Woman Coach Wednesday: Aryn DeGrood

Posted on January 13th, 2021 by

By Aryn DeGrood

Gymnastics is unique in the way that it’s completely up to the individual to reach their end goal. Going through USAG Junior Olympic youth programs is the typical path to college gymnastics and the Olympics. It’s not until they step foot on a college campus that many athletes get their first taste of a team sport. It is both an exhilarating and nerve-racking experience. Suddenly you have others to build you up, motivate you, and pick you up when you’re down while at the same time feel the weight of succeeding and performing for something bigger than yourself.

As a collegiate athlete, it was one of the most incredible experiences in the world, becoming a part of a team sport where you compete individually but you put the success of the team fully before yourself. This was also the experience I had when I became the head coach at Gustavus eight years ago. 

When I took over the program, it was overwhelming and could have easily led to feeling over my head. But luckily for me, gymnastics is a different sport in all facets at the collegiate level. One thing that makes us unique from the administrative side is we as coaches make all of our rules, set our schedules, and work together to protect and further the sport. When I took over the program, I had no idea what the importance of my role would be. I naively thought it would be solely coaching. I had coached track at the DI and DIII level and thought it would be just like that.

But what it became was something vastly different. My top priority as a coach is to mentor the person first. To help them be the best self they can be, heal pains of the past, and show them what positive coaching can do. Healing them mentally and emotionally leads to healing them physically. And if we can’t heal them wholly, no athlete will be able to fully embrace themself and give themself to the sport. It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always fun, but that is the nature of athletics. The one thing we work every day to maintain throughout all of it is the joy they have when they do gymnastics, the excitement when they get a new skill, and the “why” behind why they are here. I work everyday to maintain JOY and bring light to the athletes who haven’t always experienced it in athletics. 

Even on campus we’re unique in the aspect that we are the only sport at Gustavus that is not in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference; we are in the WIAC. Additionally, the program’s former coach Nancy Baker was a co-founder of the Division III Gymnastics Program, an association that sponsors our own championship. In the WIAC, seven of the eight programs are led by women and our male colleague is a champion of women. We are a close knit community of coaches who I am incredibly proud and lucky to call not only my peers but my mentors and friends. We may have built this comradery due to the nature of our sport but also because we make the conscious effort to. When the outlook of the pandemic became clear, we started a coaches GroupMe, which has been a consistent form of communication.

While we each put our programs first, and we compete hard against each other, we work together to always put the good of the sport and our athletes above all else. We celebrate each other’s successes and lift each other up through struggles. Particularly in this wild ride of a year we are in, our desire to openly communicate with each other has been a blessing and a support system for each of us to rely on. 

The biggest impact our coaching group has had on me is the mentoring they’ve provided me with. They help me through decisions with practices, particularly with how each program approaches strength, being a female coach in a male dominated profession of college coaching, and biggest of all, being a mom in college gymnastics. They supported me and celebrated me when I had not one but two kids during the season, going so far as to hold a crying newborn in meetings at nationals so I could eat a meal four days after delivery. While they may never have had that experience, they have helped me navigate being both a first time mother and a second time mom adjusting to two kids during the competition season.

It is something that does not get talked about enough in the coaching profession, the demands of working moms having kids and adjusting to life as a mom to their children while caring for and coaching for the members of their extended family, their team. Mothers who are coaches deserve so much more than they are given. Working moms take enough heat from the “outside world” and what is considered traditional. But for coaching moms, it takes a whole different level to make the sacrifices we make. Our jobs don’t end at 5 pm, we often aren’t there to get dinner on the table many if not most nights, while meets and recruiting take up time. 

But there is also so much to be gained from our many hats. There is little more heartwarming for me than seeing the way my daughters look at my team and in turn the way my team looks at my daughters. Their favorite place to be is on campus in the gymnastics studio watching a meet and getting chased around the gym or cheering on “daddy ball” and working on their dribble after a basketball game. Our sacrifices aren’t easy, missing out on times with our families aren’t easy, but we are so lucky to have so much to gain from being working, coaching moms. 

This year has been the hardest of them all to maintain that. Covid brought with it a rollercoaster ride of emotions, plans, and forks in the road for the future. We said goodbye to each other in March with certainty that we’d see eachother again after spring break. We started the summer certain we’d see “normal” this fall. We knew that after the year of growth we had within our program last year, this was the year to make massive strides and jump in rankings. All of the things we knew, we now know are things we hoped. And we have had, like everyone else, to adjust plans. The biggest, as a coach, is the outlook on what our meet season will look like.

While we typically have set plans, countdowns, and expectations, this year we have learned to take a step back, take everything one day at a time, and handle adversity. We have done that by focusing on the joy. We have chosen words for our year. Words that we want to guide us through the meet season, reminders when we have tough days, and a guiding light to keep moving forward. My word for the team and the year is “celebrate.” This year of 2021 we will celebrate everything. We celebrate the opportunity to return to practice after 50-plus days apart. We celebrate the opportunity to do the sport we love. And we will celebrate every opportunity to get to perform and compete. Nothing else matters for us this year. And I know that by doing that, by focusing on the things we’ve always taken for granted, and enjoying the ride, we will do bigger things than we thought possible.


One Comment

  1. Ellie K (Dunlavey)Berg says:

    I love this so much, Aryn. As a mom who coached for years and years, I want you to know that you brought tears to my eyes. I am so glad that your peers are supportive. It is no surprise in the circle of professionals that you are among. Lastly, I am so proud of you and your philosophy that shows through as a true Gustie! The program is in good hands. Baker would love this! Peace to you my friend! I hope you find JOY in every day!