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Spend a day with Ms. Val!

Posted on 3/12/2019

If you could spend an entire day with someone - anyone….who would it be?   A lost loved one? A pop icon? A historical figure?


Over the years, my answer to this question has changed many times, but recently, I feel certain I’d really enjoy spending an entire day with Valorie Kondos Field, Head Coach of UCLA Gymnastics.  A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to have crossed paths with her for an hour, just before UCLA met with UW in competition. It was hard to quell the “fan-geek” in me with the excitement of the hotel lobby riddled with athlete’s parents proudly donning their UCLA gear.  I might as well have been 16 again, in awe of everything UCLA.


I have read Ms. Val’s book, Life is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance, several times - first the hard copy and then the audio when I was on an airplane. Ms. Val recorded the audio version herself and several times, I laughed out loud at her antics (much to the chuckles of people sitting near me). When she reads her chapter reflecting on last years National Championships, her voice is so full of excitement and vigor, I had full effect goosebumps and happy tears….as if I were there with the team and had no idea of the outcome!!! It’s that good.


I asked Ms. Val how she felt about the booming success of her book and whether she felt vulnerable writing it. As I would expect, she was gracious in describing the support she received from those who encouraged her to share the details of how the UCLA Gymnastics team operates on a daily basis. These are the wonderful nuggets that are a mystery to fans but are simply routine for those close to the team. What time does practice start? What are the team rules? What happens if you break a rule? What does a meet preparation week look like? Choreography, uniforms, curfews… Ms. Val offers a generous amount of UCLA “secrets” in her book to satiate even the biggest “gym nerds”.


How does Ms. Val do it? With 7 National Championships under her belt, one would imagine she’s pretty clear about her recipe for success. Her story from the start is captivating - how her ballet career and first gig playing live piano for floor exercise evolved to 29 years at UCLA’s helm. Her story is one that emphasizes how a journey is riddled with opportunities for learning and growth, step by step and how aiming for 1% better every day is a mindset for building success.


When athletes arrive at UCLA they are transitioning from a career in gymnastics to full-time student-athlete. They are tired - both physically and mentally from years of training in the gym. Ms. Val is concerned about the frequency of depression and loneliness she sees in her athletes that stems from dealing with high pressure competition where the goal is winning. She recognizes that the pressure comes from coaches AND parents when reputation, scholarships and time invested is on the line.


Her advice? Educate. Educate the parents about how to make the home a safe space for athletes to recuperate. When Ms. Val is asked to speak to athletes, she always insists that parents be present as well. She deliberately emphasizes her secret to success is the ability to have fun.


“Great athletes are the ones who figure out how to have fun at working hard even when it’s stuff you’re not good at.”


It’s hard to imagine UCLA Gymnastics without Ms Val, with her retirement just weeks away. When asked about her post retirement plans, she offered a list of exciting projects she’s already working on. Ms. Val sees this new chapter as an opportunity to use her time to fulfill other dreams, continuing her choreography, producing shows, and even more writing. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for her.


If you haven’t already, grab a copy of the book. Pour a cup of warm liquid and be prepared to make a new friend in Ms. Val. Her lessons and stories are worth spending an entire day with….or more!