AN INTERVIEW WITH GYMNAST MONIQUE CHANG
Sports psychologist Dr. Caroline Silby finds out what drives Monique Chang, a 15-year-old gymnast who's been selected to participate on the USA Gymnastics Olympic Training Squad, a step towards the upcoming games in Sydney.
I began competitive gymnastics at age six or seven. I think my mom put me there because my sisters did it. I just kept going and things came quickly. I didn't really think about being motivated. It was just cool doing gymnastics. But when I began competing at the elite level, it was much harder. I'd go in the mornings and sometimes I'd cry. I was young and sometimes it felt too hard.
Motivation at the Elite Level
When you reach a higher level, it gets harder and there are more things you don't want to do. You become more independent and have a mind of your own. So, if you don't want to do it you need more pushing to actually get it done. When you are little, the coaches say, "Good effort" every time you do something. As you rise in levels, expectations also rise. It's more demanding and you don't get leeway. Coaches might yell to try and motivate you and you really can't take it personally.
Participating in gymnastics becomes a natural thing like going to school each day. You may complain about going but it's not anything new. I never really think of not going to the gym. I keep in mind that I have gotten this far and the only thing I can do is improve. In order to improve, I know I have to practice everyday. If you are really into it nothing should stop you.
I try to focus on the good things that come out of sticking to it. The things that will make me happy after I do it. For instance, even though I might not want to learn a new skill, once I get it I know I will be excited to do it. The process of getting it is the hardest part. When I was little, I was able to learn a new skill in one day. Now, the skills are much harder and it takes a longer period of time to do them. Yet, I like the feeling of being really good at one thing.
I have periods of time when I'm really tired and frustrated and feel unmotivated. You just want to take time off and not do anything but clear your mind and get rid of your worries. During those times, it's important to not be so hard on yourself. For example, if a coach tells me to do a skill five times and I know I won't make it five times, I try to focus on making the skill once to the best of my ability. Then, I feel happy.
Pressure really isn't a problem for me. I like it when people don't think I'm going to do it and then I'm motivated to prove them wrong. I like to try and meet my own expectations. I set my sights on the minimum I can get and then try to exceed that as much as possible. I'm one of those people that don't like to set my standards too high and then not make it. My goals are realistic but challenging.
Sticking to It
Before giving something up, you should think about what you would do without it. When you don't feel motivated to participate in your sport or exercise program, think about all the good things that you get from sticking to it. Gymnastics for me is an everyday thing. If I don't do it one day, it feels awkward and like something is missing. It's a habit.