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Gymnasts Talk the Mental Game of Their Craft

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By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa- When most collegiate athletes enter a game or competition, they do so with the distinct mindset to beat the opponent in front of them.

Rosenthal-Scott.jpegWhen members of the Penn State men's gymnastics team take the floor to begin a routine, however, their mindset is much different.

In that moment, there is no opponent standing across from them. All their thoughts are focused on their own actions and all eyes in the building are on them.

"When it's just you out there all you've got is your own mind," said senior Matt Chelberg. "Whatever demons and self doubts you have are what you bring out there."

With such a different and unique atmosphere, it is imperative for gymnasts to keep all negative thoughts out of their heads.

According to many of the Nittany Lions gymnasts, the key is to stay focused on the movements they need to make and the goal at hand.

"Mindset for us is all about execution," said senior Scott Rosenthal. "We try to be as pristine and perfect as we can be and make as few errors as we can."

In order to help his gymnasts develop this mentality, head coach Randy Jepson has tailored his practices to make them as similar to meets as possible.

The way Jepson sees it, if practices are run so that everyone's attention is on one person at once, his men will have little to adapt to when they step inside Rec Hall for a competition.

"We work a lot with mental preparation and I try to have the guys put themselves in a competitive setting when they're in the gym for a routine," said Jepson. "That way they can focus on what they have to do to deal with anxiety and simulate what they would do in a meet."

To help themselves maximize the competitive nature of their practices as much as possible, the Nittany Lions like to rely on repetition so that by the end of the session they can picture themselves performing the routine in a meet.

"In practice you want to put as much pressure on yourself as possible and visualize yourself competing and then do it over and over again," said Chelberg. "Then you can practice calming yourself down and staying focused on what you need to do."

While getting into a competitive attitude prior to a meet is important, it is even more important for them to stay in the same frame of mind during the course of a routine.

The worst thing a gymnast can do, according to both Chelberg and Rosenthal, is to let a mistake in the middle of a routine hinder them from finishing the event strongly.

It is a skill that must be attained not only through practice, but also through years of competition experience.

"We've all been doing gymnastics for a decade or more so we've all had to deal with fixing a routine," said Chelberg. "It's something you have to learn the hard way."

The coaching staff also does their best to identify any problems the squad has with their form so that they can enter a routine knowing what might cause them to falter.

"Most of the mistakes made are mistakes that we see often," said Jepson. "If they're able to make basic corrections early on then it should translate when they're in a meet."

Another aspect that separates gymnastics from other sports is the fact that even after someone has finished a routine, they have to wait for someone else to decide how well they've done and where they've finished.

Waiting for the judges to determine not only their score but also their opponent's score is one of the toughest tasks for any gymnast.

"It's really nerve racking to watch the scores go up knowing you have no more control," said Chelberg. "You just have to trust that you've done your job and whatever score you get is the reality of the situation."

If a score or routine doesn't go as anticipated, then a gymnast may find that their focus and mindset has really been tested.

To handle such disappointment, one must have a short memory and a desire to move forward.

"You just have to reset and leave the past in the past," said Rosenthal. "Your next event is a new meet with a new start and whatever just happened is old news."



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