In this week’s Legend Of Sport Classic, we revisit Andy’s conversation with Valorie Kondos Field, UCLA’s legendary Women’s Gymnastics coach from 1991-2019. “Miss Val,” as she is better known, was a four-time “National Coach of the Year” who led the Bruins to seven national championship titles and eighteen Pac-12 championship titles during her 29 seasons. In this episode, Miss Val talks about her career journey from a professional ballerina to her path into coaching, her early failures as a coach, Coach John Wooden’s mentorship and influence on her coaching style and life, changing the culture of body shaming in society, her battle with breast cancer and lastly, the various projects and personal goals that will be keeping her busy in retirement.
Miss Val on how her father gave her the confidence to pursue her dreams: “Out of high school…I remember I was still dancing with the Sacramento Ballet and wanted to go to college because I loved, loved school. My parents were strong advocates of college education. But my dad’s an artist and my dad said to me, ‘If you want to dance, then you need to do that now. You can always go back to college.’ And that gave me permission to follow my dream as a dancer and not feel guilty for not going to college right out of high school. And so I did that, I danced professionally and I was in Washington, D.C.”
Miss Val describes her reaction to receiving UCLA head coach job offer: “I graduated (from UCLA) with a degree in history and I wanted to go be a journalist but I was still choreographing the routines for the team. Two years or so after I graduated, the senior women’s administrator, the athletic director, calls me into her office and says, ‘We’re going to make a change with our head coaching position and we would like for you to be the new head coach.’ I just laughed out loud immediately. She says I was catatonic for about thirty seconds. And then I laughed and I said, ‘You understand I don’t know the first thing about gymnastics?’ She said, ‘I’ve observed how you work with the student athletes and I really like how you’re tough with them, but you’re compassionate…I trust you’ll figure the rest out.’ ”
Other topics discussed in this episode:
2:50: Miss Val shares how her background in dance and classical piano led her to UCLA gymnastics as their dance choreographer.
7:50: Miss Val discusses the negative criticism she would receive at auditions because she didn’t look like a ballerina.
9:25: After serving as team dance choreographer for many years, Miss Val becomes head coach of UCLA gymnastics. She talks about “failing miserably” the first couple of years and her desire to quit, but divine intervention and John Wooden’s definition of success led her to change her mind.
13:33: Miss Val reveals what she considers to be her greatest strength as a coach – her ability to prepare her gymnasts mentally, physically and emotionally to be confident in their performances.
15:40: John Wooden’s classic one-line response to a reporter that empowered Miss Val and built her confidence
19:40: Miss Val shares how she became known as “Miss Val” and the name stuck with her
21:29: Miss Val discusses her thoughts on how to change the culture of body image and body shaming, not only in athletics, but in society.
23:53: Coach Wooden’s definition of success and how Miss Val’s former student athlete Katelyn Ohashi is the perfect example of success.
26:21: Miss Val shares what she finds exciting about coaching, the importance of sports and how it all clicked once she figured out her “why.”
29:21: How Miss Val chose to address the sexual abuse scandal in gymnastics with her team
31:22: Miss Val’s battle with breast cancer at age 54 and how it changed every part of her life for the better, as well as changed her view on life. “Be anxious for nothing, be grateful for all things” became her mantra.
36:34: How Miss Val told her gymnastics team about her breast cancer diagnosis and used it as a teaching moment
38:29: Miss Val looks forward to life after retirement and shares what’s next