1/22 A7 Gymnastics

Georgia head coach Courtney Kupets Carter gives Rachel Baumann a pep talk before her beam routine. The University of Georgia women’s gymnastics team hosted LSU to lose by a final score of 196.725-196.150 on Jan. 10, 2020, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

Megan Roberts threw black and red confetti into the air and watched it float back down while her teammates cheered and danced around her. Moments before, Stegeman Coliseum held a collective breath as the sophomore firmly stuck her landing to score a 9.925 on bars.

“We have to work on our confetti clean up a little bit,” head coach Courtney Kupets Carter said. “But it’s a great way to capture the moment.”

She introduced the GymDogs to the idea of tossing confetti into the air to celebrate sticks and scores above 9.9 on floor.

Kupets Carter said preparing beyond physical strength and starting to build mental toughness gives an extra push of confidence that leads to confetti-worthy performances. The moments when strength and grace collide have multiplied since the first meet of 2020 for Georgia.

“You want them to stay within themselves,” Kupets Carter said. “Working on their focus and really calming down is what’s going to get them even better next time.”

The GymDogs continue to improve upon the physical aspect of gymnastics as they head into the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, on Jan. 25, where No. 18 Georgia will compete in a quad meet with No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Denver and No. 5 Alabama.

Georgia has also started to turn up its mental game when heading into competition. While the GymDogs have the training and a supportive fanbase at home, another team and outside factors can shake them. Kupets Carter sees that her team is recognizing the importance of zoning in and centering their attention on the controllable ­— their power within.

“Once you’re talented enough and you’re capable enough, you have to be mentally strong enough,” Kupets Carter said.

The GymDogs started the year with a 195.1 in the Critique Classic Invitational on Jan. 3 and finished with a 197.325 two meets later against Iowa State on Jan. 20. Georgia has also improved in each event. Beam increased from 49.2 on Jan. 3 to 49.4 on Jan. 20, while bars jumped from 48.15 to 49.275.

“We’re back on track to where I would’ve wanted to start right now,” Kupets Carter said. “Adding in the mental has been a good attachment. They’re realizing that they can.”

While competing in an environment rooted in high pressure, the GymDogs work out strategies to find stability by creating mental sets and keywords to visualize and prepare how they want to perform.

“[The mental sets] draw mental and physical connections,” Kupets Carter said. “You’re confident. You don’t have to think about it when you get up there — your body just does it.”

Sophomore Rachel Baumann, whose 9.925 beam score on Jan. 20 earned the event title, shared her keywords for her series on the beam, which she said is her hardest mental skill.

“Travel, kick-over, stand-up, tight,” Baumann said. “They’re just certain things you remember to do your skills and routine right.”

Mental sets also guide the GymDogs through visualizing their goals. Senior Sabrina Vega walks through when she closes her eyes so she does not become distracted by the noise around her. Then she goes through the actual movements of the skills to tighten up as she normally would.

“The mind is powerful,” Vega said. “If you’re visualizing what you’re doing, it’s like you’re actually doing it.”

The GymDogs practice this exercise to provide a sense of reassurance before stepping into their skills on bars and beam and will begin incorporating it into other events.

Areas for improvement still exist for the young Georgia team, but the GymDogs have begun gaining confidence. Kupets Carter wants to see the confidence turn into consistency, which will ultimately provide them with momentum throughout the remainder of the season.

She credits the throws of confetti and the next victory to come to the power of repetition and experience.

“The more they do it, the more confident they will feel,” Kupets Carter said.

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