For the country’s No. 2-ranked gymnastics team, a typical practice session should be anything but relaxed.
However, with head coach Jenny Rowland at the helm, a typical training day takes on a more light-hearted air.
“I feel that it’s really important just to keep the atmosphere light, (keep it) enjoyable,” Rowland said.
“Have fun, tease them, laugh with them. When you’re having a good time, enjoying what you’re doing, you’re gonna be more successful.”
On any given day, some of the sport’s top competitors take the O’Connell Center’s practice mat looking to hone their craft.
Fielding a roster populated with seven International Elite gymnasts and an additional seven Level-10 competitors, Florida isn’t short on talent.
And with 15 Senior National Team selections between two different countries mixed in, the Gators boast a level of experience unique to most top collegiate programs in the country.
Given Florida’s high ranking and expectations, it’s easy to imagine a practice environment run by authoritative coaches who advocate control over enjoyment.
Rowland, though, subscribes to a different philosophy, electing to lead as a guide rather than a dictator.
“Everybody gets a little tired here and there, and everybody needs a little push, a little nudge here and there, and that’s what we’re here for,” she said.
“My job is to be able to recognize, ‘OK, we’re not quite on point right now, let’s step up our game and let’s continue to move forward a little bit.’ But for the most part, if one girl is motivated … she can help carry the rest of the team, and it’s contagious.”
It’s Rowland’s laissez-faire style that has endeared her to both fans and athletes.
It’s also one of the main reasons for Florida’s recent success.
After steering the program to its 10th Southeastern Conference title on Saturday, Rowland and her staff are a top-two Regionals finish away from securing a berth to the National Championships.
But even though the stakes are rising with each passing day, Rowland has no plans to tweak her system.
“This team, they’re on point. They know what their prize is,” Rowland said.
“It’s a common goal, and there’s nothing that I need to do in addition to what we’re already doing for them, to keep them motivated.
“I know it’s very cliché — everybody says ‘you know, just have fun, just have fun’ — but, in all reality, in this sport, sometimes your mind takes over so much that you need a distraction. … Just keep it light and keep the energy up in the gym, and you know it’ll carry over.”
Contact Alejandro López at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @aljb95
Bridget Sloan celebrates with coach Jenny Rowland during Florida's 198.050-193.725 win over North Carolina on March 11, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.