It’s more than scoring a perfect 10 or nailing a sky-high double layout for the choreographer and coach of the UCLA Gymnastics team, Valorie Kondos Field. The Greek-American has been head coach of the Bruins for 28 years.
But she has also served as an inspiration to young women to rediscover the joy of competing that they had when they began gymnastics as children, and she has made it possible for them to share their joy with the world, on a very big stage.
In the past 28 years she has created one of the best gymnastics teams in the US.., and most importantly, one which continues to set new standards for difficult and beautiful routines — including a new one that went viral just this past week.
Becoming “Miss Val”
Valorie Kondos Field, known to most as “Miss Val”, grew up training as a classical ballet dancer. Born into an artistic Greek-American family, she lived and breathed dance. Valorie trained hard and went on to perform as a professional ballerina with several ballet companies, including the Washington, D.C. Ballet.
When UCLA needed a dance teacher for their gymnastics team, the young 22-year-old professional dancer fit the bill perfectly. Coaching at UCLA also gave her the chance to fulfil one of her personal goals. As she recalls on her website, officialmissval.com, “My dream was to attend UCLA, so when they flew me out for the interview and offered me a full scholarship in lieu of a salary, I felt I had won the lottery.”
When she was 26 years old, just eight years after arriving at UCLA, she was offered the head coaching position. I remember saying, “This is crazy, I’m not a coach,” she told UCLA Magazine in an interview recently.
But the determined young dancer would channel her learned discipline and respect into her career as a coach to become a living legend. She has led the UCLA Women’s Gymnastics team to win 7 NCAA Championships, numerous Pac-10 and Pac-12 Championships, and countless individual champion titles and academic honors.
And Miss Val has picked up some special awards herself — she has been voted the national and conference coach of the year four times, and became the second active coach ever to be inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.
So how did she do it? How did this dancer transform herself into one of the most successful gymnastic coaches ever?
“When I became head coach, I felt to be successful I had to emulate other successful head coaches in gymnastics. So that’s what I tried to do. And I failed miserably because the people I was emulating were about winning. And it didn’t resonate well with me.” Miss Val recounted in the UCLA Magazine.
“I picked up Coach John Wooden’s book, “They Call Me Coach”, and it didn’t sound like all this other coach talk I’d heard. It was filled with a lot of tough love, but honest love. Compassion and discipline. I grew up in the ballet world, and there was a lot of discipline in my life.
“I was raised by a very typical Greek family, where family was important, so there was a lot of discipline with respect. And I think that the discipline, combined with the love that came out of Coach’s words, hit home with me… It’s about teaching life’s lessons through the sport that we’re a part of.”
The Viral Video That Might Never Have Been…
As with any great coach, Miss Val’s success is measured by the success of her athletes. Since the beginning of time (well, online viral video time, that is), there has constantly been a “viral UCLA routine” which millions enjoy online.
Last year, it was 4’10” Katelyn Ohashi’s set where she moonwalked her way into the limelight, winning first place at the Pac-12 championships, and performing an entertaining and creative routine which was viewed by millions online.
And what’s trending online right now, you may ask? Katelyn Ohashi’s viral perfect floor routine, once again! Ohashi’s performance at the Anaheim Arena on January 12, 2019 netted her a perfect 10. As of Tuesday afternoon on Jan. 15, it had been viewed nearly 35 million times on Twitter, and another 7 million times on YouTube!
— UCLA Gymnastics (@uclagymnastics) January 13, 2019
It is hard to imagine that just a few years ago, the Olympic 2020 hopeful nearly walked away from gymnastics altogether. She had completely lost her passion. “I was unbeatable — until I wasn’t,” she says in a video produced by The Players’ Tribune. “I was broken.”
Ohashi decided to stop competing in elite gymnastics and instead, turned her energy towards pursuing a college career.
At UCLA, Ohashi rediscovered the joy of competing — thanks to Miss Val.
When Kondos Field isn’t inspiring young athletes to be the best they can be, she is using other platforms to spread her love for life and dance. Recently she pitched her own version of a “Modern Nutcracker” ballet, to Warner Bros. NBC bought the rights to air it as a two-hour television special.
She also published a book, in October 2018, which explores how a professional ballerina became one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history. The book is called “Life is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance.”
The Greek American also announced her retirement last September as the head coach of the Bruins gymnastics team and she still plans to leave at the end of the 2019 season.
Although Miss Val will be greatly missed, her legend will live on. She will continue to serve as an inspiration to live passionately by refusing to give up and finding a way to rediscover your joy.