Every practice, the Nebraska women’s gymnastics team sits in a circle around a pink clearance candle from Target and thinks positive thoughts.
It takes about two minutes before their workouts — about the length of a routine. They stare at the candle, focus on their breathing and become aware of what their mind is doing. Like how they are focusing on a tough test or their busy schedule instead of their beam routine.
Assistant Heather Brink says they’re working on keeping their mind tight. It’s something she came up with after doing some research on mental strength training.
“I feel like they do so much physically,” Brink said. “It’s just like another muscle, you have to train it to be strong.”
Brink, a former NU All-American, said it’s so easy to get lost in negative thoughts, especially in the formidable balance beam, which she coaches. Instead of one of the Huskers hopping on the beam and thinking, ‘I hope I don’t fall,’ she wants them to go in a different direction.
“If you can keep your mind busy with positive thinking, it’s easy to get through the routine,” she said.
Brink says she’s already seeing some benefits from the mental training, which she hopes the team also is doing at home each day. Not one person has made a major mistake in the sixth-ranked Huskers’ first two meets.
Meet No. 3 is Friday at 6 p.m. at Ohio State, which finished second in the Big Ten championships behind NU last year. The Huskers are off to a 1-1 start this season, while the Buckeyes are ranked No. 19 with a 2-1 and 1-0 Big Ten record.
Junior Emily Wong, who had the best meet of her career last weekend against Michigan State, said she’s been seeing the benefits, too.
“Honestly, I have gotten a lot better about negative thoughts, and I think about the positives in my routines,” Wong said.
Wong won her first Big Ten athlete of the week award after Saturday’s performance before a home crowd of 2,165.
She won the vault, bars and beam and earned top honors in the all-around in NU’s 196.700-192.100 thrashing of Michigan State. Wong also finished second in the floor exercise.
Wong tied her career-high on beam (9.925) and had career bests on bars (9.95) and in the all-around (39.650). She’s ranked No. 3 nationally in the all-around and tied for No. 2 on beam with teammate Jennifer Lauer.
Wong’s bars performance tied for the fourth-highest individual bars score in school history and tied the best bars score by a junior all-time at Nebraska.
“That definitely was my best showing,” Wong said. “I think the crowd had a big impact. That was one of the biggest crowds that I’ve seen. They got loud, which is nice and encouraging.”
The junior from Grand Forks, N.D., has been working hard to improve all her events, but said the beam is her favorite, because it’s so mentally and physically difficult.
That’s why Brink’s focus time, which they started in December, has been a big help. Wong will visualize her routines from start to finish.
NU coach Dan Kendig loved the results, especially in the vault, which he said was one of her best performances.
“She just had a great day all the way around,” he said.
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