Unique rule keeps MU gymnasts focused on team

"Touch rule" builds team morale and forces gymnasts to move on when they make mistakes.
Thursday, January 29, 2009 | 12:02 p.m. CST; updated 12:21 a.m. CST, Friday, January 30, 2009
Sarah Shire receives support from her teammates after a practice performance January 29. The team has a "touch rule" that requires some form of supporting physcical contact after a gymnast's performance that aims to improve team morale.

COLUMBIA - At the beginning of each season, Missouri gymnastics coach Rob Drass introduces his freshmen to a team rule.

The “touch rule,” as Drass calls it, requires each member of Missouri’s gymnastics team to go up to a teammate who just performed and touch her, usually in the form of a high-five or pat on the back.

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No. 13 Missouri
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At first, the rule seems odd.

“I didn’t really understand it,” freshman Mary Burke said. “I was like, ‘What? What do we have to do?’”

But the concept grew on Burke, just as it has on all of Missouri’s gymnasts under Drass. He said it’s the rule everybody seems to like best.

“It helps lead into understanding that that’s the best part of college gymnastics, the team part,” said Drass, whose No. 13 Tigers compete at No. 14 Ohio State tomorrow night.

Before college, most gymnasts don’t know what it’s like to compete for a team. Club gymnastics helps individual gymnasts get better and get noticed. The atmosphere in college is completely different.

“The team does not matter in club … You’re there for yourself,” junior Danielle Guider said. “To become part of this one team, no one is here to be an individual. Everyone is here to contribute to the team, and making nationals is our goal. You have one goal, and you’re one team.”

Drass’ touch rule isn’t well-known. Iowa State coach Jay Ronayne, whose team lost to Missouri Jan. 9, said he had never heard of the rule.

Some coaches do notice the rule’s effects.

“A lot of coaches will say, ‘Your team just seems excited for each other and genuinely happy to be around each other,’” Drass said. “I think that’s one of the byproducts of the rule.”

The rule goes back to Drass’ days as an assistant coach at Nebraska. Drass and Nebraska’s head coach Dan Kendig implemented the rule as a way to keep the team motivated and focused after each routine. Drass said Nebraska is the only other team he knows of that uses the rule.

“If a person were to make a mistake, sometimes they can kind of withdraw from the team,” Kendig said. “That’s not good for team morale. The bottom line, you just want to pick them up.”

Guider admits she has wanted to forget about the touch rule after rough performances, but she likes the rule because it takes away some of her frustration.

“It just makes you the bigger person rather than just running away from your problems,” Guider said.

Senior Alicia Hatcher said she pouted after bad routines as a freshman but has learned the team needs her to support the next performer. Drass said the touch rule helps pull gymnasts back into the meet after they struggle.

The rule even applies in practice. During their intrasquad competitions, Missouri’s gymnasts have to stop what they’re doing and go up to their teammate who just performed.

The rule also applies to coaches. In some cases, Drass has been the victim of his own rule.

“There have been some crazy leaps and jumps where I caught athletes that have finished a routine and jumped into my arms, and I wasn’t quite ready for it,” he said. “One knocked me over one time – leapt off the bar mat and jumped right into my arms, and I grabbed her and took a step back, and I tripped and fell down with her.”


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