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GymHawks plan to change focus to mental training

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | DECEMBER 08, 2010 7:10 AM

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In the final weeks of preparation before its first meet, the Iowa women's gymnastics team simply has to put mind over matter. The Hawkeyes are more physically prepared for the season than they have been in years past, but they need to focus on the mental aspect of competition.

"We're physically ready," head coach Larissa Libby said. "We're just not competition ready."

The GymHawks have been training since August, focusing mainly on strength and conditioning as well as performing numerous repetitions of routines. So far, the emphasis has been building endurance and gaining confidence in the routines. But after a lack of focus was displayed at the Black and Gold meet Dec. 4, it's time to change the method of training to have a stronger mental emphasis.

"They have to feel like they can walk in to the gym off the street, put on a leotard, and be ready to go," Libby said.

After falling off beam at the intrasquad meet, junior Jessa Hansen recognizes the need for mental preparation.

"It shouldn't have happened," she said. "But now I'm really going to work on everything under pressure, because you always feel different in a pressure situation. I need to work on keeping it cool under the heat."

To achieve this level of mental preparation, the GymHawks will alter practice and warm up routines to mimic a competition situation. At a meet, gymnasts have a 15-minute time restriction to warm up, as well as a 30-second touch — where the gymnasts can practice on the equipment directly before each event.

By implementing these restrictions in practice, the gymnasts will practice warming up under pressure.

"They'll have very little time to be comfortable before they have to get on the equipment and do the routine that counts," Libby said. "We're going to mess with their environment a little, lessen the amount of comfort they have before they actually show a routine so it feels more like a meet."

While Libby predicts that the gymnasts who rely on a sense of preparation will struggle with the changes in practice, many gymnasts are not concerned with their focus level.

"Every time I do a routine, even in practice, I think of it like it's a meet," senior Houry Gebeshian said. "Maybe that's the aspect that some of the other girls don't have yet, so I think once they figure it out, they'll benefit in practice."

Senior Andrea Hurlburt agrees that the focus and intensity in practice mirrors that of competition. Hurlburt displayed high scores at the Black and Gold, notching a 9.95 on beam.

"In the past, I think I took practice for granted, but this year, I would say the reason I did so well on beam is because I haven't been taking anything for granted," she said.

Gebeshian and Hurlburt predict that the change in practice routines will benefit the team as a whole.

"If you haven't been on the team at least a couple years, it's easy to forget that season is coming," said Hurlburt. "It's easy to just come in [to practice] and do your assignments just to get them done, rather than remember that practice is preparation for a meet."

Overall, the team is in good shape for the beginning of the season.

Libby said the Hawkeyes are "ahead of the game," and said what happened at the intrasquad meet is typical for a first meet.

Her gymnasts agreed.

"We're strong, we're healthy, and we're working really hard," said Gebeshian. "I think everything will fall into place really soon, and we'll have a great season."


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