ASU gymnastics team goes head first

The Sun Devils attribute their success to mental preparation

In gymnastics, mental strength and physical ability are equally important, and for Sun Devil gymnasts, they're the most important parts of their training.

While the physical side of gymnastics is critical to their success, most of the Sun Devil gymnasts say being mentally prepared for meets is the biggest factor in success. 

Sophomore Ashley Szafranski said the team works to master the physical side of each skill, but they put more work into their cognitive skills.  

“We really focus on the mental part and try to think the same things,” Szafranski said. “We try to keep it as consistent as we do physically."

From basketball players hitting game-winning shots to pitchers getting out of a jam, many athletes attribute their skills to mental preparation. Some, like junior Anne Kuhm, visualize their routines before even stepping on the mat.  

One of the vital keys to practicing visualization is being in a state of relaxation. This can be difficult for some gymnasts when they’re in a crowded arena and all eyes are on them.

“For me in the beginning, I was thinking about the crowd, but it doesn't really affect me,” Kuhm said. 

Each gymnast is different in how they get themselves into a relaxed state of mind. Szafranski focuses on key words to keep herself focused.

“On beam, I literally just tell myself the same thing every time,” Szafranski said. “For example, on my front aerial, I tell myself to push and kick, and I think of my core at the end. I literally have (a key word) for each skill.”

Senior Nichelle Christopherson said that she felt key words were important to her connecting mentally, but she received another vital tip earlier in the semester.

“One of our senior (athletic directors) came in, and he said to be brilliant at the basics, and that's always just kinda stuck with me," Christopherson said. "In order to do the big skills and hit a beautiful routine, you need to be able to do your basics really well ... That sticks with me, and I always just think that's one of the most key things in going out there and competing.”

An important aspect of being mentally prepared is how well the gymnasts use their relaxation methods in practice.

“It's more of the internal aspect of what I'm telling myself, positive things and thinking the same things as I do in practice,” Szafranski said.

ASU will compete at home against No. 13 Washington on Saturday, Feb. 17. The meet is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. MST at Wells Fargo Arena.

Reach the reporter at or follow @KellyBSays on Twitter. 

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