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‘The best opportunity I could have’: Why student coaching was everything Utah’s Macey Roberts could’ve asked for

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Macey Roberts hugs MyKayla Skinner after her floor routine as Utah and Michigan battle it out in gymnastics at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Roberts just completed a season as a student coach and has hopes on becoming a head gymnastics coach at the college level in the future.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY —  Go back to April of last year, and Macey Roberts was at the top of her game.

The Tennessee native had by far the best season of her competitive gymnastics career as a senior for Utah in 2019. She earned second team All-Pac-12 honors on vault and won the 2019 Coaches’ Most Improved Award. She set new career-highs multiple times and didn’t miss on a single routine, 30 in all.

After dealing with injuries and subsequent surgeries over the years, she was healthy too, which is practically unheard of for gymnasts at that stage in their careers.

“I kind of realized that it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I got to sit back and learn from Tom (Farden), one of the best of the best.” Utah gymnastics alumnae Macey Roberts

“My body felt better than ever,” she said.

And then, just like that, it was all over. 

When Utah finished in fourth place behind UCLA, LSU and Michigan in the first of two national semifinals at the 2019 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, Roberts’ career came to a close.

And yet, keen-eyed observers will note that Roberts was there, both in the Huntsman Center and on the road, throughout this past gymnastics season.

She was there when Utah won the Best of Utah quad meet at the Maverik Center. She was there when the Red Rocks downed UCLA inside Pauley Pavilion and announced themselves as one of the nation’s best teams. She was there when they defeated Washington to clinch the Pac-12 regular season championship and she was there when Utah defeated Stanford to cap off only the second undefeated season in program history.

Roberts wasn’t competing in those meets — she was coaching.

Student coaching had been on Roberts’ radar even before she arrived at Utah. 

The idea of becoming a student coach following her competitive career had appealed to her for some time, as a way to make coaching a career, something she’d always wanted to do.

“I’d love to coach and I knew that that would be the perfect opportunity for me,” she said.

Following her freshman season at Maryland in 2016, as she checked out various programs across the country, she knew it was going to take a fifth year for her to get her undergraduate degree.

So when Red Rocks coach Tom Farden mentioned she could be a student coach her final year at Utah, she didn’t need to be told twice and transferred to the U.

“When I looked at coming to Utah, Tom had mentioned that my fifth year, if I wanted, I could be a student coach or work in the athletic department in some other way,” Roberts said. “I was like, ‘Um, I’d love to coach, that is what I want to do anyway.’”

It was set in stone during her senior season that she would become a student coach for the Red Rocks in 2020 and two weeks after the end of the 2019 season, her coaching tenure began.

It wasn’t the easiest transition, though, from athlete to coach.

Roberts believed she had more left in the tank, as evidenced by her standout senior season, and to say goodbye to competition, something she had done since she was 4 years old, was easier said than done.

“When it was all over I was like, ‘I’m done? Wait just a minute. I’m hitting my peak in gymnastics and my body feels great,’” she said. “It was really hard for me to accept being done.”

She channeled those emotions into her coaching. As she put it, “I knew that I had to take those emotions and put it toward them (the Red Rocks).”

Still, that was a challenge, as was ceding control. 

“When you compete, you have all the control over what you do. Then, all of a sudden you have no control,” Roberts explained.

Then there were her coaching assignments themselves. Early on, Roberts worked with the gymnasts on floor exercise and vault, her two strongest events. She felt she was in a position to contribute, especially with the arrival of two new coaches — Garrett Griffeth and Courtney McCool Griffeth — not to mention five new gymnasts.

“There was a lot for me to help with,” she said. “With all the changes I was happy that I was able to stick around and help the process. I was changing roles, but I wasn’t leaving the team.”

Before too long, though, Farden moved her to balance beam, an event that she loved to do herself, but hadn’t done in competition since she was at Maryland. Then, right before the outset of the season, Roberts moved to uneven bars. Bars was Roberts’ weakest event as a gymnast and coaching it was daunting.

“At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I could help.”

It didn’t take long for her to realize that coaching bars was exactly what she needed, however. If she wanted to make a career of coaching, there was no better challenge or opportunity.

“I want to continue coaching after this, and I kind of realized that it was the best thing that could have happened to me,” she said. “I got to sit back and learn from Tom, one of the best of the best. I moved around a lot, but it was the best thing that could have happened. It helped me with my coaching ability and to transition from being a student-athlete to what comes after.”

What comes after for Roberts, is more coaching. She is slated to do a dual internship with Utah gymnastics and Salt Lake City-based club GTG (Gymnastics Training Center) this summer, after which Roberts hopes to either make her way in club gymnastics or become a graduate assistant somewhere as she pursues a masters in sports management. Eventually, the goal is to become a head gymnastics coach at the college level.

“I want to continue coaching,” she said. “There is that saying, you never get tired of doing work that you love. I love gymnastics and I can make a career out of it.”

And if Roberts has her way, one day, sooner rather than later, she’ll be at the top of her game again, with no end in sight this time around.