The Benching Conundrum

It’s March now. Spring is just around the corner. And you know what that means? It’s time to start talking about whether Shayla Worley should be pulled from lineups. It has become an annual tradition. You’ll miss it when she’s gone.

2012 was supposed to be Shayla’s Renaissance, but it hasn’t worked out because of performances like this:

Add that to a whole bunch of scores in the 9.7s, and the calls for her to be benched (at least on bars and floor) have intensified over the last few weeks. In particular, Shayla’s inability to perform a clean bars dismount has caught everyone’s attention.
[Tangent] A disturbing recent trend in NCAA gymnastics is former elites who cannot perform UB dismounts. This is an unfortunate side effect of the current elite code. These gymnasts on the elite track will learn a single D dismount (elite code) that they can land, usually with major deductions and poor technique which are accepted because it’s elite and cleanliness is not the major concern (see Shayla’s double front). Then, they get to NCAA where those same dismounts would be deduction factories and cannot be used. Now, these extremely talented elites are at a disadvantage because they have to start from scratch on the dismount and are suddenly well behind less talented JO gymnasts who were compelled to learn competent technique because of their code. [/Tangent]    
A situation like Shayla’s creates a difficult conundrum for a coach.

Do you bench Shayla because she hasn’t been hitting consistently, giving up on her potential score and accepting a 9.750 on bars and floor from a Sarah Persinger or Mariel Box? Or do you keep Shayla in the lineup hoping that she gains some competition confidence and figures out her routines?

Georgia is certainly not alone in having this dilemma. UCLA is going through the same thing given how many times Mattie Larson has had mistakes on floor. The judges will be itching to give her big scores if she actually hits her routine, but she has fallen or made major mistakes so many times. With Peszek and Gerber coming back into the floor lineup this week, there is the temptation to bench Mattie, even though her potential score is much higher than the score from someone like Gerber or Frattone.

In my mind, as a coach you have to take the riskier option. You have to put faith in a Shayla or a Mattie that they will hit when it matters because taking the other option does not reflect a championship attitude. The very top teams could all play it safe, make finals, and finish 4th-6th, but whichever team does end up winning the title will have all the best gymnasts hitting to potential at the same time. Benching a top performer because she has been missing is basically giving up on the best possible performance, maybe even giving up on a championship. Playing it safe may be the most prudent option, but it’s not the best option. If a team has the talent and potential but doesn’t show it, then what’s the point?

After working together for all these months, a coach must display the utmost confidence in both the team and the process. At this point in the season, sending the message that the coaching staff does not trust a major performer to hit undermines what the team has been working for all year, creating uncertainty and eroding confidence. Even if it all turns out to be a disaster, the coach must go down with the ship.

2 thoughts on “The Benching Conundrum”

  1. I argue that to be a top performer, especially in the NCAA, it includes the coach being able to count on you to hit..the athletes you mention are 'not top performers'..they are athletes that potentially can hit certain skills at a very low percentage. A top performer is hitting maybe even less difficult skills at 98 percent of the time in the NCAA..

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