When Valorie Kondos Field retired as a coach at the end of the 2019 school year, the UCLA women’s gymnastic coach was lauded as one of the greatest teachers and leaders in the school’s history. Even she was overwhelmed at the response.
Now she tours as an inspirational speaker, and she is able to get some perspective as to why she touched so many people in her years of coaching, and she said it could help other athletes look for a good coach. If you feel like you are a coach who can offer advice, or want to help other athletes, sign up as a coach on Sportamix.
When she first was hired as a coach for the gymnastics team at UCLA in 1982, she was a ballet teacher, and only taught dance. She cared about her students however, and inspired them, and cared for them as they honed their craft.
“I wanted to coach performers, not robots who tumbled or soared,” Field said. She nurtured them and encouraged them on the balance beam and got them to improve their vault scores.
Field coached UCLA to seven National Collegiate Athletic Association titles and 22-time Regional and 18-time Pac-12 championships. She was inducted into the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame and named Coach of the Year four times as well as West Region Coach and Pack 12 Coach of the Century.
She mentored elite athletes such as Olympic champions such as Jordan Wieber, Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian, Laurie Hernandez, Simone Biles and Nastia Liuikin.
She still cares about students and she speaks out now about how young women need to be careful (both in gymnastics and in dance) to avoid injuries in their chosen careers. Students must learn how to stop and avoid injury and work hard, but not overdo it.
She wrote an inspirational book “Life is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance” and encourages audiences to strive for joy and individuality. Her philosophy of life is: “Don’t wait to see what life is going to hand you, take control of your life and design ~ choreograph it exactly how you want it to turn out.”
Field knew and befriended legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who has one of the large athletic centers named after him on campus. She said he cared very much for his athletes too, and treated them all like family.
“She knows how to inspire us, and she finds what we need to work on the most and gets us to work on that weakness while we improve ourselves overall,” said gymnast Kyla Ross, who worked with Field her last year. “It’s such an honor to have been on her last team.”
It wasn’t all about winning, and that’s also what made her a good coach. “I had to learn to care about winning and it’s important and I kept trying to tell myself for years, no it’s not, it’s not that important as long as the athletes are learning stuff and thye’re good and going out to the world and making a positive difference, it’s OK if they don’t win,” Field said.
“But I shifted that thinking,” she added. “If you’re going to do gymnastics do the best to your ability and train and compete to win. That was the shift that happened because it’s really fun to win.”
She never relaxed her strict standards, even at the end. The exercises, the warm-ups, and the team spirit and kindness to others were always at the forefront of her coaching.
And, she remained encouraging. “We are a sport based on perfection, and it’s easy to be down on yourself when you’re not perfect.”
She wrote in a letter to the editor: “College athletics, contrary to what some might believe, is not a religion. College athletics is a means to build champions. Not just champions in sport, but more importantly, in life through sport. There’s a difference in developing great athletes and developing champions. Great athletes only focus on the win. Champions dare to dream of more than just winning. They strive to achieve a level of excellence that has never before been achieved, by themselves or anyone else, in the classroom and on the field.”
Field is still around to give advice, and she said she hopes other coaches follow her lead.