How moving to World Champions Centre might have changed the course of Joscelyn Roberson’s gymnastics career

By Patricia Duffy | May 10, 2023
Joscelyn Roberson competes on beam during the 2022 OOFOS U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
Joscelyn Roberson competes on beam during the 2022 OOFOS U.S. Gymnastics Championships. (© Amy Sanderson)

Joscelyn Roberson is a 17-year-old bottle of sunshine that loves gymnastics and loves her Pomeranians, Rocky and Apollo, even more.

“I think I’m gonna have 18 when I get older,” the Arkansas commit said Wednesday.

When you see Roberson, your first thought might be, ‘Wow, she’s tiny.’ (It’s a fact: Roberson is 4 feet 8 inches tall.) Then, you see her tumble, and your mind is blown. She is short, but on the gymnastics floor, and in conversation, she is larger than life.

Gymnastics Now caught up with Roberson during a USA Gymnastics media call where we touched on everything from her move to World Champions Centre – home of Simone Biles and a slew of talented elites – to the twisties (yes, she’s had them, a lot), mental blocks, split-second decisions, her plan for the remainder of 2023 (including potential upgrades), trusting her crazy coach Laurent Landi, and how she is so refreshingly open and honest at a young age.

On moving from Texarkana to Houston in September…

JR: I really love it here. There’s so much more to do, and I meet so many more people. It’s been a really great move for me. I think, mentally, just because, in Texarkana, there’s not really anything to do. So you’re stuck at home, or you’re stuck at the gym. But here, if you need to get away, you can go out and go to Topgolf, or go to the big movie theater, or go to the humongous mall that has so many shopping places you’re going to be broke by the time you get out of there. It’s really good to be in a bigger city and have a place to get away if I need to.

On what’s improved the most in her gymnastics since the move…

JR: I would say, overall, mentally. Just in general, I’ve improved the most mentally in my gymnastics because before I used to be so scared of everything, especially on floor and bars. But, now, Laurent really broke it down in a way where it wasn’t as scary for me anymore, and I got to get past those boundaries that were keeping me back for so long.

I feel like I’ve really improved on bars, and I’ve really improved on floor. But also I feel like all four events have gotten cleaner, and I’ve been more confident since I moved.

On being an alternate in 2021 at Junior Pan Ams vs. competing at the 2023 DTB Pokal…

JR: Being the alternate, it was a really good experience for me because I got to do everything that the girls did, but I didn’t have to have the added pressure of competing. I think that was really good for me as a start-out assignment to get the feel of everything without having to be so nervous about, ‘Oh, I’m competing for USA.’ But also at the same time, it was really hard because I was doing so well.

So when I finally got to do it in Germany, I was not nervous at all; I was so excited being full-time. Plus, having a team, I was never nervous, because I wasn’t doing it for myself – I was doing it for them, for the team.

On what she was scared of on floor and bars and how she got past those boundaries…

JR: When I moved to WCC, I could not do a full-in or a double-double. I had done the double-double maybe three times in my life, and then I got extremely scared of them. Every time I tried them, I would do a double full instead of a double-double. Then I just stopped trying to do them completely, and then I got the twisties one year, when I was young, probably 12, and I stopped doing full-ins. I would not do them any longer.

When I moved to WCC, probably the second day I was there, [Laurent] was like, ‘Do a full-in into the pit.’ And I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ And he was like, ‘Just try. It’s just a standing full, and then you stand up,’ and I was like, ‘Okay.’

So I did round-off back handspring, and I think, ‘Standing full, stand up,’ and I [did] a full-in. And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just did it!’

For double-double, he was like, ‘Just think full, stand up, full.’ So that’s what I did, and ever since then, I’ve had it. That was about seven months ago, first time I’d ever done a laid-out double-double, and now I’m competing it. 

For bars, I wasn’t really scared of it, like in the forefront of my brain I wasn’t scared, but the way I did bars, it looked timid and scared. He’s just really been working with me a lot to fix that and to really swing on the bars. Still a work in progress, but we’re getting there.

On her improved bars, specifically, and what has helped with her form…

JR: I think just paying more attention to it. I wouldn’t say my numbers are different, but we definitely spend more time on basics and more detailed work than I did at my other gym. At my other gym, we were just trying to make a bar routine, but [at WCC], we want to perfect a bar routine. We definitely work more on the details instead of the routine as a whole.

On how she’s overcome previous bouts of the twisties…

JR: They definitely do not go away on their own – that is for sure.

The first time I got the twisties, I was probably 8, and I was already doing double fulls and stuff. I had to go all the way back down to layouts and halfs.

I’d say the worst I ever got the twisties was actually right before 2019 [U.S. Classic], I think. If you watch it, my routine used to be crazy, and then at Classics, I did a front double full, because I never got the twisties on front twisting. But I had to do everything out of a power hurdle for like three months. So I could do a round-off back handspring double layout out of a power hurdle, because I was just so scared that I would twist if I had any more power running into it. So it was quite a time.

On talking to Simone Biles about the twisties…

JR: We’ve talked about the twisties a lot because I’ve gotten it countless times. So she was just telling me how it was the weirdest feeling and how she didn’t feel she could control her body. And I was like, ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve done that so many times.’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, it was just the craziest thing.’ She said how much she hated that feeling, and I was like, ‘Yes, yes, girl, I understand.’ Really just talking about the twisties with her, it made me feel like I wasn’t the only one that got the twisties.

On moving from a gym where she was the only elite to WCC where she’s surrounded by a large team of high-level gymnasts…

JR: I think it was really good for me because [I was] in Texarkana by myself – the only elite. (The next level was a level nine.) So it was really hard for anybody to understand what I was doing, what I was going through, the training. So, when I moved here, and I have five, six other girls going through the exact same thing, it was really good to have that support system. So, I’m like, ‘Hey, I know what you’re going through, and you can make it through this day. Today is going to be hard; tomorrow will be better.’ It’s really good to have someone to lean on when you’re having a hard day because they know what you’re going through and they can understand it.

On her plan for the rest of the 2023 season after hitting it hard early…

JR: Our plan was to hit it hard in the beginning of the season at Winter Cup and be ready for that, because I really wanted to make Germany (DTB Pokal) and Pan Ams.

I didn’t even think about Egypt (Cairo World Cup) as being a possibility; I didn’t even know it was a competition that I could do. But I really wanted to make those two assignments [and] get out there, internationally, to show them that I could compete.

Once I made Germany, I was so happy, and then I went there. And then I was like, ‘Okay, I’m setting my brain on Pan Ams.’ Well, on the way home from Germany, I made Egypt, and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness! Well, I’m setting my brain to Egypt, I guess.’ I make that team, and I’m amazing, trying to keep my body healthy, going to preventative therapy. Then I made the Pan Ams team.

So we’re hitting it hard, lots of routines right now, and then when we come back from Pan Ams, we’ll really slow down. Because we have until August [for the next meet], we’ll slow down, and we’ll start working more upgrades, less routines. And then once [mid-July] hits, we’ll start hitting routines hard again.

On coach Laurent Landi’s ambitious plans for routines, and how she went from thinking he was crazy to doing it…

JR: My floor routine. I never thought in a million years I’d ever compete that, and he actually told me I wasn’t going to compete it until championships. Then, when I get to Winter Cup, he was like, ‘I want you to warm up your double-double.’ I was like, ‘Ohhhhh-kay.’ Like, I don’t know why you’re telling me to do this at podium [training]. [But] I make it, and it’s fine. Then the competition day comes, and he was like, ‘You should compete it. It’s good. You should compete it.’ And I’m like, ‘Um, okay.’ So I competed it at Winter Cup. I did [a laid-out] double-double [and a] double layout.

Then, when we get home and I’ve made Germany, I come in the next day, and he’s like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna do the [laid-out] full-in in Germany.’ And I’m like, ‘Ummmm, I don’t know how that’s gonna work.’ And I did the exact routine he wanted me to do with [laid-out] double-double, [laid-out] full-in, and then the front full to double tuck, double pike that day he told me I was going to do it in Germany. And he was like, ‘See, you’ll be fine’ So that’s been my routine since.

On making a split-second decision to change her flight series during beam qualification at the Cairo World Cup and going on to win silver in the final…

JR: When I was going, I was so nervous. As soon as I got on the beam, I was shaking, and I was like, ‘Okay, you need to calm down before you get to your series or it’s not going to go well. You’re gonna mess it up.’ But I could not get myself to calm down; I was shaking, I don’t know why, so when I jumped, I turned too early, and I was like, ‘No, you’re gonna be so crooked. So when my feet hit and I knew I was crooked, I was like, ‘Okay, just pull yourself way back, back onto the beam, do a back handspring, and just stay on the beam so you can make finals, and then during finals, you have to make sure you make your series so you can at least get a better score.’

On potential upgrades despite her difficulty already being very high on events like floor…

JR: I think there’s definitely more I could add, but I think we’re just gonna have to wait and see for later on in the year… but I think there’s definitely more I could add on every event.

On having two of her WCC teammates on the Pan Ams team with her…

JR: I was actually on a FaceTime going to the airport when I found out the team, and I was so excited when I heard it was going to be the three of us, because we’re already so close in the gym. So it’s just going to be that much easier to work well together while we’re in Colombia… Knowing, really, everything about these two girls, I’m super excited, and we are really an amazing team together. I just love them so much.

On her improved confidence…

JR: When I was a junior, [in] 2021, the first year we had Winter Cup as women, I was super confident that whole year. Then, at the end of it, somehow something switched, and I just lost all my confidence on everything. I think that showed through my 2022 year, when I was a first-year senior. It was never good, I don’t think.

This year, after I moved to WCC… really a big confidence boost for me was getting over that mental block on the double-double, because it had been a mental block for years and years, and I never thought I would ever do it. It really weighed me down, even though I was never doing it in competition. When I would go to practice and they would even mention me doing a double-double, it would destroy my whole day because I was so scared of it. So overcoming that and conquering that skill and making it as perfect as I can I think boosted my confidence a lot.

Also, being able to make more than one bar routine a practice – that’s really new for me. That’s really boosted my confidence on bars, because now I can make three bar routines in one practice back-to-back-to-back, and a year ago, there was no way I could ever do that.

On how she is so relaxed, confident, and open at 17 years old…

JR: When I was younger, I used to be really shy and really reserved, but when I first started getting [attention], after my standing full blew up on Instagram, my parents were like, ‘Okay, if people want to start asking you for interviews and stuff, if you want them to love you for you. You’re gonna have to show them yourself. You can’t be shy, reserved, closed off. You have to let them know who you are and you want people to love you for who you are.’

So I’d say that’s probably the biggest advice I got from my parents, and I think that’s why I do so well, is because I want you guys to know me, and I want you guys to like me for who I am and not some other persona that I put on.