When Laurie Hernandez made the US National Team, it thrust Maggie Haney and MG Elite into the spot light of Elite gymnastics.
But who is Maggie Haney & MG Elite?
As someone who was trying to become an Elite athlete herself, Maggie has a unique perspective on what it is like to be a high level gymnast.
Around 13 years old, Maggie moved away from home to achieve her Elite dreams. But unfortunately, Maggie was not able to fulfill that dream and moved back to Level 10 after her family went through some hard times.
“I think this is one reason I have so much respect when I see an athlete that is willing to make the sacrifice to move away. I understand what they and their family is doing; it’s a big deal and a really huge commitment for the whole family that I do not take lightly.” states Maggie.
She then went on to compete for NC State under Mark Stevenson.
While at NC State, Maggie scored the school’s first perfect 10.0! She currently holds the school record for the most perfect 10’s, two in fact. The first came on beam and then another one floor.
“After my first 10.0, I remember saying to the school media that I was going to score another 10.0 on floor. Once I said that; I just had to make sure it happened.” laughs Haney.
Years later, in 2007, Maggie found herself at a small local gym in New Jersey that did not have a team program.
This was the start of MG Elite and the development of some amazing athletes that includes; Laurie Hernandez (2016 Olympian,) Jazmyn Foberg (UF Sophomore), and Riley McCusker (UF 2019).
GBC: Your gym is named Monmouth Gymnastics & Cheerleading but why is your team named MG Elite?
MH: Our gym is Monmouth Gymnastics. I do not own the gym; but I do own my team, MG Elite. My assistant coach (aka: favorite person in the world) Victoria Levine & her mom actually own Monmouth Gymnastics (the gym has been there for 30 years).
It’s a little confusing but I love my set up & it really works! I don’t want to own a gym and deal with birthday parties, staff issues etc. I get to just focus on my team & give MG Elite 100% of my attention. However, I do get to pull kids from the Monmouth Recreational program.
When I first moved to Monmouth; people would say “those are Maggie’s Girls” so the MG kinda stood for Maggie’s Girls and it worked perfectly for Monmouth Gymnastics. MG Elite seemed like a perfect name! It is funny you noticed & asked because nobody has picked up on this and to be honest, I’m not sure the kids on my team even know what “MG” stands for!
GBC: Tell us about your coaching style and philosophy?
MH: I guess my coaching style/philosophy is that I am very technical and detail oriented. I am systemic. I like good, clean, safe & technically correct gymnastics. We don’t “throw skills” at our gym; like ever…
I believe in following proper progressions and moving at a speed that each individual kid can handle physically & more important, mentally. I know that we do things very “different” at our gym. I really believe in striving for a PERFECT quality of gymnastics. And I really believe in this philosophy.
GBC: How do you, as a coach, continue to improve yourself so that your athletes are always learning and growing?
MH: I learn from my mistakes. I would be dumb to make the same mistake twice. I also learn by staying “in the system” meaning, by going to National Team Camps and watching other coaches coach. I see what I like and what I don’t like.
Not just with techniques but with how the coaches communicate & relate or don’t relate to their athletes. I have also been helping & overseeing our lower levels again since I got back from Rio in 2016. I have some newer coaches so I am spending a lot of time with them & making sure that we are all on the same page. That definitely keeps me learning & staying fresh; because coaching lower levels is just not easy.
GBC: Tell us a little about your coaching staff (strengths, unique coaching qualities, relationship with athletes, etc.).
MH: Our MG Elite coaching staff is totally unique. We have an all female coaching staff; which I think is so cool.
At first, it was just me. Then it was me & Vicky. And now, it’s Vicky, myself and three other female coaches. All of our coaches are good friends and we talk & text every day; about gymnastics and not about gymnastics. We are all truly friends & we are kind of just obsessed with gymnastics and our team.
Inside the gym, we all work really well together. We have never had a disagreement. We don’t even have a rotation schedule; we just work around each other and communicate and it works perfect.
I think our gymnasts really like their coaches. They are all young and “cool” & we have fun with the girls. We make jokes and play games and blast music and let the girls enjoy being in the gym and being with their friends.
One thing I love is that many of the coaches we’ve had have come through the program as athletes so they can totally relate to the gymnasts. It’s really cool to watch someone I’ve taught now teach and share their information & love for the sport to the next group of kids.
GBC: Your JO athletes had an amazing season last year, setting numerous NJ state records. What sets your team apart from everyone else?
MH: Thank you. Yes, we had an amazing JO season! I’m so proud of our team and coaches.
I think we keep the same standards for the girls; no matter the level. We strive for that perfect quality gymnastics. Sometimes it does not pay off in JO; for example, they don’t care if kids pull their ribs in on a cast handstands; but we do. So we stay with the plan of aiming for stunning quality and details; no matter the level. I think that is what sets us apart.
GBC: Your teams at each level are relatively small in comparison to other teams, why is that?
MH: I definitely like keeping a small team. Right now our biggest group has 7 kids & that is really “big” for us.
I feel like we can be very specific and detail oriented with smaller ratios. By keeping smaller groups; the kids get to take more turns and the coaches see & correct basically every turn. We could have a much larger team; but I like to focus on quality over quantity. We have very tired kids at the end of practice!
GBC: How do you choose athletes to join your team? What are you looking for?
MH: That is a great question! I am very specific on what physical things I like.
I am looking for kids who’s legs go all the way straight, who can run fast, can physically pull their ribs in on a handstand (that’s a big one) and obviously I would prefer kids with a decent amount of flexibility.
But the mental part is more important. I only want kids on the team who truly want to be there. My team works very hard~every single day. We don’t just work hard randomly or sometimes; we literally work hard every day. So kids that want to make the team have to be willing to work very serious day in & day out.
GBC: How many hours a week do each of your levels train, JO and Elite?
Level 4-6 = 16 hours
Level 7-10 = 20 hours
Elite = 31 hours
We don’t do a crazy amount of hours. But I think we are very efficient with our time in the gym.
GBC: Your athlete’s technique and form are impeccable. How do you drill for new skills and what are your expectations in order to get those results?
MH: Thank you so much! I appreciate that.
Drills are different for each skill; but we don’t do a skill alone or move a skill up or take something out of the pit etc. until the skill is technically correct & very safe. We also don’t skip steps.
As for the form; we just constantly correct it at every level. My personal eye for details is over the top. I see every little tiny thing. It’s actually annoying… I wish I could enjoy the routines sometimes but I just see all the things that I still want to fix.
GBC: What do you expect from your athletes while in the gym training and on the competition floor?
MH: In the gym, I expect the girls to try very hard. I want them to try to make corrections and do what the coaches are asking of them. I do want the girls in my group to be very serious & disciplined.
While competing, I want the girls to “be normal”. Just do what we do in the gym. I want the girls to think while they are competing. I want them to feel very confident in what they are doing. I ask the girls to never hold back; but to go all out for everything. Mistakes will happen but don’t be cheap or nervous; just trust yourself and go for it all.
GBC: How do you decide, from the athletes you have, who will begin training for the Elite level?
MH: To be an elite at our gym; the gymnasts mentality is the most important part.
Of course, I look for the physical abilities. Examples: Kids with beautiful lines, good flexibility, powerful etc.
But it’s more about the mental ability. I watch the kids coming through the system to see how hard is the gymnast is willing to work? How well do they make corrections? How long does it take to learn new skills? Do they cheat on their conditioning when they don’t think anyone is watching etc etc.. These are the key things that I look for when deciding what girls will go down the elite path. I think you need to have something “special” to be an elite.
I am proud to say that since my first elite gymnast (Laurie), I have tested 5 more girls and all 5 have qualified elite during their first time testing. That is a little fun fact that I am really proud of!
GBC: Your choreography is dynamic and unique. Why do you choose to choreography your athletes routines and how to you choose their music and dance style?
MH: Thank you so much!
To be honest; I actually don’t like doing choreography at all. It totally stresses me out, like big time… I don’t know why I do all the routines; I guess that’s just the way it has always been. I have done every single routine (ever!) for an optional gymnast on my team. Maybe it’s time that I bring someone in.
For the music & style; it’s usually easy to decide who fits what style because I know the kids so well. I see them in the gym every day & I really know the girls; so it’s easy once I see how they move and I know their personality. But we work on everything, down to where they smile or wink or look sassy- every little bit of their routine is choreographed. It’s always been that way.
GBC: Tell us about your relationship with your athletes, as a coach and as a role model.
MH: I think my relationship with each of my girls is different. I try to get to know each girl and figure out and how to “push their buttons” but this takes time. I do think that all of my girls really trust me. They trust me technically and they believe in my decisions.
I think my team knows that I am a hard worker; as are all of our coaches. So these girls follow our lead and we set the tone for that. We try very hard to set the right example, we can’t expect the girls to work hard if we aren’t willing to do that ourselves.
GBC: Your daughter is on your team. What is it like coaching your own child and how do you separate mom from coach?
MH: Ugh.. To be honest; this is VERY hard for me. I don’t know how other coaches do it. I struggle with this & I am still trying to figure out what works for Dayton.
She has tried every group in the gym, she even trains with my elite group sometimes. We just move her all over.
I keep remembering Martha saying “you can’t make a prom dress out of cotton”, that saying definitely comes to mind here. But she loves it & wants to do it, so that’s cool because I love having her in the gym with me. It’s a safe & healthy place. I feel this sport can teach you so many life lessons so I am very happy she is learning how to work hard, never give up, be a leader while being a part of a team etc etc; the list of life lessons learned in the gym goes on forever!
GBC: What does the future look like for MG Elite?
MH: I think our future looks just like our past.
I am so proud of what we have already accomplished & I feel these things are only going to continue. I am really excited about my coaching staff. We have 5 amazing & strong female coaches who really care about the kids and the team. We are all on the same page; which helps a lot.
We just had a huge year in JO & I expect that to continue next year. Now, I’m hoping we will have a great 2018 elite season. We have girls verbally committed to Florida & Oklahoma and now we have 4 kids who haven’t even started high school yet getting scholarship offers from all the top programs around the country; so that is also very exciting! These girls are getting to pick their college of choice before even starting high school.
So many exciting things going on. I am just really humbled that things are working out like they are. We will continue to do clean, safe & technically correct gymnastics and hopefully people will continue to appreciate it.
GBC: As a coach, what do you hope your athletes take way from their years of gymnastics when they transition into another part of their life?
MH: I hope my girls look back at their time in the gym and remember that it was a fun process. I hope they can move into life with insane confidence & an amazing work ethic.
OK, lets play a quick game so people get to know you better.
What is the first thing that comes to mind;
- Who is your gymnastics idle?
- Svetlana Boginskaya& Nastia Luikin
- What is your favorite gymnastics skill?
- Stalder Hect
- What is your secret talent?
- Well, when I was a gymnast I could hang a full gym bag from my top lip- now I’d say I can get both my kids fed, dressed, out the door to school, get coffee for me & Vic & only be about 10 minutes late to practice!
- What is your favorite junk food?
- Goldfish & Cheez-It’s
- Who is your secret Hollywood crush?
- Don’t really have one
- What is your most embarrassing moment?
- One day I went to McDonalds to get chicken nuggets then drove right over to Burger King to get fries and someone from my gym followed me both places & totally busted me on it!
- What is your biggest fear?
- Rats, gerbils, hamsters (any rodent!)
- Who would you like to have dinner with?
- Michael Jordan
- If you weren’t a coach, what would you be?
- A news or sports commentator
- Where do you hope to visit one day?
- Even though I have been to Japan twice already; I would really love a trip to Tokyo, in the summer of 2020.
Maggie Haney and MG Elite seem to be the future of gymnastics in the US!