By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa- Going into the 2013 gymnastics season, Penn State junior Wasef Burbar knew he had to adjust something about his approach to competition.
After earning All-American honors as a freshman, Burbar had struggled to find consistency during his sophomore season and he felt his mindset was the biggest thing holding him back.
"Last year I worried too much about what could go wrong and what I might mess up," said Burbar. "It started affecting not only my performance but also my confidence."
Not wanting to hinder his development as a gymnast, the Illinois native entered training camp of his junior year with a new outlook. His attitude was simple; relax and have fun.
So far Burbar has not only been enjoying himself, but he has also emerged as one of the Nittany Lions key performers. His presence has been felt namely on the high bar, floor exercise, and parallel bars.
The highlight of both Burbar's season and his career, thus far, came at home on Feb. 23 against Springfield College when his 16.000 score on the high bar earned him not only a school record but also the fourth highest score in NCAA history on the event.
"Once I started to relax I began to feel much more comfortable and confident," said Burbar. "I knew I had the ability to perform that well."
In order for Burbar to build up his confidence, he first had to simplify how he approached performing a routine. Instead of focusing on every aspect and worrying about what could throw him off, Burbar began to concentrate on simply hitting each exercise solid.
"I was spending too much time worrying about every little thing that I could do wrong," said Burbar. "Now I make sure I stay positive and focus on sticking the routine."
One person who never lost faith in Burbar's ability to be an elite gymnast was head coach Randy Jepson.
According to Jepson, the key to Burbar's success has been his growing belief that he can be just as good as everyone else believes he can be.
"When he came to Penn State we knew he had great potential but it took him awhile to get into a groove," said Jepson. "Now that he knows what's expected of him he's been a lot more confident and he seems more content with his performances."
Without Jepson, Burbar stated that he never would have been able to come as far as he has.
It took the reassuring words of his coach and his teammates to help the junior realize that he had the skills to accomplish his goals.
"Coach (Jepson) has been such a big help to me," said Burbar. "He's the one who has always been there for me and has continued to pick me up when I was down."
Along with becoming one of the nation's top performers on the high bar, Burbar has continued to make great strides in his other events as well.
The former All-American on the high bar displayed how far he has come as an all around gymnast in the Nittany Lions last dual meet against Illinois, when he posted career bests on floor exercise (14.700) and parallel bars (15.100).
In order to make these improvements, Burbar made an increased effort to put himself in a competition mindset while in practice and to focus more on his landings.
"We made some adjustments as a team in terms of how we practice and how we land and he caught on immediately," said Jepson. "Since then his floor scores have gone up dramatically and we really need that from him."
Moving forward, the biggest key for Burbar is to maintain the level he has reached and to keep his scores consistent.
If he can continue to perform the way he has this season then the goals he has set for both himself and his team will be much easier to attain.
"Being the top performer in the country on the high bar would be amazing but the main focus is to continue to win as a team," said Burbar. "Our goal is to be national champions."
As the Nittany Lions compete for the national title, Burbar plans to continue having fun the whole way.
"I'm a lot happier when I compete now," said Burbar. "It's a lot easier to be happy when you're doing well."