Michigan women’s gymnastics coach Bev Plocki is one of the most successful gymnastics coaches of all time.
During her 18 years in Ann Arbor, Plocki holds a .775 winning percentage and a .847 winning percentage in Big Ten competition.
Her teams have advanced to the last 14 NCAA Championships and have won 13 of the last 15 Big Ten titles. She has also been named Big Ten Coach of the Year eight times and was named NCAA National Coach of the Year in 1994.
But that’s not the most impressive testament of Plocki’s coaching career – it’s the relationships she develops with her gymnasts
“She’s not just a coach,” senior Lindsey Bruck said. “She’s part of our team.”
Said senior Clare Flannery: “She’s a motivator. She cares about every girl on the team as if she was her daughter. You know if anything would happen to you, she would have your back.”
Plocki’s ability to create strong relationships with her gymnasts stems from her capacity to understand their mindsets.
“If they’ve been training for 17 to 18 years with other people, they are not going to come into my program, and I’ll just be able to snap my fingers and they will automatically adapt to me and to the way that I coach,” Plocki said. “That means I have to be able to learn about them and be perceptive about what they need from me.”
Her strategy for the past 18 years is more similar to a mother figure than a coach.
“It’s a lot of talking,” Plocki said. “There’s a lot of hugs, and there’s a lot of emotional talks about gymnastics-related things as well as personal related things.”
With such a solid relationship, it’s nearly automatic for the gymnasts to trust Plocki. So her gymnasts respond when she tries to push to the next level.
Earlier in Plocki’s career, she wasn’t considered a great coach, but rather as a coach that harbored great gymnasts.
If there was any reason to believe that was still true, this year has put that myth to rest.
As the season began, the team was excited. Michigan was a talented, veteran group, including two-time All-American Bruck. But before the team could even witness its potential on the mats, Bruck went down with an ACL injury.
Soon after, freshman Jordan Sexton and Sarah Curtis went down with similar injuries. All three were all-around competitors and were lost for the season.
The future looked bleak.
But on Feb. 12, about a month into the season, Plocki had the Wolverines ranked ninth in the country.
Plocki was pleased after the early success.
“I was excited about our season now for different reasons,” Plocki said. “You really kind of change your perspective. We haven’t changed our goals at all, but we’ve kind of changed the way we are looking at the season in perspective.”
Then came the Utah meet on Feb. 23, where Plocki’s ability to make an adjustment was put to the test.
The Wolverines traveled to take on the Utes and scored a season-low 193.800.
The team had hit rock bottom – but the answer came from the top.
With a now-overachieving freshman- and sophomore-led team, Plocki turned her team’s season around.
Following the meet, the gymnasts all had their heads down and the locker room was quiet when Plocki addressed the team.
“I told them, ‘Our problem is not that we’re not trying hard enough, or that I don’t think you guys care enough,” Plocki said. Our problem this season is that you guys are trying too hard, you’re trying to be too perfect. You need to relax and be able to go out and just do in competition what you do for me in practice every single day.’ ”
Plocki took own her words to heart and made her team’s first priority simple – have fun.
“After Utah, we didn’t have our best meet,” Bruck said. “She brought us back to life. Now when we go out there and have fun, we just enjoy what we’re doing and get into the crowd. That’s when we have our best meet. That’s what she’s trying to instill now and it’s working a lot.”
Although Plocki was reluctant to take any credit for her team’s success, it’s clear that with a team that has gone through such adversity, there must be something special about the coach, especially since the team is still ranked 11th in the country.
“Gymnastics is a very mental sport and she has mentally kept us all together and motivated,” Flannery said. “We would not have been as successful without her.”