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Coach Sara Carver-Milne discusses challenges of gymnastics training amid pandemic

Carver-Milne touches on how athletes are maintaining strength, flexibility while off the mats

Sara Carver-Milne is in her twentieth season of coaching Brown gymnastics. Under her direction, the Bears have produced 15 NCAA Regional Qualifiers, eight ECAC Event and All-Around Championship titles, ten USAG National Qualifiers, a USAG National Event Championship and were a USAG National Team Qualifier in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Carver-Milne is also recognized for her team’s exceptional academic standing. In 2017, sixteen members of her eighteen-person roster earned ECAC All-Academic honors. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, members of her team were named ECAC Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the year. During the shortened 2020 season, Bruno racked up six ECAC accolades and nine All-Ivy Classic awards. For her dedication to her team on and off the mats, Carver-Milne has been selected for this week’s edition of The Herald’s Coach’s Corner.

 Herald: How many of your players are on campus this season?

Carver-Milne: Right now we have eight on campus, and 22 total on the roster. … It is the largest team I've ever had, and this will be my twentieth season.  

What led to such a large roster after all this time?

We've been working on building our roster for years and we just got really fortunate this year with recruiting. We had a lot of valedictorians who were extremely strong gymnasts. We’ve got eight incoming freshmen this year. It's a very talented, very driven and very smart group. So, they're going to contribute a lot to this team.

How has the team stayed connected as it navigates the hybrid semester?

Our captains for this year, (Mei Li Costa ’22 and Rose Domonoske ’21), have done a tremendous job of getting creative in team bonding activities from afar. As soon as they were named captains they started with team Zoom calls and weekly check-ins with everybody and we've continued that through this fall. They also broke up the team into small groups that they call “families,” which has been really nice. It’s about four people per group, each from different class years. It really helps (athletes), especially the freshmen, get to know people on the team in a less intimidating setting.

The families also (participate in community service work together.) They’re doing a weekly family meeting with our Team IMPACT team member. (Team IMPACT pairs young athletes battling health issues with college teams.) Every week our “families” call (our athlete), or bake cupcakes with her.  They ran the Team IMPACT Unstoppable 5K and more recently, because of COVID, they’ve been writing letters to our athlete in the mail. Our team really, really thrives on giving back to the community. So, any opportunity they have to inspire others, they jump right on. 

Is there any aspect of the cancelled season you hope to carry forward into regular seasons?

What the team has tried to do in order to share Brown with recruits, but also anyone interested in Brown gymnastics, is we'll have one of our student-athletes do an Instagram takeover. They'll post a day in the life of their experience at Brown, answer questions and share their favorite moments and spots on Brown's campus. So, that’s been really fun.

What has your biggest coaching challenge been during the cancelled season?

Gymnastics is a unique sport in that it's very difficult to maintain a high skill level outside of a gym. Our gymnasts can do basic conditioning and strength, but they can't necessarily flip, swing or fly safely out of the gym. So, we’ve asked them to really take this time to focus on their weaknesses. For example, if flexibility is a weakness, they can really work on their flexibility at home right now with things like yoga. But there is a challenge, because unlike with other sports, you can't really go outside and play a pickup game of gymnastics on the turf. It’s tougher for a gymnast to safely practice outside of the gym, and I really don’t recommend it. We're going to keep up with the basics, have them conditioning their strength and flexibility, and that will give them a solid foundation for when we're back in the gym. 

Do you have any advice for gymnasts who don’t have access to coaching about how best to return to the gym after the long break due to COVID?

Muscle memory is a great thing. We always tell our athletes when they get injured or they need to take time off for any reason to just stay in shape — just to condition, stay in shape and know that your body is not going to forget how to do the gymnastics. It may take a little bit longer, so you need to take it slowly. That's exactly what we're telling our athletes right now who have not had an opportunity to train gymnastics for a while. We're going to treat this as if they're coming back from an injury and progress slowly once we have an opportunity to get back in the gym. So, basic strength and conditioning can go a long way in getting you back into the sport.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.


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