Gymnastics practices true mental toughness

Gymnastics practices true mental toughness

Carley Sims strikes a pose during her floor performance. CW | Hanna Curlette

The legacy has been protected. Now, it needs to be lived.

After being coached by Sarah Patterson for 36 seasons, The University of Alabama gymnastics team welcomed Dana Duckworth as its new head coach starting with the 2015 season.

Duckworth knew she had some big shoes to fill. Alabama gymnastics had six NCAA Champion titles, eight SEC Champion titles and 29 NCAA Regional Champion titles to its name when she took over.

Because of this, she deemed “protect the legacy” as last year’s team motto.

Then after winning the SEC championship and NCAA regional championship, Alabama finished last season fourth in the country.

“It’s like we did our job – we did protect the legacy,” Duckworth said. “We did show that even with all these changes that the foundation and the culture of winning and the culture of success is what we’re about. So now, we’re living it.”

“That’s the true saying this year – live the legacy. Ignite it, create it, and be it.”

Alabama is now 2-1, and in order to successfully live the legacy this season, Duckworth said the team needs true mental toughness (TMT).

“TMT is action, execution and what we practice in the gym every day,” she said. “What the outcome of all that is living the legacy.”

Duckworth got the idea of TMT from author Joshua Medcalf, who she learned about through Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy.

Breaking down TMT, Duckworth said, is something very specific.

“It’s having a great attitude every day, it’s giving your best every day, it’s being very nice every day, and it’s about having unconditional gratitude regardless of circumstances,” she said. “If you do those things in practice, if you do those things in the way that you approach life, then you are developing true mental toughness.”

It’s all about the decisions her gymnasts – and the program as a whole – make on a day-to-day basis.

The idea of TMT has always been around and was talked about every now and then last season, but Duckworth has made sure that it is more defined this year. Although she didn’t create it, she said it works perfectly for her program and how she wants the women to go about their training.

She sees it paying off too.

Because of their consistency in training and performing under pressure, Duckworth has especially noticed it in juniors Keely McNeer, Aja Sims and Amanda Jetter, along with sophomores Kiana Winston and Mackenzie Brannan.

TMT isn’t just the coach’s catch phrase for the season. Even the gymnasts will speak up and say they practice it.

“It’s just kind of our theme; that’s how we’re growing,” McNeer said. “We’re just really embracing that idea (of TMT).”

McNeer finished with a 9.875 on the uneven bars, a 9.85 on the vault and a 9.875 on the balance beam on Sunday during Alabama’s 196.875 to 196.075 win over Auburn, marking Alabama’s 117th consecutive win against the Tigers.

Also during the meet, Winston had her first career all-around champion, scoring a 39.375. It had been two years since she’d competed in all four events during a single meet, and she said it felt really good to do so again.

Each gymnast has adopted her own version of TMT that fits under Duckworth’s definition.

To Winston, TMT means being alert at all times, anticipating anything that could happen, always having a backup plan and always being grateful because she gets to practice gymnastics that day, whatever day it might be.

McNeer thinks of it as trusting the team’s training and not getting ahead of itself. She said it’s all about focus, trust and push.

“No matter what is going on around you, (it’s) just sticking to the plan and executing it to the best of your ability every day,” McNeer said.

It’s music to her ears when Duckworth hears gymnasts enforcing TMT to each other during practices or during meets, and although Winston said she only throws it around occasionally, it’s always in the back of her mind because she knows she needs to have it at all times.

“Living the legacy and having true mental toughness is really what this team is about,” Winston said.

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