PORTAGE — One of Yogi Berra's famed baseball quip malapropisms stated, 'Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.'

While the math obviously doesn't add up, the point is clear: an athlete's mind plays an integral part in their performance.

It's especially pertinent in a sport of precision like gymnastics where strength of mind as well as body are essential to success.

"I have the skills, I just get in my head sometimes," South Central sophomore Makenna King said. "I've got the physical part."

As a freshman, the nerves got the best of the talented young gymnast in the Valparaiso Regional, who failed to qualify for state on the heels of a sectional title the week before.

"She had the same skill set for the most part, she was just so worked up about it," Corey King, Makenna's mom, said. "She was in tears before she even competed. She's a child. We really believed that we needed to help her emotionally."

Entering the equation this season was Christine Garcia. A coach in the sport for over 25 years, she won a team state championship at Hobart and was in Kylee Maxwell's corner when the Morgan Township gymnast won the state all-around title.

Not only does Garcia know what it takes to enhance a gymnast's physical skills, she's well-versed in mental gymnastics as well, and how that plays into an athlete's performance.

"That's half the game," she said. "Last year, it inhibited her. The more that you know a child, the more you know what makes them nervous. Makenna sitting around watching other gymnasts makes her nervous. Oh, that kid did really good, that means I've got to step up my game. I usually send her away. That's a tactic for a lot of gymnasts. She roots on who she wants to cheer for and then I make her go away, to get back into her own game, and that has really helped."

Before each event, Garcia gets King focused on what she's about to do. Sometimes, it's as simple as a deep cleansing breath, in, then out.

"I make her get in her own head, make her separate herself from everything else that's around her, spectators, everything," Garcia said. "I have my own way of doing that with her and when it's time to do it, she knows what to do. We've built that confidence and rapport together. I remember telling her, 'You go where you're supposed to be and let me do my job. This isn't my first go-round in high school meets. I've been there, I've done this. You be the gymnast, I'll be the coach. Let me do it.'"

It took a few meets, Garcia admitted, for them 'to get meshed.'

"I'll be like, I need this here, I need this there," King said. "She's like, Makenna, I'm your coach, I got it, I can do this. I'm like, OK. We just have these bonds. We just make it fun."

It all came together Saturday, when King fashioned a meet-record 39.125 in the Portage Regional, winning all-around as well as floor exercise, vault and balance beam.

As a mom, Corey King couldn't have been prouder, a year after what happened the last time.

"She's come a long way," she said. "I've never had a doubt what she can do physically. I'm so proud of the mental aspect, how much she's grown, mature-wise. We all have room to grow in that every day. We've really made a good team as far as support. She listens."

'Team Makenna' heads to Ball State on Saturday, where King, based on the regional showing, will rate among the favorites. Much like the regional, she's not looking at it that way.

"How do I do better? I can come in mentally better," King said. "I'll go back in the gym and do what I've been doing, repetition. I don't expect anything. I've already made my goal of making it. Just be confident, hit four for four (routines) the best I can do, let my body take over and whatever happens, happens. I'm excited for the experience."

In the midst of her success, King has attracted plenty of outside support from other gymnasts, coaches and fans who not only admire her tremendous ability but for her sweet, unassuming personality.

"The ball of nerves I get are all the same. I squeeze harder than I think she does, no joke," Garcia said. "She's a good kid. She cheers for everybody, too, it's not just people rooting for her. Everybody's pulling for that kid."

Email: jpeters@thenewsdispatch.com

Twitter: @JP8185

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