To Find Success, BYU Looked to Men’s Gymnastics

In 2015 when Guard Young was hired as BYU head coach, the team was ranked No. 35. Nearly six years later, BYU sits at 12th in the country and 10th on floor. If you’re wondering what contributed to the team’s short rise in the ranks, the answer is men’s gymnastics.

Before becoming a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, Young competed for BYU’s men’s program. He retired after the Olympics and was a gym owner in California. In 2010, he began his coaching career at Oklahoma, under Mark Williams’ direction, learning a lot of strategies along the way.

However, when Young returned to Provo in 2015 to prepare for the upcoming season, he had no experience coaching women’s gymnastics. The first time he adjusted the uneven bars was when he first started coaching the Cougars. 

Young is quick to point out that he started at ground zero. He explains that he is relatively new to women’s gymnastics, coming up through Oklahoma’s ranks. Six years ago, he was an assistant coach in Norman when BYU Athletic Director Thomas Holmoe hired him to run the women’s team at BYU. 

“He put a lot of faith in me that I’d figure it out. Because the jump from an assistant coach to a head coach is pretty extreme, as well as jumping from men’s gymnastics to women’s gymnastics,” Young said. 

While he insists it is his team’s effort, assistant coaches and equipment managers that have helped propel BYU to No. 12, he admits he’s developed some strategies to help the 25-member squad receive optimal coaching. One of which is a staggered workout. 

Some gymnasts have classes that overlap with the start of practice while others have lessons in the evening and need to work out earlier in the day. These conflicts have given the team a lot of flexibility, allowing them to spread out a workout. They have a staggered start and staggered end. 

“That’s been a big trade secret and how it’s been able to carry such a large team, because usually we don’t get more than five or six at each event,” Young said.

Young also credits a single, typed sheet of paper that he hands to each gymnast each week. 

“I pride myself in training plans—that’s one thing that I have,” Young said. “I did very well as an athlete. I learned a lot from Mark Williams and my father, an Olympian and part of the 1976 Olympic team. I’ve taken it as my approach by using these men in my life as mentors,” Young said.

Each gymnast has a training plan when they walk into the gym. Young creates the plans, executes them to the best of his ability and later evaluates them. He and his staff learn what worked well and what didn’t to maximize their potential and the gymnasts’ time at practice. 

Now that they are in year six, the coaching staff has started to find a formula that’s working. However, Young doesn’t want to settle on just one. 

“I want to keep always growing and developing and learning new techniques and training methods,” he said. “I’m a student of the sport of gymnastics, and that’s what’s been so fun because I’ve done it on so many different levels.”

In addition to the training plans, BYU has a strategy of recruiting one and two-event specialists, an approach that Young learned at Oklahoma and began immediately implementing after arriving at BYU.

He explains that when he took over, with BYU sitting at No. 35 in the country, he couldn’t get an all arounder to call him back. He looks at his scrappy beginnings at BYU a bit like a football coach would. 

“I would go scouting and be like, ‘Hey, you’re a good swinger on bars. We want you. You’re a good tumbler. We want you.’ So it was taking me three kids to get an all arounder that someone else could get [in one].“

His experience with one- and two-event specialists has helped him develop the best way to utilize a gymnast. He takes pride in talking about gymnasts he’s coached. He recounts his experience at Oklahoma, taking on walk-on Michael Squires, who became the third gymnast in NCAA history to win three straight national titles on rings. 

“That’s why it’s unique to me, just because that was my upbringing in coaching,” Young said.

When it comes to specialists, the gymnast recruited for a specific event is encouraged to train and get better, allowing her to add more apparatuses to her repertoire. 

Senior Abby Boden-Stainton, a walk-on, is an excellent example of beginning with one event and growing and competing on others. After Stainton made three, Young put her on scholarship.

Having so many specialists allows BYU to have standout events. The Cougars are known for bars and especially floor, where gymnasts like Boden-Stainton tumble to recognizable songs and perform popular dance moves.

Abbey Miner-Alder, Photo courtesy of BYU

The current floor lineup of Rachel Heaton, Avery Bennett, Jordan Matthews, Abby Boden-Stainton, Brittney Vitkauskas and Abbey Miner-Alder captivates the audience. Matthews’ Napoleon Dynamite routine is a particular team and fan favorite, and uses facial expressions and funny choreography to bring the crowd into her performance.

The success on this particular event is thanks to Assistant Coach and Choreographer Brogan Evanson, who was a member of the BYU gymnastics team from 2001-04 and received much of her choreography experience while training at Olympus School of Gymnastics in Sandy, Utah, under coach Mary Wright. 

Evanson says the team spends a lot of time in the creation process to brainstorm the perfect routine for each gymnast. When she begins collaborating with a freshman, the gymnast is still very excited about college gymnastics, especially college floor, so it’s essential for her to get to know their personality right off the bat.

She believes the choreography process can go quickly if a gymnast is relaxed, and she says choreography can be a quick thing or even something that they perfect for years. So it’s no coincidence that this year’s floor lineup is composed of juniors and seniors. 

“That’s played in our favor because I’ve had a lot of time getting to know their personality and helping them identify [their strengths].” 

Evanson says there are three areas where floor judges can take or reward points based on artistry: there is a choreography element, a personal style piece and then there’s expression. Evanson is convinced that the personal style piece is like the main ingredient when it comes to crafting the best routine possible for each individual. 

“We spent a lot of time figuring out personal style. Picking the music is super important,” she said.

MRGC Gymnast of the Year, Abbey Miner-Alder, enjoys Brogan’s buoyant personality and says the team calls her the “party coach” because she always wants to have a good time while they’re at a meet, and she likes to do the floor routines right alongside the gymnasts.

“She’s always invested and wants to just have fun with us,” Miner-Alder said. “It helps us to feel more relaxed and be able to have fun in the meet rather than [be] stressed and chaotic.”

Miner-Alder also notes that the reason so many people have noticed BYU’s floor routines is because the team has so many creative individuals that love to dance and have a good time while competing. 

“This year it’s not that we look like we’re having fun, it’s because we actually are,” Miner-Alder said. “We love competing. People see that. That’s why we’ve done well.”

Young has noticed the difference too, and gives 100 percent of the credit to Evanson.

“She is a mad scientist when it comes to this choreography, and it makes a difference,” he said. “It makes a difference with our scores and rankings on that one event.”

While the team has found success during Young’s tenure so far, how can it continue to rise and take the next step? According to Young, it depends on summer training, a season he strongly feels needs to be utilized. And he believes the team needs to figure it out, preferably with a training plan. 

With that in mind, he realizes not everything goes according to plan. 

“There’s no such thing as a perfect plan. That’s what I’ve learned—all the way going back from my training days. You’ve got to have a plan, number one. Number two, you’ve got to stick with it. Too many people will write the plans, and they won’t follow them.”

Then you evaluate.

“You take in all the information, and then you are ready to start your next one,” Young said. “I do three different plans a year. I can reevaluate each year how it went well. It’s a lot of fun. I’m having the time of my life right now.”

Article by Kelly Feng

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