Get What You Want by Developing Mental Toughness with Mykayla Skinner Harmer
Updated: May 27
“Your mind is the biggest thing. That's how you do everything pretty much. So if you can train that, the rest is easy.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
Mykayla Skinner Harmer is a 6x National Team member, a 4x Worlds Medalist, 2016 Olympic Team Member, and a 2021 Olympic hopeful in women's gymnastics. She has a mental toughness that’s beyond her years. Her journey to being an elite athlete took immeasurable courage and strength. Having a mind tough enough to keep her on top, through trial after trial, is Mykayla’s superpower. Tune in as Shirley and Mykayla discuss mental toughness and how it is the key to getting what you want as a professional athlete. Mykayla shares some of her secrets to developing it. Don’t miss this episode!
01:40 The Super Tough Olympic Journey
07:02 Following Elite Rules
10:16 Marriage In A Crazy Busy Schedule
13:56 Mental Toughness In Action
19:46 Thankful For The Struggles
22:26 One Day At A Time
24:25 The Coolest Feeling Ever
05:25 “To get where you want to be is a lot of hard work.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
17:16 “I'm just going to do what I know how to do and what I train.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
18:44 “Your mind is the biggest thing. That's how you do everything pretty much. So if you can train that, the rest is easy.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
21:48 “I'm going to keep working hard just for those young gymnasts and be a good example to them and help them reach my mental toughness.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
22:44 “Build your confidence and build your mental toughness every day until you can reach that perfection.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
Connect With myKayla:
Mykayla Skinner-Harmer is an American Artistic Gymnast. Mykayla was a US 2016 Olympic Team Member, a four-time Worlds Medalist, a six-time National Team Member, and a 2021 Olympic hopeful amazing gymnast. She is known for her high level of difficulty on vault and floor performances. She was introduced to gymnastics at an early age through her sisters, who are former gymnasts themselves. She used to hate gymnastics as she was growing up having a different set of activities from girls her age along with the tough and gruesome life of an athlete. But, her life changed as she learned to love what she does and decided it is her dream and she’s going to push through and reach the top.
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Shirley Owens: My guest today is MyKayla Skinner Harmer. MyKayla was a 2016 Olympic team member. She's a four time world medalist, six time national team member and a 2021 Olympic, hopeful, amazing gymnast. I happen to know her personally so I feel really honored that she would be here with me today.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be with you. I've been waiting for this, so it's so fun. Thanks for having me.
Shirley Owens: Oh, I'm so excited. So I want you to just start with your story. The Olympics is a big deal, and I know gymnastics is not an easy sport. My daughter was a teammate of yours at one time and it is a really rough road. I don't think there's a sport that is more grueling than gymnastics that I know of or that I've been a part of. So tell me a little bit about your story, about maybe when it was that you knew you wanted to go to the Olympics and just go over that a little bit. Just tell us who MyKayla is.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Yeah, so I actually started gymnastics when I was five. My two older sisters did it. And ever since I came out of the --, they were flipping me inside the house, hanging me up on a chin up bar, and they just loved playing with me. I was like a little ragdoll, it was really funny. Once I turned five, my mom decided to put me into gymnastics and I actually had a lot of talent from the very beginning. I skipped levels one, two, three and four, went straight to level five, and then I won five state meets, and then I did level six, and level seven, and level eight, and a two years of eight. So I was actually in Utah when I was six and seven so I did gym up there for a little bit, and then we moved back down to Arizona. And my coaches that I had for a really long time that were really good family friends were like, Hey, the highest level they did there was level eight so they're like, I think she used to go to a different gym, she's too good to be here. So that's when my parents and my coach decided to talk to Lisa because she had the leap program there and they knew that I had the talent to pursue something like that. So we went to Desert Lights and the rest was just history. From there, I went to practice the same amount of hours as everyone else. And Lisa started realizing like, okay, she has some talent, like I think it could be possible but my mom didn't want to make me do all those hours just because it's so hard and so hurling. And yeah, it takes so much time and dedication and she knew when I was younger, I really didn't like gymnastics that much. Like I wanted to go and play with my friends, I hated it. I just didn't have the love for it. My other two sisters did, and after being there for a little bit, I was doing private with one of my coaches, Bob, and he was like, okay, she needs to be in the elite program. They put me in pretty fast and I literally did one meet at level nine, went straight to level 10, [inaudible] nationals, and junior internationally in the same year. So it was just like boom, boom, boom. It was crazy. And at that point, I remember going into my first elite practice super scared, and I knew my life was totally going to change from there -- training through sixth, seventh and eighth grade, and I hated it. And my mom's like, well, if you want to do this, you gotta be homeschooled. My high school at Higley said that I could do this and they would work with me. That was actually super exciting. So I attended school for like four hours a day, left at noon, got there at 6:00 AM and then train for the rest of the day. So it was super hard work, still kind of hated it. But I went to my first national team camp and it was rough, I said after that I was going to quit. I hated it. Having Marta was so intense and I don't know how I am still doing it, but when I came back from that camp, it really made me realize, this is what it takes to be an Olympian. I think this is what I want to do, and I want to go for it and try to make that dream come true.
Shirley Owens: So it wasn't your dream as a little girl, like, I'm going to be an Olympian. You didn't just love going every single day, and it was just work.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: I mean, I think every little girl was a gymnast. It was always a dream of mine, but I was like, Oh, I don't know if I'm never going to be that, like I didn't really know and I didn't like gym that much. There were times I was like, Oh, yeah, I'd love to go to the Olympics. I remember watching Carly Patterson, all of them compete in the Olympics in -- and Ostia, but I just never liked it. I don't know, it didn't really hit me. I was actually in the gym training for it and probably could have the possibility of making it. It totally changed my mindset and a lot of things. And to get where you want to be, it's a lot of hard work.
“To get where you want to be is a lot of hard work.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
Shirley Owens: Yeah. I don't even know if hard work explains what it is, for gymnastics. I think hard work is pulling weeds or just having a really rough day or whatever. But I mean, I remember nights, well, I remember driving you and Gracie home a few times, and sometimes your mom would bring everybody home and pack everyone in a car. And we carpooled because we all live far away. But I remember so many bloody hands and quarter size tears on your hand, and then you'd tear that tear, and then you tear that tear that was torn. I remember bloody grips and hands, and just beat up bodies and bruises, and just so much. And I think that when you're little and you think you're going to go to the Olympics or even to college, I think that you just don't know what it really takes to get there. So then you get to that place where you're at the gym, you're working out, you're realizing how hard it is. But then there's this spark of something in you that's like, I actually could make this if I work hard enough. So what even is more hard work than four to five hours a day at the gym doing full on exercises, pushing mats, killing your body's, take me a little bit into that. How much did it get when you started? You started doing like seven, eight hours a day, right?
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Yep. And that started off when I was like 13.
Shirley Owens: Yeah, I remember.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Yeah. So I don't know, even going to college, like I kind of step back after being an alternate for 2016 Olympics, and I went to college and I was like, I never realized how easy gymnastics was. And it's crazy because gymnastics is super hard for other people. And then being an elite gymnast, you just push and work so hard in the gym and you're throwing routines with like 12 skills in a bar routine. And then in college you do like three or four. So going to college really made me realize how hard elite gymnastics was and how hard you have to work to get there. But even coming back into a week when I decided to make the 2020, now 2021 Olympic games, I knew that it was hard, but I still threw big skills in college and was, okay, I can do this. I don't think it'll be that bad, we don't have Marta anymore so I can push myself for a year to do this. Coming back, I was, Oh, my gosh, I forgot how freaking hard, and sore, and exhausted I was going to be because going into the gym, and for the Elite Flora team you have to do four tumbling passes, and in college or J-O-E, you do three. So in Elite rules, you have to do three tumbling passes going straight from a dancing post from the corner right into your tumbling pass. And then you get one pass to start from two feet. And that was like, I was like, I have to add another pass, I have to run off of one leg, and then I have to add in two leaps and a turn. And in college, you just had maybe one leap pass. So it was just like, there's just so many little things that I totally forgot about that coming back into it really made me realize like, wow, I had done so much the last Olympic run, and I don't know how I did it. It was just insane. I don't think most people really realize how hard gymnastics is. Even my husband, when we dated for the first time, he's like, Oh, that's so easy. What you do is so easy. And it's like, yeah, because we make it look so easy. And then he comes into the gym and starts trying stuff and he's like, yeah, this is really hard. I see what you guys go through, and it sucks, and it's blood, sweat, and tears everyday.
Shirley Owens: Literally, blood, sweat and tears.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Yeah.
Shirley Owens: Literally blood, sweat and tears. So Gracie, my daughter went to ASU, and you went to University of Utah so we got to watch you compete, and that was really a fun time. But you did actually make it look pretty easy. I'd have to say that because everyone else is working super hard to get nine, eights, and you're just getting tens. It was really cool. But I wondered, like that was one of the things I wanted to ask. Working so hard, because college did kind of slow things down, and even for Gracie, I think because it was just more of a different routine. They couldn't overwork you.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Yup.
Shirley Owens: There was a little bit, but it was fun. I think college was fun too because of all the newness of being on your own and all that. But I did wonder how that transition was back, and then you started training Elite again, and then you got married. What does that bring to gymnastics for you?
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: It makes it so much more fun. Especially, being older, going to college, like you said, being on your own changes things up a little bit. And me and Jonas had talked about getting married for a while for our relationship. We dated for two years, and I was like, okay, if we're going to get married, way to the Olympics or do it now? Like try to fit it in because I was like, I don't want to do long distance anymore. Especially since I came back to Arizona to finish this whole elite process, and he was in Utah and doing summer sales in California, working for security systems, and then he still has to finish school at BYU, and then I have to go back and finish my senior year at Utah. So we're like, okay, let's just try to fit it in now because after the Olympics, if I make the team, then I can be doing all this media stuff and my life's gonna be crazy, then I have to try to move to Utah, and there's just no time to fit in a wedding. So we're like, right after I made the 2019 world championship team, let's just do it right after. How about right after worlds, and I didn't even know I was going to try for worlds. So I literally like, Tom on the Olympic coach had texted me he was, Hey, we really want Mykayla to try for worlds because my main goal is to make the Olympics. I wasn't super quite ready to try and he's like, no, it will be a good experience for her. She hasn't done this in a while, and then she'll get to know the girls even better because she's only been to a couple camps. And so Lisa's like, okay, we'll go. And then I was texting Jonas, trying to kind of plan a wedding even though I wasn't engaged yet. We were trying to get stuff ready, and I was like, I don't think I'll make the world's team. We can do this all right when I come back from the world selection camp. And then all of a sudden I made the world's team and I was like, was this even possible?
Shirley Owens: Wow.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: So trying to plan a wedding was crazy. I had to go on Pinterest and show pictures, and send them to my mom and my sister. They're sitting there trying to plan, it was just craziness. But at the same time, it was so fun to be able to have that on the side as I'm working super hard for something, and being in Germany, and being with the girls, and training, and competing. And so it was tough. But in the end, I think it was really good, especially with this Coronavirus happening.
Shirley Owens: Quite sure.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: With the Olympics being delayed, I'm so glad that we did it when we did. And I think it was the right time for all that to happen. So it was super special.
Shirley Owens: Very beautiful. It did not look like it was planned over a phone call, for sure.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: It was stressing my mom out, but we got it done.
Shirley Owens: It was perfect.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Thank you.
Shirley Owens: So do you feel like, it's hard to ask, I think a gymnast, what does it feel like to have mental toughness? Because you've had it from the beginning. And I know a lot of people who live their life and then something tragic happens, and then they learn mental toughness. So there's something to teach with that. But I know you guys have it from the beginning, you have to have it. You don't have a choice. You do not go to the gym if you're not. So tell me a little bit about some of the things that you had to overcome and maybe some ways that you learned how to overcome it. So if something presents you now with fear or some type of, there's gotta be fair sometimes when you get a concussion. I don't know if you have that, but I would think that it comes up, you're like, Oh, I don't, I'm not going to grab the bar. But tell me how you work through that. I know you have a mental skills coach that you work with, tell me how when something like that comes up, what are some of your tricks?
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: So I used to really be pretty ballsy when I was a kid, and I never really had the fear, which is what I think helped me get so far and be able to throw the big skills. But definitely coming back into elite now, being older, trying to learn my bar skills again and throw some of those was terrifying. I was like, Oh, my gosh. I was terrified and it was scary. But it came back naturally once I started getting the hang of it again. But yeah, having my mental coach, I didn't realize there's so many things I didn't realize until I started talking to him. And being a gymnast, you never think you need that because you know you're mentally tough, your coaches push you, you've been through the thick and thin of things. And he has helped tremendously. I think there's so many little things that have helped me improve, or just having a stressful day in the gym, I know how to take a step back to calm myself down and to be able to still continue to have a good workout for the day and not let it turn into a train wreck. So it's just really cool to have his help and his perspective. He was a wrestler and athlete so he knows me, gets it, which is really cool. But I don't know, when I came back to the elite, one thing that was really scary for me was trying to learn a pak in between the bars.
Previously, before when I was doing gymnastics, I learned a bale and a pak. And a bale and a pak, they kept switching it and trying to figure out my routine. And right before the Olympics, I'd gone back to a pak and then I went to college, and my coach Tom was like, okay, we don't like paks in the college scene so we're going to teach you a bale again. I went through that, and when I came back to the elite, Lisa was like, okay, we can keep the bale just because bars have always been my strong suit. I'm more powerful. And so bars have always been a little bit harder for me. I was like, can we just keep the bale? And I already have to learn all these other skills, and after we sat down and try to come up with a routine, she's like, we got to go back to a pak. Like, seriously? So I had to learn a pak again and I was learning it pretty fast. I only had three months till class, so I had three months to try to get all this stuff back super fast. So Bob was actually spotting me and I was doing in between the bars, it was going really well. So he was like, okay, I'm not going to spot this one but I'll be here. I do a super good pak, and then right before the bar comes, I throw my head back and I miss my arms, whack my chin, my whole jaw is busted up my tongue, I'm bleeding and I'm just like, are you kidding me? I wasn't ready. You're pushing me too fast. So ever since then, I had literally had fear on paks. It's been so weird and I still to this day have that fear. So that's where it comes into play with clay helping me. And one thing that's really helped is just sitting there and visualizing that skill over, and over again, or watching old videos and just really, he's really taught me that visualization really, really does help. And sometimes I'd always think to myself I can't visualize, especially being a gymnast. It messes me up, then I start thinking of crashing or not being able to let go of the bars. It's kind of scary. So I've always just, I'm not going to visualize anything. I'm just going to do what I know how to do and what I trained. So that has actually really helped me because it's not something that comes naturally. You really have to work on it and train your mind to visualize yourself in different areas, different scenarios and everything like that. So that's something that's really helped my fear as of recently.
“I'm just going to do what I know how to do and what I train.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
Shirley Owens: That's awesome. And you've learned how to keep the bad stuff out, the crashes, all of that. That's awesome. I think that's huge. I think visualization is such a huge skill to be able to have because you also have to visualize it before but then not think while you're doing it. But I feel like sometimes when you guys think, I had a thought and that's that pause that sometimes can make something happen. I think that's such a crazy skill to have to not to think about it all before. And then when you're throwing the skill, you're not thinking anything. You're letting your body and your muscle memory do it all. But I wonder if that helps. That visualization helps because it puts that memory in there and then your body goes in--
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: And just knows how to do it.
Shirley Owens: Wow. That's really cool. I remember watching a video where he was teaching you something with your fingers, and I think that there really is a way that we train our minds to be stronger. We train our bodies, and you guys, especially, have to train your bodies so much to keep you safe, but your mind is such a place that could be unsafe too.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: It's true. Your mind's the biggest thing, how you do everything pretty much. So if you can train that, the rest is easy,
“Your mind is the biggest thing. That's how you do everything pretty much. So if you can train that, the rest is easy.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
Shirley Owens: That's awesome. I love it. I work with a lot of athletes too and I think that you guys are super human, so we have to learn how to help train superhuman minds. It's a skill in itself. It's crazy. So it's awesome that he has been able to do that with you also. So I wanted to ask you, in life, how has your training been? Now you're married, you're in this Coronavirus thing, we're probably spending more time at home, what has all of this done to help you in your life? Where do you feel, I know you're driven, and dedicated, and probably meticulous in everything that you do. So where else are you noticing that you're grateful for the skills that you developed physically and mentally?
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Yeah, definitely. It's been really hard. I remember coming back and thinking of training for 2020, do I want to do this? Is this something I'm capable of doing? But when I decided to make this come back, I was like, okay, I only have a year, and I deferred my freshman year and my senior year of college, I should only be done with college by now. And still lingering on me, so it's kind of been a struggle. I just want to get that out of the way because eventually, I kind of want to start. That was ideal for me. And then once the coronavirus hit and they postponed the Olympics, that just was like, it was so devastating. I was so pissed and so mad, and I was like, how could this happen to me? I can't believe they had to do this, but I know it has to be safe for all the other athletes. I kinda just took a day and sat down. I was like, okay, I need to figure out what my plan is going to be. Do I go back and finish college? Do I continue? And I really had to sit and pray about it and think super hard. I was like, you know what? I have gone through so many struggles, so many challenges in my life, I can do it. And I was like, I can't give up now, I've worked so hard and done so well and went above and beyond what I thought I could even do with this comeback. So I was like, I gotta do it. The Olympics is a once in a lifetime opportunity. So even going through this whole situation, and people not being able to practice, I've had to go into the gym by myself, and it has been a struggle especially the first couple of weeks of it happening. It was so hard to be motivated and driven. And I think it definitely made me realize how grateful we are, how grateful we are to have a gym, to hold a train to be in Arizona where it hasn't been super, super bad. And it's definitely changed my perspective on a lot of things and has made me think about it a lot more. I'm just so grateful for being able to be an athlete, to be a gymnast, to be where I am. I look at all those little girls that are always sitting there, I want to be just like her. And it really gives me something to look forward to. I'm going to keep working hard just for those young gymnasts and be a good example to them, help them reach my mental toughness and everything like that.
“I'm going to keep working hard just for those young gymnasts and be a good example to them and help them reach my mental toughness.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
Shirley Owens: That's awesome. That gave me chills. So speaking to those little girls, and to their moms, and to all of our listeners, what is something that you would give us a piece of advice to start today building mental toughness towards, this is obviously the Get What You Want Podcast and you have got above and beyond what you've wanted so far in your life. So what is something that you could leave our listeners with that they could start today.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: I think honestly for me, one thing is taking it one day at a time, and that has helped me tremendously. And to not try to be more than what you are, to not be more than a hundred percent to start at zero, and each day try to be one, or two, or three, or 4% better than you were the day before. And to build your confidence, and to build your mental toughness everyday until you can reach that perfection.
“Build your confidence and build your mental toughness every day until you can reach that perfection.” -Mykayla Skinner Harmer
Shirley Owens: Oh, I love that baby steps. That's huge. I know I think sometimes we think that everything is we have to get it right now, or we have to make this decision right now instead of just relaxing and taking those little steps. So thank you for that. And then the other question that I always ask my guests is, is there anything going back, looking back that you regret or would do differently?
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: That's always so hard. I've been through so much in my life that I feel like there could be so many things, I think one thing I feel would be going back to 2015 worlds. I really wish that I could have trained or worked a little bit harder because I feel like 2014 worlds were my biggest worlds. I did so good. I got a bronze medal, we won a team gold medal for the team all around, and I think after that year I was just like, okay, I did what I needed to do. I went and worked hard and then I feel like when I came back I kind of went down a little bit and relaxed a little bit too much. I feel like I would have pushed myself a little bit harder, worked a little bit harder, just gave it a little bit more because that world, I was an alternate, which totally stinks. I feel like I could have given it a little bit more effort. So if there's definitely something I could change, I wish I could have gone back and pushed myself just a little bit harder to be where I wanted to be, which was on that podium with the world's team.
Shirley Owens: Yeah. So do you feel that is what's pushing you right now?
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Definitely. Even being an alternate from the 2016 Olympics, I got fourth place at Olympic trials, which they should have taken the top five and didn't. So that was something--
Shirley Owens: Yeah, I remember that.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Yeah. Being in the Olympics, we were the first, there's three of us. The first alternate actually got to go and sit, and watch part of the Olympic games, which was really cool. And I remember going to prelims and watching team finals, I was just like, I was so close to that. There was this fire inside of me that was like, this isn't over, you're going to make that team one day. So that was when I came back. I really decided that if I wanted to go to college, or keep training for a -- for the next Olympics, I was like, you know what? I kinda hate gymnastics right now. It's been super intense. I want to try something different. So I went and tried the college, and I always need in the back of my mind that I had the opportunity if I wanted to, to come back for the next. Being in college in the back of my mind, I've always had that fire, and I always have that replay of me sitting there like, Oh, I was so close. I want to be out there. I want to be on that Olympic team. I want to get that tingled metal to compete for team USA, represent our country. That's just the coolest feeling ever. Especially being a three time world champion going to worlds. There's just nothing going out there representing your country and getting to compete, and where that gold medal is around your neck. So that's definitely something that has pushed me and made me want to work even harder.
Shirley Owens: Wow. That's awesome. Well, I know there are a ton of people rooting for you, us, our family is rooting for you, and I know that you're going to do everything you can to make it. So that's super exciting. For listeners, how do they get in touch with you if they want to send you a message or follow you on Instagram? Tell us how to get in touch with you.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Yeah, so Instagram a good one is mykaylaskinner2016. I also started a YouTube channel, so I know we want a lot of feedback on that and a lot of people's comments, we love to respond. And you can DM me through, Instagram's probably the easiest.
Shirley Owens: Awesome. Well, thank you. Again, I'm honored that you made time to be here with me. I am super excited about this and good luck. Good luck with the Olympics, I can't wait to watch you. I know that it's a little bit delayed, but it's going to be amazing when it finally gets there. So thank you so much for being with me.
MyKayla Skinner Harmer: Thanks for having me. This was so fun.