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Meet the coach who helps Biles, Hernandez stay mentally strong

As the U.S. women’s gymnastics team prepares to take the floor in Tuesday’s team all-around final in Rio de Janeiro, 5,000 miles away Robert Andrews will be triple-checking the Wi-Fi connection in his Houston home. A sports psychology coach who works with U.S. gymnasts Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez, as well as a handful of other athletes competing in Rio, Andrews made the unforgivable mistake of waiting for the prime-time broadcast of Sunday’s women’s gymnastics qualification.

“I won’t make that mistake again,” he says. This time, he’ll experience every tumbling pass and Amanar vault in real time. “I blocked out my afternoon appointments all week and will be crying right along with them.”

In the month since making the Olympic team, Biles and Hernandez have discussed their relationship with Andrews and the role mental coaching has played in their ascents as candidly as any elite athletes have been willing to do. That’s a testament, Andrews says, to their openness and willingness to be vulnerable, look themselves in the mirror and work on their weaknesses. The fact that they admit those weaknesses exist in the first place, one of the toughest first steps for athletes of their caliber to take, is one of many reasons they are two of the most consistent gymnasts in the world.

“It’s remarkable they’ve been so vocal about it,” Andrews says. “Most athletes, particularly male athletes, wouldn’t dare talk about seeing someone in my field. I hope they open the door to our field being more recognized and supported, because it is vital.”

That is precisely why Ron Biles called Andrews in March of 2013 to ask if he would work with his daughter, whom he told Andrews was gifted at her sport but struggling to maintain confidence. He’d done research, and he believed Andrews had the experience and credentials to help his Simone break through her mental blocks. “He said, ‘I’ve got a young gymnast who is too nervous and anxious, and she’s struggling,'” Andrews says. “He asked if I could help.”

Andrews, the founder and director of the Institute of Sports Performance, is known around Houston for his work with the NFL’s Texans, several collegiate programs and many gymnasts. In 2007, he began working with a handful of gymnasts who were being coached by U.S. men’s national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika, including Raj Bhavsar, who went on to make the 2008 Olympics as an alternate before stepping up to help the team win bronze when Paul Hamm was injured shortly before the Beijing Games…

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