KAYLA: The triple didn’t start as a side pass but at our gym we had kind of like an older floor and we had so many holes in the floor that when I would tumble for my triple, I would hit the hole and it would send me spinning crooked or over rotating or something like that. So my coach was like just take a step, avoid the hole. And so finally, I took out a couple of steps and I was finishing my triple in the middle of the floor so we just choreographed it and took it sideways.
[Express Yourself intro music plays]
JESSICA: This week, Kayla Williams from Alabama and her coach Sarah Patterson
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JESSICA: This is Episode 69 for Wednesday, January 8, 2014. I’m Jessica from Master’s Gymnastics
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe from The Gymnastics Examiner
JESSICA: This is the number one gymnastics podcast in the world, bringing you all the most fascinating people from around the gymternet. Today we’re bringing you an all interview show. And before we get to that, I want to give you guys a couple of quick reminders and that is that we have our listener survey up so make sure to stop by the website and give us your opinions so we can make the show better for you. We ask you about all kinds of things but it’s a really quick survey. It’ll take you three minutes, unless you write an essay like some people have and we are totally open for that. So give us all your suggestions and ideas. Also NCAA season starts in earnest this weekend. Last weekend, there were a couple of meets but everyone’s competing by the end of this coming weekend. So if there is a routine or if something happens that you want us to discuss, make sure you contact us by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on Twitter or Facebook and leave a message. You can always call and leave a voicemail, 415-800-3191 or call us for free by using Skype and just look for the username Gymcastic Podcast. And until then, remember to recommend us to all your friends. You can support the show with the Amazon link, the site, you can subscribe, write a review on iTunes and thank you all so much for listening and we will see you next week to discuss everything that happened over the weekend at NCAA meets.
JESSICA: Our interview with Kayla Williams and Sarah Patterson is sponsored by TumblTrak. In her interview, Sarah Patterson talks about preventing injuries in college gymnastics, since you know they have like thirteen meets per season. When she talked about landings, it really reminded me of the air floor which I totally love for TumblTrak. It’s like a short or long because it comes in a lot of different sizes, but it’s like a really skinny tumbling strip filled with air. It’s like a blow up mattress except super super thin. So air floors are bouncier than a rod floor and you can even turn them sideways and use them instead of a vaulting board. You can also buy them with Velcro to connect several of them together to make a full tumbling strip and just put them right on top of a regular rod floor or the regular gymnastics floor. The great thing about these is that you can use them for landings too, not just for take-off or for tumbling on top of them. Instead of taking a hard stuck landing, you can use these to land on and just practice natural rebound out of a skill. Check them out at tumbltrak.com. That’s tumbltrak.com. TumblTrak, more reps less stress.
JESSICA: Kayla Williams became the first ever US gymnast to win the world title on vault which she accomplished in 2009 at London’s 02 Arena. Her elite career highlights also include the national title on vault and a very successful level 10 career. She is now a junior at the University of Alabama where she’s been a super consistent contributor and helped them win a national title in 2012.
BLYTHE: So Kayla you have just an incredible gymnastics story. Going from level 10 national champion to world vault champion in the space of like nine months. What we were hoping you could do is just to tell us about that season, about being called up to elite in 2009 and then the process that brought you that world championship several months later.
KAYLA: Yeah I mean the whole thing was kind of a whirlwind. To be honest, I think the best part about it was I didn’t really know what was going on. I kind of just did what was asked of me and then just went out and had fun with it. It all worked out for the best. I started off any regular level 10 season, wanted to go on to JO Nationals and have a great finish there. I wasn’t considering really anything much further than that, elite wise. But I had a great JO Nationals. I was invited to like a developmental camp, I want to say, afterwards and I went there and showed that I was training two different vaults and they were really impressed by my tumbling. I worked a lot with their choreographer and they kind of changed up my floor routine to make it more ready for elite and not so JO. From there, I went on to Classics and Championships and then it kind of all played out there for all of the nation to see. It was all big meets and what not. Then world selection camp went really well for me. I did great on my two vaults. I think we stayed in Texas for two weeks after that and then went to London for like a week and a half for Worlds. To be honest, I don’t remember much of it. All I remember is going out and competing, having a great time with the other girls that I was there with. Yeah it was a crazy few months for me. BLYTHE: You talk about just doing what was expected of you. And what exactly was expected of you at those national team training camps and during that selection process for that world team?
KAYLA: Well one thing that coaches kept telling me was just do what you’ve been doing in practice. In practice, I was training ten of each of my vaults. I was doing like three floor routines a day. It was all ingrained in my body and my mind. I knew my gymnastics. I knew my routines. So really that’s what he meant by just go out there and do what we ask of you. We’re going to guide you and tell you what Martha and the national staff wants to see. He’s like you just do what you know how to do.
BLYTHE: Fair enough! And we were all watching your floor routine from 2009 just a couple of days ago and were blown away by the triple full side pass on floor. I don’t think any of us had ever seen that before. I’ve got to ask. Did you ever try to do any of your other tumbling passes as a side pass, you know just in the gym. I’m thinking like a full-in side pass here. That would be…Could you do that?
KAYLA: No that would be crazy. That was never really my goal. My triple didn’t start as a side pass but at our gym we had kind of like an older floor and we had so many holes in the floor that when I would tumble for my triple, I would hit the hole and it would send me spinning crooked or over rotating or something like that. So my coach was like just take a step, avoid the hole. And so finally, I took out a couple of steps and I was finishing my triple in the middle of the floor so we just choreographed it and took it sideways. It wasn’t my original intent but it just ended up that way.
BLYTHE: Crazy! And we always wonder if elite gymnasts are looking at YouTube videos the way that us, the super fans, that really follow the sport are, and are watching the gymnasts from China, from Romania and seeing what comparatively and taking notes in their head. Did you do that at all before London?
KAYLA: Well I didn’t watch my competitors specifically. I wasn’t scouting out who was doing what and what my chances were. Going into Worlds, I didn’t even know if I stood a chance. I just know Martha wanted me there and my coaches believed in me. I didn’t know what I was going for. I didn’t intend to go for a medal. I was just going to you know, do my best and it worked out in my favor. But I’m always watching other gymnasts. I love going on YouTube and seeing what’s out there and all those crazy skills. I have a teammate, Kaitlyn Clark, we do that together all the time.
BLYTHE: Cool! And as of the things that you’ve been watching a little bit recently, maybe you watched the stuff from the Antwerp Worlds for example. What’s been impressing you?
KAYLA: I’m just really impressed with the amount of difficulty and how quickly it came up. I feel like in 2009 when I was there, you really didn’t see 2.5s on vault. You know, you might see one here or there. It’s just the difficulty has risen so quick. It went from what I did at worlds in 2009 to now, you almost have to do a 2.5 on vault or a double double on floor. You almost have to do those skills to hang with the people that are doing it.
BLYTHE: Absolutely. And were those skills that you trained at all? Because you certainly looked capable of both an Amanar and a double double on floor.
KAYLA: I never trained a double double on floor. But I did train 2.5s on vault, but never a double double on floor. The five passes I did on floor were pretty much where I called it.
BLYTHE: I’m sure you get this question a lot. But when we think about gymnastics and we think about West Virginia, we think about you in sort of the more recent era of gymnastics. And of course you think about Mary Lou Retton. And Jessica, our producer was telling us that she has a friend from West Virginia who competed in the 80s. When she was competing, they would stop her competitions and over the loudspeaker, give the whole meet an update on what Mary Lou was doing. I was just wondering, have you ever met Mary Lou yourself?
KAYLA: I have not but after Worlds, I did get a phone call from her. Just like congratulations and you know I’m so proud of where you came from. Gymnastics in West Virginia isn’t huge. There aren’t tons of clubs. There aren’t tons of high level gymnasts. So to make it as far as I did was a huge accomplishment for the state in general. So after Worlds, I did get a call from her. But I’ve never actually met her in person.
BLYTHE: How did you get into gymnastics yourself?
KAYLA: Actually, my parents put me in it when I was like five. I started doing it to become a better cheerleader. That was my mom’s goal. She wanted me to be a really great cheerleader and all the great cheerleaders know how to tumble. So I started taking gymnastics classes and I got on the bars and the beam and I was just hooked. There was no going back to cheerleading after that.
BLYTHE: No regrets about not being a cheerleader?
KAYLA: None whatsoever.
BLYTHE: These days when somebody wins a world title, there’s sort of the professional question. Hey are you going to go pro? Hey are you going to try and see that out? Did you have those thoughts? I’m sure you were tempted. Did it tempt you?
KAYLA: No. I never intended, I made it very clear from a very young age that I wanted to do college gymnastics. It looked like the most fun thing that you could possibly do. I made it very clear to my parents and my coaches that was the bigger goal than anything for me. Worlds, Olympics, no matter what it came down to, I wanted to compete in college. So I was never tempted to take money, never even considered it.
BLYTHE: That’s awesome! And tell us about your gym switch after Worlds? You being the world champion, it was pretty publicized at the time. Why did you choose to make that change and how did you choose to go to Mary Lee Tracy in Cincinnati?
KAYLA: It was just kind of a tough situation at my gym. I had been there ever since my career had started. After Worlds, we just went through some tough times between my family and the coaches. And although I spent more time with them than I did my actual family, it was just for the better for me and my future as a gymnast to just move on. I talked to a lot of the coaches that were on the national scene. It just wasn’t an option to stay in West Virginia. We didn’t have the coaching staff that some other places do. I had seen Mary Lee at some national training camps, all the gymnasts that she’s produced in the past. I gave her a phone call and asked her if I could at least come train for a few weeks and she was like absolutely. Come on up. And we hit it off right then and there. She’s a great role model to me. We are in touch constantly. I love her to death. It was a great decision for me.
BLYTHE: Well that’s awesome. If you don’t mind my asking, what was the issue between your parents and your coaches in West Virginia?
KAYLA: We just had a little bit of a fallout. It wasn’t anything to publicize. It was just a tough time.
BLYTHE: Sure, sure. What was training with Mary Lee like in comparison to training with your coaches in West Virginia?
KAYLA: It was very different. As a lot of elite gymnasts are, your coach knows best. They have it all planned out so you don’t really question it. You just go and you do what you’re told. That’s how most elites train. But with Mary Lee when I got there, it was well can we do this? How do you feel about doing this? Do you want to try this? It was a lot more communication than I was used to. It took a while for me to get used to it. She was like I’m not going to yell at you. I’m not going to make you do it. It’s your own choice. So that was different for me. But I think it helped me grow as a gymnast and it helped me a lot in college because that’s how we operate here at Alabama. It’s great communication between the coaches and us. So that helped me for my future.
BLYTHE: I see. And speaking of Alabama, I’m sure that you were recruited by absolutely everybody. And so what made you choose Bama?
KAYLA: I took a visit here and it felt like home. All the girls were so welcoming and the coaches were welcoming. I didn’t feel like I was being sold. I feel like a lot of places you visit, it’s kind of they’re trying to sell you their program, sell you their history. But with the Alabama coaches, I felt like it was this is what we have. This is what we can offer you. We can lead you to this in the future. And I really felt like it was genuine.
BLYTHE: And you’ve already been a part of an NCAA championship team. Can you tell me about the difference between competing at the NCAA championships and competing at the US national championships for example?
KAYLA: I don’t think you can even compare the two honestly because elite level gymnastics is for yourself. You’re not doing it for the girl standing next to you or the person that’s competing right after you. You’re doing it for yourself and when you come to college, there’s nothing that you’re doing for yourself. You’re doing it for your team and you’re doing it for a team title not for yourself. If you gain an individual title out of it, good job. But the main goal is to compete for your team. So I don’t think you can even compare the two.
BLYTHE: Understood. And gymnastics wise, what’s on your wish list for this season?
KAYLA: Well I think, we’ve already started on it a little bit. I was really impressed with how quickly this team clicked and the chemistry that we have. So that’s definitely something that you always hope for when you’re going to be spending this much time, you know a giant group of girls, that everybody gets along. You know, this team’s amazing. But definitely just go out, take it one meet at a time, have as many wins as possible. You know of course, everybody wants an SEC title, a national title. But I think if we just take it one step at a time, my wish list is set.
BLYTHE: Absolutely. And a lot of times, people talk about how, when you’re formerly an elite gymnast, you come into college and it’s just kind of about maintaining your skills. Have you learned any new skills and are you planning any upgrades for this season?
KAYLA: I don’t think I have any upgrades going this season. Coming into college, I feel like I changed some stuff on beam. I added a Popa on beam, which is something that I’d never competed before in elite. Floor, vault, and bars, I haven’t really learned any new skills. So that definitely is maintaining but I feel like you kind have to learn how to do everything a little bit differently because it’s not just chuck and go. With college, you have to be a lot more meticulous about what you’re doing and how you’re landing it. You know, your body’s not as young as it was in elite and not quite as fresh so you have to be really careful about the landings that you’re taking. So you definitely have to train differently. But I don’t feel like I’ve changed a lot of skills since I’ve been here.
BLYTHE: I see. And I’m sure that college is also just a process of learning. I was wondering what you and your teammates have learned from being at Alabama and doing gymnastics there and what you’ve learned from each other. Is there anything in particular that pops into your head?
KAYLA: I definitely think one of the biggest things is what I mentioned earlier is that you’re not doing it for yourself anymore. Even as a JO kid, when you get to nationals and you’re competing for your region, you’re still competing for yourself. But college is not like that whatsoever. You know, you’re doing it for the next girl in line, for the rest of your team, for your coaches, for your university. It’s very selfless. I think that’s something that each of us learns in our own way. Some catch on quicker than others. But I definitely think that’s the biggest thing you learn coming into college gym.
BLYTHE: Do you still keep up with your 2009 world teammates? 3 of the 4 of you are now competing NCAA gymnastics for three different schools. Is there a rivalry between you guys?
KAYLA: I wouldn’t say rivalry per se. It’s competitive no matter what team you’re on of course. I wouldn’t really say we keep in touch on a daily basis but we see each other often enough during competition season. You know, it’s always great to catch up with them and make sure they’re doing okay and feeling good.
BLYTHE: Totally. And outside of the gym, what are you studying? Have you begun thinking about what you’re going to do when you’re done?
KAYLA: I’m a public relations major with a minor in psychology. I don’t have any set plans for after graduation but I really like the field of work that I’m studying and I hope to pursue a career in it one day.
BLYTHE: Very nice. How did you choose public relations?
KAYLA: Actually Ashley Sledge, my former teammate, she kind of reeled me in. I originally came in wanting to do exercise science. I wanted to coach college gymnastics and I still do. I was just like I don’t know if exercise science is for me. And she was like well I’m studying PR and was telling me all about it. I was like that sounds wonderful. So I went and talked to her advisor and switched over to PR and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s right up my alley, all my strengths.
BLYTHE: That’s fantastic! Well Kayla, is there anything else you would like to add, anything we’ve forgotten to ask?
KAYLA: I just really think with this team, at Alabama, we have a great opportunity to do great things this year. We have great chemistry. We have an exceptional group coming in with freshmen and a lot of upperclassmen who have experienced a lot. I just think that’s something to keep in mind as this season comes around. This team has the potential to do great things.
BLYTHE: Alright and we will all be watching. Kayla, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and the very best of luck for this upcoming season and beyond.
KAYLA: Thank you!
JESSICA: Sarah Patterson is a legend in NCAA gymnastics. The rivalry she and former Georgia gymnastics coach Suzanne Yoculan created made SEC gymnastics what it is today as far as I’m concerned. They one-upped each other in everything from attendance records to fancy locker rooms to wearing ball gowns to their meets and of course, NCAA championships. Alabama is one of only five gymnastics teams to ever win an NCAA title. The Crimson Tide has won six national titles under Patterson’s leadership. We pick up the interview as Blythe had just asked her what she wanted to discuss on the show.
SARAH: I think what’s important for our sport and I think sometimes it gets overlooked is the promotion of the sport in terms of putting people in the stands collegiately and having a great crowd and a fan base so that other colleges either might want to add gymnastics or that people know that this is a spectator sport. Because if you look at the Olympics, you know the Summer Olympics, gymnastics is one of the most viewed sports over all the Olympics. So you know, I just feel like we need to do a better job of making it fan friendly so it’s not just once every four years.
BLYTHE: Oh we absolutely want to talk about that! And I feel like at Alabama, that is something that you have done especially well.
SARAH: Well I think we’re very passionate about it.
BLYTHE: And so where is the disconnect? If gymnastics is so well-regarded during the Olympic Games, and it is really one of the top tier sports, and yet you think about NCAA sports, and it’s all about football. It’s all about basketball. And it’s less about gymnastics probably, except for a few select schools. Like Alabama is totally one of those schools. So what have you done? What’s your magic formula you know?
SARAH: Well first of all, I understand when you say that about football, but I mean in my opinion, our football program at the University of Alabama has afforded me and our program at Alabama the opportunity to compete at the highest level of collegiate gymnastics. It’s because of the funding and the support that we have because of the millions of dollars our football program generates that that’s what allowed us years ago- my husband and I have been here now, this is 36 years. It allowed us the opportunity to get grow our program and to get it to the highest level. For example, in after my first year of coaching here at the University, Coach Bryant gave us four scholarships to work with. And you know Title IX was emerging and so we got those scholarships and we brought in our first recruiting class. And those women were the ones that went four years later to our first national championship. And we’ve been to 30 national championships. So Coach Bryant and the football program, he was the athletic director, but he was the one that saw we could be successful. He loved winners. And he is the one that gave us those scholarships that helped us propel our program forward.
BLYTHE: So it was really him, like it wasn’t the athletic department. It was him saying to you Sarah, I want you to have these four scholarships so that you can continue to build your program.
SARAH: Well I think it ultimately women’s sports our programs merged, we were two programs: men’s athletics, women’s athletics. Programs merged at that point in time. My first year here. Right when I was being hired, he was the athletic director and then so we went one year and it was the first time we didn’t have a losing season. And so you know at that point in time, I feel like he invested in us from even that day one. I can tell you my experience goes way back to in the early days I talked to Pat Summitt, a lot of other coaches, and they told me if you’re not willing to market and promote as much as you are to coach and recruit, then you’re going to compete in front of no one. Well, I can tell you here at the University of Alabama, one of the reasons we have great support and are funded is because we put 12,000 people in the stands.
SARAH: So from an athletic administration point I think sometimes coaches are, they don’t pay attention to the point that if you’re drawing, let’s even go down. If you’re drawing 5, 6, 7,000 fans on a weekly basis for home meets, that’s going to be more than most of your other women’s sports. So if you want to have that attention and how do I get my program to be in the higher echelon of my institution’s programs, I think it comes down to people in the seats. You put people in the stands, and you generate revenue, and I’m not saying that it pays for your budget but it shows your institution well if they’re spending multiple millions of dollars on other sports, why don’t you put your emphasis on the sports that draws the most fans. And I think sometimes college coaches get too caught up in, they think their only job is to coach. And I don’t feel that’s true. I feel like we have a multi tasking job. It’s to help our athletes be better people, to help them grow and mature just like you saw and spoke of Kayla doing during her three year career here, and it’s to make our sport marketable, and to draw fans.
BLYTHE: What do you think drew the fans to Alabama’s program initially? At some point when you start off, you have very few spectators. And now you draw huge crowds. Was it winning? Was it the format? Was it something else?
SARAH: Well I think there were a couple of things. I think one was winning. And then we hosted a few championships. And we won here at home. So then our fanbase grew. And then I feel like I spend as much time now in the beginning part of our season marketing and promoting our program as I did when I was 25 years old.
BLYTHE: I see. I see. Do you have any advice for the men? We’re sort of continually bemoaning the very slow decline of men’s gymnastics. From 100 something programs 20 years ago to 17 today. As a very successful NCAA women’s coach, what would you say to somebody like Fred Turoff at Temple?
SARAH: Well I think part of the reason the men had to choose their sports is because I think that they with Title IX you had to have equal representation. So in some instances there were many more men’s programs in multi sports than there were women’s programs. So when the funding became an issue, I think then they’re going to go to who has lesser programs. And how many people are supporting your program. So I think whether it’s a men’s gymnastics program or a women’s gymnastics program, I think you know it’s the fact that you make yourself important to your university. Whether it’s academically, we’re striving to achieve 13 scholastic all american honors each year. You’re striving to put 12,000 people in the stands each year. You’re striving to perform as much or more community service than any other team at your university. I think all those things are important. And I feel like well in some institutions maybe people are questioning well is women’s gymnastics important. I feel very confident in saying at the University of Alabama, we have helped make ourselves important by placing the emphasis on that. But from a fan perspective, you’ve got to win.
SARAH: I’m not saying winning a national championship, but I’m saying you have to be productive. We’ve been out of our years at the NCAA Championship there’s been two years where we weren’t in the top six.
BLYTHE: And alright, one last question in this vein and then we’ll stop talking about money. But we were curious how football money gets funneled exactly to gymnastics. Is it profit sharing? Or do you do your own budget and submit it to the athletic department? Or how does that work?
SARAH: Well every institution has however they’re funded through money they back from their conference offices, for football revenue or men’s basketball revenue, it’s up to each institution how they fund their programs. We’re just very fortunate that you know we’ve not had very many down years in our football program where putting 103,000 people in the stands at a football game and generating a tremendous amount of revenue. But I’m very appreciate of the fact that in the early stages it gave us the opportunity to be successful and to build our program.
BLYTHE: I see. Ok. Well why don’t you tell us about the team outlook this year and maybe what makes this year’s team different from other years. To sort of come back to the present you know.
SARAH: I think our team, I think we are if I had to use a phrase to define them right now, I would say they are a very blue collar, hard working team. I don’t feel, even though we may have some standouts that were all americans or national champions, I really don’t feel like we have any individual people that place themselves above the team. I think we’re, and I think that’s one of the things I love about this group of women. It’s just, they’re hard workers.
BLYTHE: I see. And what do you tell a gymnast after they’ve gotten an NCAA title? How do you motivate them to continue working hard for the next week? Because I’m sure there’s the temptation you know after working so hard to attain the NCAA Championship to just slack off, to cut a little bit, to think maybe I can do it again and not work quite as much. How do you counter that?
SARAH: Well I think there has to be a hunger there. But you know we try and bring people in that understand that. After we won before in different years, I would ask Coach Saban to talk to our team. And he was very honest after they won the first National Championship then they didn’t win, he shared with our team he thought that they were complacent and felt like they deserved to win. We just try and instill in these athletes that each year we’re starting over. Doesn’t matter if you’ve won the year before or you’ve won two years in a row, or you finished third. It doesn’t really matter. You have to start over and build that team. And each team is different. Doesn’t matter if you have two freshmen or you have six freshmen, they’re different teams and you have to work that component to get that unity and camaraderie.
BLYTHE: Ok. And 2013 looking back on that year, it was such a huge year for NCAA women’s gymnastics, basically due to Florida winning and becoming the fifth team. And so we talked about the big four for so long. And in your opinion, what has changed in NCAA gymnastics that’s now allowing teams like Florida and Oklahoma a chance to compete for the NCAA title?
SARAH: I think you have some great athletic directors that have- I remember when Arkansas started their program 10 years ago. Their athletic director flew in here to the university, talked to us as coaches, watched a meet, talked to our marketing people. They wanted to start a program and compete at the highest level. Well first of all that was a great compliment that they came here and wanted to mirror a program that grew to the top. But I think when you have an athletic director at a school that has a great deal of success, I think they’re willing to put the resources into making their program successful.
BLYTHE: Interesting. Very interesting. And you must have a fantastic athletic director at Alabama as well. And one of the things we love to see as people who follow the sport are some of the videos the sports media team has been putting out. In particular the two for Tuesdays. And I wanted to ask you about a particular one of those that came out a few weeks ago which featured Sarah DeMeo training an arabian double pike which I don’t think is something we’ve ever seen in NCAA gymnastics. And we want to know, will she actually be competing it?
SARAH: Well that’s interesting that- I didn’t know that nobody had competed it. Right now, I do think Sarah will compete that. We’re going to start off the season- because of vacation time and stuff we’re going to start off a little slower. But I feel like we’ll get out there and we’ll compete the double arabian tucked but I think there is a good possibility that she can do that. I’m about putting the biggest skills out on the floor that you can do as long as a) you have to preserve your team, and b) they have to be consistent. But you know I’m all about competing at the highest level that we can and then putting ourselves in a position where if you make a mistake in competition, it’s one out of nine times. You know you’re very consistent. Because I think consistency builds confidence.
BLYTHE: Right. How much are you willing to give away? Say you’ve got a gymnast who’s doing a double pike, and she can stick the double pike or stick or take a half tenth hop or whatever like that and she’s doing that on a consistent basis. But she’s also working maybe a double layout. But the double layout she risks taking a step or a big hop. Where do you go as a coach in terms of the double layout is the bigger more spectacular skill, but the double pike’s a little more consistent. When do you let her compete that and when do you let her go for the double layout?
SARAH: Well I think for us, to me, I would rather see a double layout that has a step and a step backwards. I think it’s about preserving your team and being- think you can, you have to control the things you can control. Because sometimes in our sport, there are injuries that just are freak of nature. So if an athlete is performing a skill and has multiple short landings, well then I’m going to go with a skill where their chest is up and they have a safe landing.
SARAH: Because when you think about the athletes competing since they were 8, 9, 10 years old, and some of the, especially if they’re at the elite level, I mean think of the landings. I will say one of my concerns right now coming out of USA Gymnastics and world gymnastics is stuck landing on floor. We’re having a hard time right now with some people making them take that controlled step backward in their tumbling passes because they’ve been so programmed that two foot stick that they have to do in the elite program. And when you think about it, for these kids that are in the upcoming elite program now, if you think about it and they’re starting at 10 years old taking those landings, that’s going to be some wear and tear by the time they’re 22 years old.
BLYTHE: Mhmm. Are there any other issues that you’ve noticed from former elites coming in? Like for example on balance beam, 15 years ago it was all about the back handspring layout stepout layout stepout series. And now it’s just like one back handspring layout. And it just seems like they’re not coming back into the code. And so are you seeing anything like that, trends?
SARAH: It really depends on what the athlete’s skills are as they’re coming in. What we try and do here at the University of Alabama, we’ve had some athletes that have come right from the Olympics and come here and I look at them and say what do you love to do. I want them to have a routine that with skills in it that they love. And sometimes in the elite program I think they have to do some skills they really don’t like. And in the back of their mind they’re afraid of. But they have to do them to get that huge start value that they need. I want the athlete to love what they’re doing. And sometimes I think it’s been a tough road and we spend a little bit of time, that freshman and sophomore year putting that love back in the sport for them. And to me that’s important.
BLYTHE: Yeah. Oh absolutely. Is there any skill that you’re seeing a lot of former elites coming to you who they’ve done it in level 10 or in elite and they just really don’t like doing it? Is there a universally detested skill?
SARAH: We’ve seen a lot of arabians on beam. And when they get to college they don’t like it.
SARAH: They just don’t like it. And I also think you know some kids are maybe afraid, but they’ve had to compete a round off double back. And but they’re not really comfortable with it but they had to do it. And I think when you go 13 weeks in a row, we’ll probably have two athletes this year do round off double backs. But I will tell you I’ve had athletes in my career that were afraid of it. And I don’t want an athlete to be afraid of something. I want her to embrace it so that she can be better at it.
BLYTHE: Let’s talk about early recruiting for a second. It’s been kind of a hot topic recently. How do you feel about it and do you have a policy on it at Alabama?
SARAH: We don’t have a policy. I do think it would be, if I had my opinion, our collegiate association voted last year that we were, and I can’t remember what the exact rule was that we voted, but we voted as a group that we wanted to curtail this a little bit. And you know not be pushed to offering 9th graders or 8th graders or however it gets ahead of time. So the coaches association voted that way, took it to the NCAA, and unfortunately at that point in time the NCAA was in a holding pattern that they were not going to put any new things forward. So even though all the coaches, it was a majority agreed with it, it didn’t get forwarded from the NCAA. And then I think at that point, then people just started moving forward. And I guess you know in my mind, I would’ve liked if we had done what our coaches association had planned on. But that didn’t happen. And until the rules are in place for everyone through the NCAA, I feel it’s going to continue. And I think it will definitely hurt our sport in some aspects.
BLYTHE: Ok. We had Terin Humphrey on the show a couple weeks ago and she talked about her time at Alabama. And she mentioned it was more of a coaching decision that she was to retire. And I’m sure it’s different for every athlete, but as a coach, how do you gauge when you think an athlete under your care should be done with the sport?
SARAH: Oh I think so much of it is I think it’s their- as a coach you don’t want to see people hurt. And I think that’s the hard part for everybody. I think they just kind of- you don’t want to see anyone in constant pain. And you know we’ve had different gymnasts over the years that just their bodies have handled a lot. And so I think it’s up to the athletes, the coaches, and the medical staff to just determine what’s best for an individual. And I can tell you, there is not a gymnast that I know that’s ever retired that wanted to because these young ladies have been doing the sport since they were 7 and 8 years old. And even our gymnasts that finish their eligibility, they’re not ready to be done. Their bodies might be ready to be done, but mentally, I think one of the difficult challenges that we have as coaches is to help these athletes after they complete their career, whenever it is, to move to the next level. And sometimes we’ve had athletes that might finish their career, I go back to in 1988 we won a national championship, we had an athlete finish her career. She graduated two weeks later. And two weeks later got married. Those are some huge adjustments. And I think as coaches that’s what we’re helping them try to get ready for. But none of them, I don’t know of a gymnast that maybe physically they were ready to be done, but I really don’t know of any gymnast that was ever really mentally ready to be done with the sport they loved since they were a child.
BLYTHE: How do you help them transition out of that? You know when something that you’ve done since you were 5, 6, 7 years old goes out of your life because of you exhaust your NCAA eligibility or there’s an injury. What do you say and what do you do?
SARAH: Well I think some of the most important things we can do now that maybe years ago we didn’t have the opportunity to was athletes can, if they’re on an athletic scholarship, they can graduate in five years, not necessarily four. So for example if an athlete finishes their eligibility and has one more year of school, during that year of time I think it’s really important to help them gain experience in the working world. Because like maybe an athlete has had a great career, but they’ve trained full time during their life. They’ve many of them have never had a job. So we do what I feel is very important and trying to put them in situations where they go shadow someone in the career field that they want. Maybe they might work there in the summer part time to gain experience. Because the biggest thing I want someone to know that when they’re majoring in something, ok you want to major in something but if you don’t have any experience or ever watched somebody in it, how do you really know?
SARAH: So I think if someone feels like they want to go to physicians assistant or physical therapy school, I think we do a good job of putting them in an environment whether if it’s for a week, a few days, where they get to watch somebody that has done that. And then they know ok well this is my career path. Because when we go back and we talk about football, well there for the most part there isn’t any pro gymnastics. Our job to me as coaches is to help these young women put them in a position to be exceptionally successful once they get done.
JESSICA: THat’s going to do it for us this week. Thanks so much for listening. Watch the NCAA meets and send us your thoughts on what you want us to discuss and we’ll see you next week.