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Captains of the gymnastics ship

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | FEBRUARY 03, 2010 7:30 AM

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There are no captains on the Iowa women’s gymnastics team this season.

There are 18 leaders.

Sixth-year Iowa head coach Larissa Libby has a philosophy unlike many other coaches in any sport.

It’s common practice to name or vote one or numerous athletes to be responsible for directing a team. But Libby said she thinks that idea prevents others from meeting their potential.

“I think when you name two people, or one person, to speak for the group, it kind of stifles what everybody else may bring to the table,” she said. “There are people that are natural leaders, and I think those people naturally emerge anyway. I want everybody to have her say and voice an opinion.”

During the GymHawks’ practices, it’s apparent Libby’s style works. When a gymnast begins a routine, 17 others cheer her on by name and clap encouragement, making for one noisy environment.

The gymnasts are adamant they prefer Libby’s approach. With only one senior in Jenny Donar, the junior class takes much of the burden.

But underclassmen occupy the majority of the roster, and they enjoy having the chance when it comes to guiding the squad.

“It gives everyone the opportunity to step up and not hold back and be reserved,” sophomore Jessa Hansen said. “I feel like everyone has to find that leadership role. I think it’s a really good idea.”

A four-year captain at Louisiana State as a collegiate gymnast, Libby understands what it takes to don the “C.” She said the job can be a lonely one, noting that a captain can’t choose to be heard only during the good times.

Often, the bad times are when a team needs its captain the most.

Libby’s team strategy also keeps her from selecting the wrong person to fill the role. There are different people who can lead inside and outside of the gym, she said.

“I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes,” Libby said. “I know what I see in my gym. If I pick a captain based on who leads on the competitive floor, it may be the wrong decision. It may be the wrong person because everything she does outside of the gym is not what I want as a leader. It’s just dependent on who they are.”

Junior Arielle Sucich and sophomore Heather Fomon are two GymHawks Libby mentioned as being leaders off the floor because of the team’s comfort and trust in them.

Junior Rebecca Simbhudas has taken a larger role in the gym because of her improved performance and confidence.

Because most high schools don’t offer gymnastics programs, most athletes grow up competing with club teams, on which there are no captains. Youngsters such as Hansen and freshman Emma Stevenson were used to that when they joined the Hawkeyes.

They look up to their older, more experienced teammates. But both agreed it’s nice to know their opinions and actions matter just as much as everyone else’s.

“I think it makes it more like a team sport that way,” Stevenson said. “If everyone plays an equal role in helping each other and coming together, it just makes it even more of a team.”

With a team chock-full of captains, Libby likes that the leadership weight is evenly distributed. Her goal goes even beyond gymnastics.

“Not that I don’t agree with the philosophy behind [naming captains], but I feel like everybody has some type of leadership quality,” Libby said. “It’s our job in a collegiate setting before they go into the real world to bring out whatever leadership quality that they can bring to the team.”


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