KJ Johnson smiles help lead to success
BATON ROUGE - The sophomore slump was something real to LSU gymnast KJ Johnson, but it wasn't because of any real lessening of her skill or performances in her second season on campus.
Instead KJ felt the internal pressure to be better than she was during her breakout freshman year at LSU.
"The start of the season was not really the outcome I was expecting," Johnson said of the beginning to the 2023 season. "I felt like I had to compete against the person I was last year, I guess all of the accomplishments I had from last year, my freshman year, I felt like I had to achieve that, if not more, like be better than I was last year."
Johnson said she put pressure on herself and that it was actually having a negative effect on her performances.
"I didn't feel like my gymnastics was better. I felt like it was coming harder, like the endurance is coming harder, the strength is coming harder. I didn't feel like I was performing at my best and so I felt like I was a little bit of a downgrade of what I was my freshman year."
Johnson has never been a bubbly persona on the mat, but even family members saw the visual changes her emotional approach was having on her competitions.
"My uncle actually made a comment to me that when he was watching my routines and like like watching me out on the floor, he just you said I looked so dead. I looked like I wasn't happy to be here. He was saying that I wasn't smiling enough. And so he kind of just told me like, just to relax and just like do my regular gymnastics and try to look like I'm having fun, which I am having fun, but sometimes I get too much in my head."
Johnson says she's tried to listen to her uncle's advice, and it's paying off.
"The competition against Missouri where I was able to just like, let loose and have fun and like I focused on smiling a lot more and I focused on like, letting go of all of the overthinking moments that I was having before floor and vault and so I think it was like a really good successful meet that I needed in order for me to just, you know, see that that I can do in competition and not just like our intersquad or practice. It helps me overcome a lot of that."
LSU head gymnastics coach Jay Clark has seen the difference the softened approach has made recently in Johnson's gymnastics.
"The last two weeks really she started to look like her," Clark said of Johnson's performances. "There's more joy there. She's a little more relaxed, and it's coming across in her performance."
Johnson just earned SEC Specialist of the Week honors from the Southeastern Conference for her floor routine against Georgia where she scored a 9.95.
LSU will travel to Auburn for a Friday night meet against the Tigers in Alabama.