Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A New Era | Introducing Head Coach Courtney Kupets-Carter

There are two people who are often associated with the glory days of the Georgia Gymdogs: Courtney Kupets and Suzanne Yoculan. In case you live under a rock, Courtney is a two time World Champion, two time Olympic medalist and one of the most accomplished collegiate gymnasts the sport has seen. (13x NCAA Champion) Suzanne became the head coach at Georgia in 1983 and led the Gymdogs to 10 National titles (the most of any school), 16 SEC titles and 4 undefeated seasons. After long but successful careers, both Courtney and Suzanne retired in 2009. That was the end of an era for the University of Georgia.

As of May 9, 2017, a new era begins. Courtney and Suzanne are back with the hopes of restoring the legacy that they left behind. Courtney will take on the role of head coach while Suzanne will mentor her in the role of volunteer assistant coach. Getting back on top of the podium won't be an easy task, but the combination of Courtney and Suzanne leaves many fans hopeful.

Georgia is not the same program that it was back when Courtney and Suzanne left. The Gymdogs used to be the best team in the nation...their level of talent and performances proved it time and time again. Georgia defended their NCAA title for 5 years straight (2005-2009) until Suzanne's departure. Since then, the team hasn't placed higher than fifth at the National Championships. They haven't won the SEC title since 2008. Nowadays, just making it to the Super Six is an accomplishment for Georgia. 

Take a look at their Championships history throughout the last several years: 

2005- 1st
2006- 1st
2007- 1st 
2008- 1st 
2009- 1st
2010- Didn't qualify. 
2011- 10th 
2012- 11th 
2013- 6th 
2014- 5th 
2015- 9th
2016- 6th 
2017- 12th

While it's not completely disastrous (a lot of teams would be thrilled to consistently qualify to Nationals), I would be lying if I said that it's not the slightest bit disappointing to see a program go from #1 to mediocre within such a short period of time. Within the last seven years they've had two head coaches fired and lost a lot of strong recruits. I think the athletic department at Georgia is being quite clear with their expectations for this team. They want to win again.

Bringing in Courtney and Suzanne is an interesting, yet exciting choice. These two know what success looks like first hand, so the decision to bring them in is understandable. You can't blame Georgia for wanting to give them a shot. After all, Suzanne is pretty much responsible for any success the program has had and Courtney is arguably the greatest NCAA gymnast of all time. Do they have what it takes to turn this program around? I suppose time will tell, but I have faith in them.

It's no secret that Kupets doesn't have a strong coaching resume. Following her retirement in 2009, she served as a student coach for the Gymdogs for one season. She has also done some coaching at the recreational level but nothing too competitive. This is where Suzanne will come in handy. Courtney has competitive experience that she can use to her advantage. Suzanne has years of coaching experience and will show her the ropes on how to lead a team to success. (Given her track record, I think we can trust her to do that.) The combination of Kupets and Yoculan could be exactly what the program needs to get back on track.

As a former student-athlete, I expect Kupets to bring a new and refreshing approach to this team, especially from a psychological standpoint. From listening to the initial press conference, Courtney already seems to get it. "I think having an open relationship is going to be key," she said. "Building the trust with the athletes, so that when you do have tough love, you know where it's coming from and it's not just being harsh." When talking about how she plans to bring Georgia back to being National contenders, Courtney stressed the balance between good coaching and creating a mental program to build trust within the team. "The intention is to make sure the program is set in place, that we build a gymnastics program for them to help them peak at the right time, physically, and we build a mental program for them to help feel confident in themselves but also confident in their teammates. I think that's a very important factor for athletes going up to compete. If you're going up there and your teammates don't trust you, how are you going to stay on that beam when you're the only one trusting yourself?" 

Relationships play a strong role in a teams dynamic and performance. Not only do the athletes need to get along and trust each other, but their needs to be a bond between the gymnasts and coaches. There needs to be a level of respect, understanding, and confidence in one another and I'm glad that Courtney understands that. This particular quote from her really stood out to me: "What I look to do as a head coach is put the athletes first and always, now and forever." In the wake of so many abuse allegations, this sport needs more coaches who have the athletes best interest in mind. 

Overall, I'm excited to see what Courtney and Suzanne can do for Georgia. Courtney seems like a very genuine person and she knows a thing or two about the sport, even if she hasn't done a lot of coaching. I think she will bring the passion and dedication that Georgia needs to get back in the mix. Her experience combined with Yoculan's should benefit the team positively. I mean, if anyone can motivate and inspire this team I would trust these two to do it. Both of them have experience as leaders, but now they will be leading in different roles.  

So in the words of coach Courtney, "The season starts now." 

You can read a transcript of Courtney's press conference here.


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