How Carly Dockendorf connects with her Utah gymnasts

University of Utah gymnast coach Carly Dockendorf cheers a gymnast in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. Dockendorf has used social media often this season, praising her gymnasts publicly. It is to better connect with them, she says.
University of Utah gymnast coach Carly Dockendorf cheers a gymnast in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. Dockendorf has used social media often this season, praising her gymnasts publicly. It is to better connect with them, she says. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

After being named the head coach of the University of Utah’s women’s gymnastics program in December, it didn’t take long for Carly Dockendorf to decide that she needed to be more visible.

Dockendorf wasn’t exactly an unknown when she was tabbed to lead the Red Rocks, thanks to her success coaching Utah on balance beam the last few years, but few outside of the Red Rocks’ program really knew all that much about her.

Never a big social media user — outside of posts about her daughters Crosby and Hayden or stories about some of her more “crazy runs” — Dockendorf decided that the best way to become more visible was to increase her presence on social media.

She wasn’t thrilled at the prospect — “I wish it didn’t exist,” she said with a laugh — but nonetheless decided it was something she needed to do. For the benefit of the the program.

“That is where people are going for information, connection, communication and relationships,” she said. “It is a very different era from when I grew up but that is the world we live in now.”

Four months later and Dockendorf’s foray into the world of social media must be considered a success.

Where she was once a quiet participant for Utah, she has now become a real public voice. A representative for Utah’s program in a way she never really was before.

Be it on Instagram, Facebook or X, Dockendorf has posted, shared and otherwise elevated anything and everything related to Utah gymnastics.

Most recently, ahead of this week’s 2024 NCAA gymnastics championships, she posted a picture of herself as a child in a kayak at two years old, with the caption “Ready to row since 1985. One Boat. Let’s Go.”

It was her way of emphasizing Utah’s unofficial season motto of “Row the Boat.” Based on the book by Jon Gordon and PJ Fleck, it is easy to see why Dockendorf was drawn to it. The mindset is described as “a never-give-up approach to lead with enthusiasm and optimism and improve your team and culture.”

All season long, Dockendorf has been a source of enthusiasm and optimism when it comes to Utah, particularly on social media. There is good reason for that.

“I definitely feel that with this generation, that is where they communicate,” she said. “Not that I love being involved with social media, but for them that is a platform where they feel relationships can be built. ... As a head coach I definitely think it is important to be more present and visible on social media. That is where recruits are looking. That is where your own athletes are looking.”

Dockendorf’s greatest success with using social media this season has been in regards to her own athletes, the 14 gymnasts who are the current Red Rocks.

Throughout the season, Dockendorf has gone out of her way to praise them publicly, on an individual basis, via Instagram stories primarily.

Sometimes she’s made it even more noticeable, though, like she did in an Instragram post that recognized seniors Maile O’Keefe, Abby Paulson, Jaedyn Rucker and Alani Sabado.

“These beautiful women have changed my life for forever,” she wrote. “I am so grateful for every minute we have spent together and for all the memories that we have created. You can do anything you set your hearts to. I can’t wait to watch you continue to make this world a better place.”

It is all a departure from the norm for Utah. And the Red Rocks have noticed.

“I think it is really fun,” sophomore Makenna Smith said. “It seems super minor, because it is like whatever, just a (message on social media) but I think it is really cool. I love getting the little message that says, ‘Carly mentioned you in a story.’ It makes me feel very special.”

Smith isn’t alone with that sentiment.

Grace McCallum is no stranger to social media, what with her time spent on the U.S. Olympic team, and Dockendorf’s efforts on social media have had an impact on her.

“I think it is so cool,” she said. “In this day and age, social media is such a big thing, so it is really cool that she is a part of it and is showing her appreciation for us. Showing that bond we have, because she really does make an effort to bond with us as athletes and people. (Her effort on social media) just kind of shows that and exemplifies that. She is our biggest hype woman. We all really appreciate it. It makes you feel really good about ourselves.”

Even for an athlete like freshmen Camie Winger, who isn’t the biggest fan of social media, Dockendorf’s activity has been a positive.

“It is nice to have her (Dockendorf) in that world, since it is so big now,” Winger said. “(Social media) is huge with the younger generation, though I’m not very pro that.”

Many Red Rocks agree that Dockendorf’s efforts to be the public face of Utah has been encouraging.

“I think it is great that she has been so active. It is one way to positively promote our program,” sophomore Ashley Glynn said. “Taking on that leadership role as head coach, she has done a great job.”

There is a significant negative side to social media, particularly when it comes to women’s college gymnastics. Criticisms of gymnasts are often aggressively personal, rather than just critiques of athletic performance. Utah gymnastics and gymnasts specifically have been the targets of significant vitriol since the fall, when allegations of abuse within the program went public.

Dockendorf hasn’t put any sort of focus on that side of things, though. For her, everything she has done has been to build up her gymnasts.

“I’ve never really thought about it from the negative side,” she said. “Just more of the personal side. I just want to reiterate and remind them of how amazing they are.”

Her efforts have paid off.

“It (feels) the same as if she texted me, which she does,” Smith said. “She praises us so much and I think it is really fun and really cute. I love seeing her come into her role in her own way.”

Time will tell what kind of impact Dockendorf’s visibility and active social media presence will have on the future of the Utah program. Will it lead to better recruiting classes? More national recognition of the program? More NIL contributions to the Who Rocks the House collective?

For this season at least, Dockendorf has empowered the Red Rocks while increasing her connections with her team beyond the traditional.

Pretty much exactly what she was striving to do.