Go beyond what is reasonable.
That's what Oklahoma women's gymnastics coach K.J. Kindler told her gymnasts.
Last year, injuries and inconsistency helped keep the Sooners from reaching a national title. They missed making their third straight NCAA Super Six appearance by two-tenths of a point. With that first national title still elusive, Kindler took a different approach.
The OU gymnasts were used to “this is how it's always done.”
Kindler pushed that thinking. She pushed her gymnasts to be uncomfortable. Now, the Sooners are ranked No. 2 in the nation and No. 1 in the NCAA Regional meet that will be hosted by OU at 4 p.m. Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center. Stanford, Penn State, Washington, Iowa and Southern Utah will also compete at the NCAA Norman Regional.
“We haven't won a national title, so we don't know how national champions train until we do,” Kindler said.
Conditioning became tougher. Nutrition was rigid. As habits began to change, Kindler saw her team develop.
“We have 20 hours every week just like every other sport,” Kindler said. “So it was, ‘What can we change within that time?' The effort level was raised, the amount of effort was raised, what we expected from them and what they expected from themselves. They became very uncomfortable.”
Because of it, Kindler's Sooners hold a 21-1 record, the best in the nation right now. She also saw huge improvements from her gymnasts, especially junior and Big 12 Gymnast of the Year Taylor Spears.
Spears said the changes put her in the best physical condition she's ever been in, and she's gained more confidence.
“The changes helped,” Spears said. “We needed to hear stuff like that and be responsible for those types of things. It was a huge adjustment, just so many different things with workouts and conditioning.”
Kindler said if girls thought they could do three beam routines, why not push to go further. In her words, create a “jaw-dropping but judge-friendly” routine.
“We're going to go the extra mile for the extra benefit,” she said.
The Sooners still suffered a few injuries, but, for the most part, maintained a high level of work in the gym and also swimming two days a week. This weekend, the Sooners hope to place in the Top 2 of the regional to make sure they advance to the NCAA Championship in Los Angeles. But the main goal is to win the regional.
“We want to be content that we did absolutely everything we could,” Kindler said. “And this is a group of doers.”