Falling is part of the (mental) game in gymnastics

Published: Friday, Jan. 18 2013 7:30 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Hailee Hansen was flying through her bar routine one minute and standing on the padded floor trying to regroup the next.

"I think initially in that moment, you're just kind of shocked," she said. "So you get back up and you finish. After the fact, you're a little bit of everything. You're a little angry, you're a little bit embarrassed, yeah, I've definitely felt all of those things after I've fallen at a meet."

Falling is part of gymnastics.

Learning not to let a fall ruin a routine or other routines, including those of other gymnasts on a team, is part of mastering the sport. Last weekend, the Utah gymnastics team had three falls on their first event — the bars.

It shocked both the gymnasts and their coaches, all of whom felt the team was prepared and confident — especially on that event.

“People did things I’ve never seen before,” said co-head coach Greg Marsden after Saturday's loss to top-ranked UCLA. “The only explanation I can give is we let the nerves get to us and then let it snowball. We had a lot of people (working events) they’ve never done before, but I was proud that after our meltdown on bars, they came back and did a reasonably good job.”

Forgetting mistakes is key to salvaging a routine and a competition.

Hansen said she felt great before her fall at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. She was the second gymnast to fall.

"I went into the meet very confident," she said. "I think a lot of us did. I think our whole team went in very confident and ready to enjoy ourselves. I think when the time came, that kind of switched and nerves took over."

Junior Mary Beth Lofgren was a last-minute substitution, but she's experienced, so it was a surprise when she fell.

Hansen said there is a moment when a gymnast feels more pressure to make up for points lost by a teammate's mishap.

"That does go through your head," said the junior, who is a co-captain of the team this season. "You think that you've got a fall or two in front of you and you've got to do well, but honestly, you kind of can't think about that. You have to think about yourself, put it on automatic and just focus. … I was really shocked when all of that happened. I think it was one of those flukey things."

Coach Megan Marsden said they didn't want to just hope that was true. Coaches sat down with athletes earlier this week to discuss what went wrong, why and how to fix it for Saturday's home opener at the Huntsman Center.

"It can be a snowball," said Megan Marsden. "And I do think the athletes let it snowball a little bit. That's why most of our issues were on one event. They let themselves feel like, 'Oh, now I really have to hit!’ ”

So coaches talked with players about the mental game and how they can't let what's going on around them — even to a teammate — adversely affect them.

"We talked about how you can't change your own approach," she said. "All you can do is your routine. And it's best if you can do it the way you always do it."

Hansen smiled when asked what those seconds after a fall were like.

"That's an interesting feeling," said the Bountiful native. "It's kind of like, you fall, you're shocked, but you have to put it on automatic, like nothing happened."

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