On the beam, any doubt is amplified. Meet the Utah gymnastics coach who keeps the high-flying Red Rocks on the ground

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A former gymnast and pole vaulter, Carly Dockendorf helped the Utes become arguably the best balance beam team in the country.

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

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

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

Obviously, she loved throwing herself at things as a college athlete.

These days, her feet are on the ground, but Dockendorf’s head remains a whirlwind of combination somersaults and spinning moves in her position as Utah’s assistant gymnastics coach.

Dockendorf has established herself as Utah’s beam coach for the past two seasons following Megan Marsden’s retirement, helping the Utes find a consistency that makes them the best beam team in the nation.

Not bad for a trainer who started as a volunteer trainer 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, work ethic and passion for excellence make her so valuable. She understands the system but has the professional confidence to adapt it to her program.

Dockendorf is a little hesitant when asked about her five years with the program, as she doesn’t focus so much on her time in Utah as on what she learned.

“I feel like every year I’m a student of the sport,” Dockendorf said. “I always love to learn and grow and every year I’ve learned from Megan and Tom has been amazing. They’ve helped me grow as a coach and grow as a person so I can use my creativity to find solutions for the beam and other things. I feel incredibly grateful to be here.

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

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

“That’s what held me back as an athlete,” she says. “I’ve always been a natural athlete with a few muscles, but mentally I struggled. Now as a coach I’m doing much better. I’m able to help girls in a way that I’ve never experienced. It’s a different perspective than living as an athlete.

Dockendorf improved as a mental coach by reading books, talking to sports psychologists and other mentors who helped her design a coaching regimen that works.

“These girls are doing skills they were doing when they were 10, they’re not hard skills for them,” she said. “But any doubt is amplified on beam so to do it well under pressure, the mental side comes into play 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 helped the Utes strengthen in the event, as well as Dockendorf’s natural coaching nature.

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

Farden seems to appreciate how Dockendorf commanded the beam as much as winning. As a head coach, he has a lot to worry about, but the balance beam is not one of his concerns thanks to Dockendorf.

“She owns it,” Farden said. “Nothing surprises me what she can do. It all reflects her personality.

Utah’s confidence on the beam showed in his performances at the NCAA Regionals, where he put in some of his best efforts to close out his encounters. Luckily, the Utes have the same rotation when the NCAA Championships begin April 14 at Ft. Value. Finishing on the beam is often considered the worst rotation, but the Utes love it.

“What Carly has done with this event is remarkable,” Farden said. “The way they behave with everything at stake and under duress is a strength for us.”

Dockendorf gives credit to the gymnasts.

“They are amazing athletes who are so much fun to work with,” Dockendorf said. “They’re self-directed and driven, so we’re just fine-tuning the little details when they come into practice and let it go.”

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