On the beam, any doubt is magnified. Meet the Utah gymnastics coach who keeps the high-flying Red Rocks grounded

A former gymnast and pole vaulter, Carly Dockendorf has helped the Utes become arguably the best beam team in the nation

(Misty-Jade Carlson | Utah Athletics) Utes assistant coach Carly Dockendorf, left, has helped the Red Rocks become one of the best beam teams in college gymnastics.

Carly Dockendorf enjoyed a successful college gymnastics career at Washington, where she became a two-time All-Pac-10 selection and was the Huskies’ most inspirational gymnast in 2003 and 2005.

Oh, we should mention she was an excellent pole vaulter, earning All-America honors with a sixth-place finish at the 2005 NCAA Championships.

Clearly she enjoyed flinging herself over things as a college athlete.

These days her feet are grounded, but Dockendorf’s head remains a whirlwind of tumbling combinations and spin moves in her position as Utah’s assistant gymnastics coach.

Dockendorf has made her identity as Utah’s beam coach for the last two seasons following the retirement of Megan Marsden, helping the Utes find a consistency that makes them the best beam team in the country.

Not bad for a coach who first started as a volunteer coach and choreographer in 2018.

“Working with her for five years, I don’t think people give her the credit she deserves,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “Her consistency and work ethic and passion for excellence make her so valuable. She understands the system but she has the professional confidence to make it fit to her program.”

Dockendorf hesitates a little when asked about her five years with the program, since she doesn’t focus on her time at Utah as much as she does what she has learned.

“I feel like every year I am a student of the sport,” Dockendorf said. “I still love to learn and grow and every year I learned from Megan and Tom was amazing. They helped me develop as a coach and develop as a person as well so I could use my creativity to figure out solutions for beam and other things. I feel incredibly grateful to be here.”

As many who follow gymnastics know, coaching the balance beam is as much about the psychology of the sport as it is working on the skills themselves. Dockendorf is credited with making the Utes a very good beam team in pressure situations.

Interestingly, Dockendorf said as an athlete she struggled with the mental aspect of sports, not the physical side.

“That’s what held me back as an athlete,” she said. “I was always a natural athlete, gifted with some muscles, but on the mental side I struggled. Now as a coach I do much better with it. I am able to help the girls in a way that I hadn’t experienced. It’s a different perspective than living as an athlete.”

Dockendorf bettered herself as a mental coach by reading books, speaking with sports psychologists and other mentors who helped her devise a coaching regimen that works.

“These girls are doing skills they were doing when they were 10, they aren’t hard skills for them,” she said. “But any doubt is magnified on the balance beam so to do it well under pressure, the mental side comes in and you want a positive atmosphere to compete well under pressure.”

Maile O’Keefe said frequent drills in which the beam team is put under pressure have helped the Utes get stronger in the event, as well as Dockendorf’s natural coaching nature.

“It wasn’t that long ago that she was a college gymnast so she can relate to us,” O’Keefe said. “I love our challenging beam practice days because it makes it so much easier for us.”

Farden seems to enjoy the way Dockendorf has commanded the beam as much as winning. As a head coach he has a lot to worry about, but beam isn’t one of his concerns thanks to Dockendorf.

“She has ownership of it,” Farden said. “Nothing surprises me what she can do. It’s all reflective of her personality.”

Utah’s confidence on the beam was illustrated in their performances at the NCAA Regionals, where they had some of their best efforts to close out their meets. Luckily, the Utes have the same rotation when the NCAA Championships begin April 14 in Ft. Worth. Ending on the beam often is considered the worst rotation but the Utes love it.

“What Carly has done with that event is remarkable,” Farden said. “The way they are performing with everything on the line and under duress is a strength for us.”

Dockendorf gives the credit to the gymnasts.

“These are incredible athletes who are so much fun to work with,” Dockendorf said. “They are self-driven and self-motivated so we are just refining the little details when they come into practice and let it happen.”

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