Brittany Harris might never have been affiliated with an Ivy League gymnastics program before she was hired as the head coach at Brown University in August 2022, but after four years coaching in the MIC and competing with Brown at meets like the USAG national championships, she had some idea of what kind of team she was joining.
“Just watching them from the outside I could just feel their hunger and fight and energy,” she said. “The whole crowd was like, oh my gosh, do you guys see Brown?”
Harris, who describes her coaching style as “quirky and silly” yet “very competitive,” was an easy culture match for the ambitious, high-energy Bears, according to senior captain Lauren Lazaro, who was among the first to interact with Harris to facilitate the coaching transition.
“Over the summer we had some Zoom calls with Brittany, and right from those first calls, I could tell she was such a good fit for our team,” Lazaro said. “Since then, it’s just been the most fun time. This has been the best senior season I could have asked for. Every practice is so much fun. We have music going, and we’re always dancing with Brittany and cracking jokes. At meets, too, she’s right there with us.”
This immediate synergy, in addition to what Harris described as the team’s willingness to “embrace any new thing that I would throw at them,” has produced immediate results. Already a team on the rise before her arrival, Brown’s highlights this year include a beam program record, the second highest team score in program history, and the team’s first Ivy Classic title since 2016.
According to the Bears, these results aren’t the primary goal but merely a happy result of keeping focus on their own process and plans.
“On our goal sheet that we made for the week of Ivy Classic, winning the meet wasn’t even on there because we were focused more on all the little goals,” explained Lazaro.
Many teams have a concept of staying within a “team bubble,” keeping focus on the team and the present routine. That means not dwelling on the past either, according to Harris. “After every event happens, no matter what happens—good, bad or indifferent—we throw that event away and we start fresh on the next event.” Brown calls its bubble the Bear Den, and to sophomore Julia Bedell, staying in that mental space means that results take a backseat.
“Every single time, including last season, when we were pushing records and breaking records, it was never a very intentional thing. We had always been so locked in on the team and really using that energy to build momentum to do better and better as a team. I don’t think anyone was tracking scores during these meets.”
Bedell has results of her own to think about, in addition to the team accomplishments. This time, she has tied the team program record of 9.925 on floor two separate times, and as a sophomore, there’s every possibility that her best is yet to come.
“I would obviously love to go as high as I could go,” Bedell said. “Getting a 10 from even one judge would be the best thing ever to experience. Even pushing a 9.950 would be incredible. But it is a very subjective sport, so at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily down to how well I think I did my gymnastics. It’s down to the judges and the situation building up to that, so I’m just trying to trust the process and continually put out my best.”
One thing that the Bears feel sets them apart and drives them forward as a team is a profound level of affection and trust as a group.
“We are so close,” said Lazaro. “We’re such a tight-knit group, and we all truly love each other and love spending time with each other. When you see us out on the floor cheering for each other and hugging and celebrating, it’s because we do truly care.”
The bond between the Bears has shocked even Harris at times, including when she announced meet lineups to the team for the first time.
“The first time I went through the vault lineup for Yale, everyone clapped. I was literally mind-blown. I was like, ‘We’re clapping? Oh my gosh. We’re clapping. Yes!’ Because it’s the ‘we over me’ mentality, that’s what helps teams be the most successful.”
To Bedell, the bond and trust among the team allows them to approach potentially contentious moments with love instead.
“We genuinely, from the bottom of our hearts, trust everything that the coaches had decided for us, and we are genuinely so happy and feel that that person is so deserving to be in that position,” Bedell said. “I know that lineups can be a touchy subject. It’s a sensitive topic for some people, and it can be hard and there can be hard feelings. But I don’t feel that at all on this team. I felt nothing but support for everyone, and I know from the bottom of my heart that I trust and support every single person that is put in.”
The trust and affection the Bears have among their team is returned in full by Harris.
“I’m constantly in awe and amazed and inspired by the young women that I coach,” she said. “For them to be academically at an Ivy League school, and then on top of that being at the top of their athletic game as well—it’s just incredible.”
Article by Rebecca Scally
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