In observance of Women’s History Month, The Daily’s sports section is launching its fourth annual series aimed at telling the stories of female athletes, coaches and teams at the University from the perspective of the female sports writers on staff. Daily Sports Writer Abbie Telgenhof continues the series with this story.
Lexi Funk never wanted to coach.
In fact, she was vehemently opposed to it. But after COVID-19 derailed her senior season on the Michigan women’s gymnastics team, she knew she wasn’t done.
During her career at Michigan, Funk was a distinguished athlete. In 2019, she was named second-team All-American on beam. She helped lead the team to two national championship appearances in 2017 and 2019 and three Big Ten team championships from 2017-19.
But in 2020, like almost every other sport, gymnastics got shut down.
“I always said that I didn’t want to coach when I was in college and people asked me what I wanted to do afterwards,” Funk said. “… But with everything that happened with COVID, ending our season a little bit too early, missing out on championships and stuff in the 2020 season, I kind of just felt like I wasn’t done with the sport.”
Because of COVID-19, Funk no longer had a solid plan for what she wanted to do after school. So she turned to what she’d always known: gymnastics.
“I reached out to (Michigan coach) Bev (Plocki) and asked if there was any way that I could come and kind of stay part of the team and help coach,” Funk said. “And she was really willing to help me figure that out.”
Plocki offered her a volunteer assistant coaching position, and Funk immediately took it.
Originally, Funk was nervous about the transition from athlete to coach. After all, she’d be coaching athletes she’d once been teammates with. But shortly after she started, she learned she had nothing to worry about.
“It’s a lot of fun, I’m still able to joke around with them and have fun, but they’ve really respected the new role that I’ve taken on,” she said. “And I made it clear from the beginning that I needed their help to transition into the coaching role rather than the fellow teammate role. And everyone has been on board with that. So it’s been pretty smooth actually.”
Her former teammates are always ready to hear her advice, something she says helped with the transition. Funk was also a team captain her senior year, so the shift in leadership role was a natural transition.
“Absolutely, I think a lot about being a captain is taking that leadership role and being in front of the team, and getting everyone going, and keeping the energy up, and being the liaison between communicating between what the athletes are thinking and saying and what the coaches want and are saying,” Funk said. “So I think that definitely helped in the transition as well, because the girls had already seen me in a leadership role. So it wasn’t like some new big role that I was taking on as a coach.”
Funk is loving the new, expanded role she gets to play in the program. Being a coach has given her a different perspective, one in which she is better able to appreciate all the hard work her former teammates put in.
“I think it’s really fun to get to see all the hard work that everyone is putting in the gym day in and day out,” she said. “I think as an athlete you’re always rooting for your teammates, and you’re always cheering for them and stuff. But you do come in here and you have your own role that you have to make sure that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. So you don’t necessarily get to see everyone all the time. But now in that coaching role, it is my job to make sure I’m watching everyone and helping everyone get to where they need to be.”
As a volunteer assistant, she gets to help out wherever needed. She focuses mainly on bars but is always excited to help out around the gym. In her new role, Funk has been able to appreciate all the progress gymnasts are making throughout the season, and she finds it to be a gratifying experience.
Now, just a year after Funk swore she’d never be a coach, she’s looking to close out her first season coaching the Wolverines. And she can’t imagine doing anything else in the future.
“That is the plan. I’m really enjoying it and I think I have a lot to offer as a coach. So yes, I would love to keep coaching.”