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Honesty is GymHawks’ policy

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | FEBRUARY 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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Larissa Libby is a straight shooter when it comes to coaching.

Currently in her sixth season at the head of the program, the Iowa women’s gymnastics coach hasn’t wavered on her teaching style or philosophy, which is to be tough, demanding, and “brutally honest” with her gymnasts.

“We’re not fake about what we do or who we are,” she said. “This is it. Our life is out there. Everybody knows what we’re about. It’s not for everybody here. Sometimes that philosophy doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for these kids.”

On a given day in Iowa’s practice facility at the Field House, Libby can be seen screaming encouragement while one of her Hawkeyes performs a routine. Afterward, she’ll talk with the gymnast, offering critique and praise.

Other times, if need be, she’ll raise her voice and let the Hawks know it’s time to get things together.
Libby earned the North Central Region Coach of the Year honors in 2009 after leading the Hawkeyes to a 10-5 overall record last season. A native of Pickering, Ontario, Canada — roughly two hours north of Buffalo, N.Y. — she picked up part of her coaching philosophy from her Russian club coaches.

She also implements similar methods used by her coaches at Louisiana State University, where she was a four-year captain. To complete her coaching recipe, she added some of her own credos, in which communication is key.

“I want [my athletes] to have the overall good experience, certainly attain their highest potential,” she said. “I also want them to know that they’re cared about first as human beings before they are as athletes.”

With the base relationships established, she isn’t afraid to be straightforward with her team, even if her comments aren’t always the most polite.

Sophomore walk-on Melissa Miller has gotten used to Libby’s tactics over time.

“You know that if she’s yelling at you, she cares,” Miller said. “It might be hard to digest, especially for me, because I’ve never had such a strong coach. She is trying to make you better. She also tries to take everyone as an individual, too, which I think helps. Everyone’s different, so everyone needs different coaching methods.”

Libby understands how to motivate her squad, which is heavy with underclassmen and walk-ons this season. And with only three of the 18 GymHawks coming from the state of Iowa, she does consider herself a surrogate mother figure for those far from home.

Junior Kelly Galau said Libby’s best quality is her honesty, even if it stings sometimes.

“She definitely tells you what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and lets you know what you can do to improve,” Galau said. “We all respect her so much that it doesn’t even faze us. We know that she loves us, and she wants us to improve. So hard criticism is fine with me.”

Libby answers questions truthfully as well, and she doesn’t stop when she’s outside the gym.

She knows her gymnasts read the team’s newspaper clippings. When they see their head coach publicly challenging them to step up their game in print, she means business.

“I’m brutally honest, usually, because at the end of the day, I don’t want there to be any question,” Libby said. “You want to know what I think? OK. If you don’t want to know, don’t ask, because I’m going to tell you. They get tougher because of it, or they cave. Either way, it’s the lesson to them. I wouldn’t want people to lie to me.”


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