As an 11-year-old gymnast with the drive to compete at an international elite level, I deal with incredible pressure from many directions. An elite level in any sport means athletes have qualified to compete at the top level of their sport. My experience of working many hours a day practicing and perfecting skills and routines, and improving my strength and stamina helps me understand the hard work it takes to become a successful competitive athlete.
Since I was 4, I felt I was born to be a gymnast. I drove my parents crazy with my requests to spend every free moment at the gym. Even though I was the youngest on my team, I quickly developed skills and execution that passed those of my teammates. Therefore, it was hard for my parents to disagree.
I have high expectations for everything I do, especially in athletics and schoolwork. Now I am well on my way to reaching elite status and that means anything that doesn’t live up to my standards is unacceptable to me. Right now I am training 6 to 8 hours each day at the Gold Medal Gym. The frustration that comes from pushing myself to extremes and not always reaching my current goal can lead to burnout or to getting hurt.
How can I deal with the pressure that comes from within? I try to not to be so hard on myself. I try to bring balance into my life. I remind myself that it is important to find time and energy to just be a kid. I’m lucky because my parents are lovingly supportive, pushing me only when I need some firm guidance. They also encourage me to take the time I need to relax.
Coaches can also play a role in increasing the pressure on their athletes. If we do it wrong, we have to keep working it until we get it right. There can also be a strong push to work harder and harder, rushing an athlete on to the next difficult skill before the kid has a chance to enjoy the latest advancement. Sometimes coaches who want to help athletes reach their potential place too much emphasis on winning.
How do I cope with demands from a coach? I try to stay focused, place things in priority and to congratulate myself on my achievements. I remember that I know my own body better than anyone else and therefore sometimes I have to quietly set limits on how far I am willing to be pushed.
Why, when competitive sport means a pressured and difficult life, do I pursue elite gymnastics? Nothing is more exciting, fun and amazing than a polished performance measured first against our own accomplishments. The icing on the cake is the measurement by judges that places me and my team first.