Balancing Adrenaline With Precision

Words by Dave DeLuca & photos by Dave Nishitani

Oregon State University gymnastics has a long-standing tradition of winning. Perhaps some of that success is due to the longevity of the coaches. There have been only four since the program’s beginning in 1967, and the current one has the longest tenure. Not only has Tonya Chaplin been the coach for 18 years, she just became the all-time wins leader with 318 victories. There’s something to be said for tenure. Pat Casey, the baseball coach, is the only other head coach on campus with a longer streak—this season will mark his 21st year. In fact, Chaplin has a longer tenure than athletic director Bob DeCarolis (16 years) and President Ed Ray (12 years).

Not only is she the winningest coach, Chaplin has also been the OSU Coach of the Year for female sports six times, and the Pac-10 Coach of the Year five times. Under her supervision, OSU Gymnastics has made 10 trips to the NCAA Championships. Her team enters the 2015 NCAA Gymnastics season ranked #11 in the country. Despite her recent ascension to the top of the record books, Chaplin is heading into this season with the same poise and confidence she has shown throughout her career as a student athlete and coach.


Chaplin, formerly Tanya Service, attended UCLA. As a Bruin, she was a six time All-American. She held six school records and was named the Pac-10 Gymnast of the year. She was a three-time member of the U.S. National Team and competed in the World Championships and Olympic Trials. Chaplin served as an assistant coach at the University of Washington before taking over the head job here at OSU. It was an extremely attractive promotion and she has never looked back. “The traditions and the legacy that they’ve had around the (OSU) program were very, very attractive to coming here. That’s what drew me,” she said.

Coaching gymnastics presents a different challenge than most team sports. Gymnasts work with equal parts adrenalin and precision. Coach Chaplin’s teaching must both motivate and focus her students. The team doesn’t just train to be bigger, stronger, and faster. Good gymnasts must also refine their temperament. For this reason, sports psychology is a common tool to help gymnasts reach their potential.

“We do a lot of work with our sports psychologist on their mental control and regulating their mental state throughout the competition…what we call mental choreography,” Chaplin explained. “It’s the same routine in the gym as it is in competition. There’s no difference there. And they train that every day. So, hopefully, when they come into competition it’s exactly the same no matter what the venue is like. It doesn’t matter. It’s a beam. It’s a floor. It’s a vault. It’s bars.”

A substantial part of coaching any sport at a university is recruiting. When searching for future Beavers, Chaplin looks for more than just high school record holders. “You’re also looking at the character of the student athlete. They may not have all the accolades but they have an incredible work ethic. And the passion that they have for coming to Oregon State University is a big part of it.”

Once she zeros in on good candidates, Coach Chaplin and her staff still have to sell the town and the school. Luckily, Corvallis sells itself as a great balance between big and small town living. “There are some student athletes that really prefer a big city and there are others that want that small town feel. We’re one of the few schools in the PAC-12 conference that really have that small town feel…but it’s still close enough to Portland to get up there as well.”

Recruiting visits feature a tour of town including downtown and the waterfront. Chaplin likes to demonstrate how close everything is to campus, including her home. Recruits generally end up at the Chaplin household for a team dinner.

Selling OSU is even easier. “The program sells itself and the university. They [recruits] first get interested when they see the gymnastics program. Then they start investigating the university. And they see all the great academic programs that Oregon State University has—a combination of all those things together make it a great sell for us.”

It helps that the community comes out in force to support the team. Chaplin knows how lucky she and her athletes are for the support. ”When you go to other places it’s hard to compete because there’s not the support that our community gives to Oregon State University and our athletic programs, and especially the gymnastics program. That’s another part of what motivates our athletes to work so hard. Not only to represent the university, but the city of Corvallis as well.”

Now that her place is secure in the annals of OSU athletic history, what’s next?

“I want to keep coaching as long as I have the passion for coaching. The records and achievements are great, but a lot of it is about working with the student athletes and helping them fulfill their dreams. That’s what keeps me going.”

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