I was lucky to make the National Team.  I was not picked to participate in the major international competitions that I was accustomed to for so many years.  The talk in the national gymnastics arena was that Scott Johnson was all washed up and should retire.  I was ashamed and extremely embarrassed.  I knew I had the ability to be a champion and it was the slap in the face I needed.  The following year in 1987, I became the USA National  Gymnastics AA Champion.  I am convinced this would not have happened if I did not have that terrible failure the year before.  In this case, Failure was a good thing!!

Believe in yourself pic

The motivation factor is certainly ranked among the top factors in determining whether someone will achieve success or failure.  Coaches, parents, students, and peers should all be aware and understand this issue so they can be supportive of ones desires.  I believe that all individuals involved with an activity should feel proud of their participation and efforts.  If it is sports that your involved with, it will not last forever, and it would sure be nice to look back and feel great about that participation.  Always remember,  “if you love what you are doing, you will be motivated to put forth the effort needed to become successful”.

I hope this discussion is helpful for those struggling with motivation.  I would be glad to discuss further if you have questions, so do not hesitate to comment or send me a message.  Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts.  As always, I would love to hear your comments.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at: