Finding motivation over the course of a long, tiring season is a subject of concern for many athletes across all sports. Some use “bulletin-board material,” some use music, and some use pre-game rituals. For the No. 1 Gator Gymnastics Team, that motivation can be found in a chain with a wooden, rhinestone-encrusted “F.”
This year, the team adopted what has been titled, “The Stick Chain.” Taking inspiration from the turnover chain originally created by the Miami Hurricanes, gymnasts earn the right to don the chain by sticking landings.
“I think the stick chain is super exciting,” junior Trinity Thomas said. “Nya made the stick chain, brought it into practice and we loved it, so we’re super excited about it.”
Origins of the Chain
Junior Nya Reed is credited as the creator of the chain. She felt locked in her house during the quarantine in 2020, so she spent the time crafting it with her stepdad.
“I thought about how [The University of] Miami has a turnover chain, so I was like ‘let’s do it,’” Reed said. “Me and my stepdad over quarantine made the stick chain, and I never really used it. But, I thought this year was a good year to use it.”
While the Gators’ chain may have fewer diamonds than those sported by Miami players, it has the same amount of style. The chain is decked-out in glitter, paint, and gator-spirit.
“If you see this ‘F’ close up, there’s glitter of course; it’s blinged-out gymnastic-ly,” Head Coach Jenny Rowland said. “We’ve got a glitter ‘F’ and it’s etched in little rhinestones all around the end. Then there’s a profile view and you can see another color glitter, so she did a very gator-ific job.”
On Jan. 22, the Gators traveled to Arkansas to take on the, at the time, No. 6 Razorbacks. After a shaky performance, the team regrouped afterward to try and work on details, such as stuck landings, in practice. From that, the chain was introduced.
“We talked about, after Arkansas, the details,” Reed said. “Details were something that were really holding us back, so I wanted to make practice fun while focusing on the details. It was something that could spice up practice, and it was a great implementation in practice.”
Implementing the Chain
Now, the chain is used as a badge of honor in the gym. Rowland has incorporated the chain into practice and has seen immediate results.
“We broke our team up into two teams, an orange team and a blue team,” Rowland said. “I think one team almost had 40 sticks yesterday, one had 36. To see them being competitive in that way just really brings that energy to the gym, and helps them focus a little bit more so. Whatever it takes, I always thrive on having fun and being successful at the same time.”
Even the players bought into the “stick chain” hype. Student-athletes are naturally competitive, so using the chain as a way to win a prize created a world of motivation for the gymnasts; even when there are not fans around to watch them.
“I think that that is very good, it has kind of put a little bit of competition between all of us,” freshman Gabrielle Gallentine said. “We want the stick chain, everyone wants it, so it is a little pressure on us in practice and competitions to stick our landings more. “
Once the team returned home from Arkansas, the Gators next meet was at home against No. 24 Missouri. After a week of practicing with the bedazzled ‘F’, the results spoke for themselves; Florida earned the highest score of any team in the country this season and especially wowed the audience with a 48.825 score on their bar routines. Needless to say, the chain produced.
“Practice gets really competitive, and it is crazy,” Reed said. “It’s something that we love because it transfers over, and it’s something that’s fun and we always try to make practice fun as much as possible.”
After the team saw the success it helped create, it committed to the chain. With a top-two matchup coming next week against LSU, the team will bring the new necklace to Baton Rouge with them; it hasn’t let them down yet.
“We are so excited for the chain to go everywhere,” Reed said. “We are traveling to LSU and even in postseason, so you guys will see it a lot more. Hopefully, a lot of people get to wear it.”