Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college sports team. You may have heard that saying before because it is true. While getting the best athletes possible is key in every sport, recruiting is not identical between sports. For example in basketball, the top recruits usually only stay one year in college. In football, there are many “diamonds in the rough” that are lightly recruited coming out of high school and yet make a huge impact in college and beyond. Because of the sheer number of prospects, players can get overlooked, and some do not mature physically until college. In gymnastics, college represents the last phase of a gymnast’s career. They do not turn pro after college. Gymnastics recruiting is getting younger and younger, but it can be difficult to project how well a gymnast will transition to college as they grow and get bigger. There is a select pool of gymnasts that can compete at the level required to help a team like the Utah Red Rocks win a national championship. These gymnasts are typically from the Senior Elite level. All of the top gymnastics programs are competing for a small number of elite recruits. The Red Rocks promoted volunteer assistant coach Carly Dockendorf to director of recruiting and player development to help manage the massive amount of work that goes into recruiting. She also helps the gymnasts develop outside competition as people. Being student athletes is important to the Utah gymnastics program. Getting a good GPA and performing in the classroom is a big part of that and helps set up the gymnasts well for life after gymnastics.
Block U spoke with Utah co-head coach Tom Farden, who is in charge of recruiting and hiring of new staff, about the move to promote Dockendorf and establish the new position.
In recruiting, there is more data than ever before. Recruits regardless of sport are able to post videos to the internet and get exposure not possible 10 years ago. All of this information was one of the reasons that Utah hired Dockendorf. Dockendorf can “provide a second set of eyes” when the coaches get sent videos of gymnasts from recruiting services, according to Farden.
“Some of the things you have to do behind the curtain is a lot of research on kids. The internet has exploded with people using different platforms for recruiting bases. Carly’s world is a ton of research and using her mind and her organizational skills to keep things in check,” said Farden.
With Dockendorf’s help, Farden and the rest of the staff can be alerted to videos of recruits they may have missed, and Farden “can be on a plane the next day” if the recruit warrants a look in person. “Recruiting is becoming instantaneous,” said Farden. Getting to a recruit quickly is important and so is a strong presence on social media. Being able to get to a recruit quickly and connecting with recruits on social media are both necessary in this day and age of instant communication, and they are related according to Farden. Having Dockendorf on staff will help the Red Rocks do well in these areas.
Adapting to the changing recruiting landscape is necessary to stay at the top of the sport. Transitions take time, but Utah’s goal each and every season is to win another national championship and moves like this may help give them the competitive edge in recruiting needed to bring in the athletes to win national championship number 11.
“I’m going to be honest with people. We recruit and coach to be at the top that should be every coaches goal. Absolutely, we would love to win another title. We have not won one since ‘95. That would be a dream of ours. A goal that the staff is working for, but things have to fall into place, and it does take time,” said Farden.
Former head coach Greg Marsden was the with Utah gymnastics from the start and coached the team for 40 years. Consistency like that is rare in sports. There is turnover in staff. For the gymnastics team, that has primarily been the assistant coach. With changes in coaches, the approach changes, and it can takes time for the athletes to adjust to the new coaching style. The staffs sometimes have to change due to coaches leaving like Meredith Paulicivic, who was an assistant at Utah for two years before heading to Ohio State to be the head coach starting last season. Farden was an assistant as well before he was promoted to co-head coach following the retirement of Greg Marsden after the 2015 season.
“With staffing changes comes new systems. I was not the same vault coach as Greg. We are just different people. I took vault over for Greg in ‘16. With those staffing changes. New systems get into place, new rhythms, new assignments. All of that stuff just takes a little time to hit a stride. Megan has obviously been an icon with Utah gymnasts and in charge of balance beam, so that hasn’t changed but all of the other events have,” said Farden.
Because college gymnastics represents the end of an athlete’s career in the sport, Utah makes sure to help the gymnasts prepare for life after athletics and college. Dockendorf will also have responsibilities to help make sure the freshmen are adjusting well to college life and that the seniors are prepared to head out into the world and be successful.
“Everybody likes to win, but how do you support your athletes to become a better whole person, to make sure that they feel like that the program invested in their whole experience here at Utah? By having Carly on board in athlete develop, it is going to provide her an opportunity to work with the kids. Make sure [the freshmen] get to their mentoring meetings, they have mentoring meetings every Monday or Tuesday. Make sure that the seniors are getting to their resumé workshops and that they had good experience with some practicing interview and that they are aware of those opportunities on campus. Carly is going to work side by side with me on that. What the team GPA is reflects our students trying to be the best,” said Farden.
From speaking with Farden, this move seems to me to further the Red Rocks’ mission to be elite athletes and people. They prepare the team well for both competition and life. Dockendorf will be a key piece in helping to bring in the next group of Red Rocks and helping all of the current and future Red Rocks in the program and to transition to life after athletics.