Patterson credits strength coach for team's power

Communication is the key for Travis Illian and the gymnasts he trains.

When he gets the gymnasts as freshman, their bodies are programmed to think more is better, and training for 40 hours a week is mandatory. The girls are fresh off a strenuous club gymnastics program which forces them to treat training as a full-time job.

They constantly beat their bodies down, and complaining about a potential injury is considered a weakness as they work towards their goals of being the best.

That all changes once they step on campus.

“I have to teach them, ‘Hey, you’re not 14 anymore, and you can’t pound your body for 40 hours a week,’” Illian said. “They spend 17 years of their life not listening to their bodies. My goal is to change that mindset.”

Illian works as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for The University of Alabama, training the women’s soccer team and the gymnastics team.

In his sixth year at the University, Illian has mastered the art of training gymnasts and getting them to perform at a peak level when the time is right. Illian has worked to create workouts specific to the individual gymnasts with emphasis on controlling the nervous system.

Things weren’t always smooth for Illian. Along with the soccer and gymnastics team, he’s worked with football players, the women’s rowing team and the field athletes for track and field. He had to learn the nuances of training a gymnast and develop the patience to work through problems.

“Sometimes they had issues we didn’t know how to deal with,” Illian said. “You can either throw your hands up and quit or learn the things you need to help that person get better. That’s what we did. Everything works so well now, and it’s a privilege for me to be here.”

Head coach Sarah Patterson noticed the change in Illian’s approach and credits him with a lot of the success the team has had in recent years.

“It took him a little while to learn the nature of our sport, but after the first year he had it figured out,” Patterson said. “There are some things you can’t control like injuries, but I really do feel like in a lot of instances we’ve been able to avoid that because the girls are stronger. That’s a credit to Travis.”

Five a.m. wake-up call, jumping in sand pits and hours of weight training and conditioning are what the gymnasts deal with during summer and fall workouts to prepare for the season. Once the competition starts, it’s all about maintenance and continuing to improve, but after intense offseason training, the workouts feel light.

“He has so many different things that he brings to us,” Patterson said. “It’s not easy, and the kids have never done this, but when you’re limited to 20 hours a week or sometimes eight hours, you have to get the most out of your practice time.”

It’s a constant communication between Patterson and Illian to ensure each gymnast is getting what they need.

“We work really well with Travis monitoring the fatigue factor,” Patterson said. “We monitor when a girl is naturally strong and know she doesn’t need as much as another girl. He works really hard to individualize the training to make each athlete the best they can be.”

One gymnast who has seen a lot of improvement from working with Illian is junior Kim Jacob. Jacob has become an all-around standout for the Tide this season, improving every aspect of her routines.

Jacob isn’t one of the naturally strong athletes, but Patterson and teammates say her work ethic is second to none. Illian worked with Jacob on developing her quick twitch muscles and firing faster on the apparatus. Now, Jacob is ranked No. 3 in the nation on the floor exercise, and she has won 10 individual titles and four all-around titles this season.

“He knows exactly what we need and is always ready to push us,” Jacob said. “We listen to everything he says and it has paid off, especially for me. I’m a completely different gymnast this year and I owe most of that to Travis.”

Patterson echoed those sentiments.

“She always had the skills, but she didn’t have the power, and he has helped her gain that power,” Patterson said. “He’s a huge part of our program. He has really honed in and figured out what works for us.”

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