Ask The Bruins - Valorie Kondos Field

Feb. 23, 2007

 UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field

UCLA gymnastics head coach Valorie Kondos Field answered questions from the fans this week at Look below to see if your question was answered.

The sixth-ranked Bruins will be hosting 11th-ranked Denver, California and Cal State Fullerton on Sunday, Feb. 25 at 2 pm in Pauley Pavilion before finishing the home schedule with a dual meet against defending NCAA champion Georgia on Sunday, Mar. 4 at 2 pm.

Christina, Gold Coast, Australia: What are the 3 best qualities you believe you bring to UCLA gymnastics?I have always admired how you treat the girls as people not just gymnasts. You genuinely care for the welfare of each young lady.You respect your athletes and don't overtrain them.I believe you enrich the girls lives through your positive attitude. The girls do not simply learn gymnastice from you, but you more importatanly guide them with knowledge to use for the rest of their lives- life lessons.What very lucky athletes they are to have a coach like you.Lastly, is there an address where fans from far away can send snail mail to you and your athletes?Thank you, and I will be cheering for UCLA all the way from Australia!

Miss Val: Hello, Christina. Wow - this is exciting having our first question be from a fan from Australia. Thank you for your kind words and support of our program. In response to your question about the best qualities I feel I bring to UCLA Gymnastics, I would like to believe that all that you wrote above is true. It certainly is what we strive for. We make a point to focus on coaching our athletes as people first. I believe that if a student-athlete can have integrity in her academics and in her social life, she will be far better off in the gym and on the competition floor. I also believe very strongly in the fact that gymnastics is an amazing venue through which to learn life lessons such as discipline, focus and commitment to a goal. And, once gymnasts get to college, they then get to truly experience being a part of something greater than themselves through the whole concept of 'team'.

One thing that we talk about a lot with our team that you may not know is the discussion of 'learning', 'acquiring knowledge' which translates into going to class and paying attention to what you're studying. Going to class and studying isn't about making the grade but enriching your knowledge to help make living your life more colorful. It's about having an enthusiasm for learning about all sorts of different things in life. These always turn into interesting discussions with our team.

From a COACHING PERSPECTIVE, along with teaching our athletes how to compete well and teaching them better form, my personal gift and goal is to help our athletes understand the importance of the quality of movement. Regardless of what event they are on, or whether they are focusing on dance or gymnastics skills, the quality of their movement is what makes their movements come to life. This holds true in moving through daily life as well. O.K. - I'm getting off on a tangent ...

Per your last question, our mailing address is:325 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90095

Renae (San Francisco): Miss Val,

You are a truly an awe-inspiring coach and quite a classy lady in the way that you keep your team grounded and always seem to have something positive and encouraging to say (few are as levelheaded and gracious as you've proven to be). During the rough times, like the current wave of injuries; how do you keep the team looking up?

Miss Val: To be honest, that's probably the hardest part of coaching; keeping our workouts energized and purposeful when you just want to hang your head and say 'not again'. We make sure to keep our goals challenging but realistic. At the beginning of the year, before Brittani got hurt and before we learned of Comforte's fracture, we definitely had the confidence and enthusiasm of gunning for another national title. Once we started feeling the wave of injuries, we made sure to refocus on the 'process' of competing confidently and without further risk of injury. As we proved last weekend in Oregon, even with our depleted team we are capable of putting up some impressive scores. Breaking it down further to having individual goals for each meet has really helped keep our athletes' energy focused, positive and enthusiastic. It helps to have athletes who don't shy away from a challenge. Our team this year is really fun to coach in that sense. They have been great about embracing the challenges from week to week.

robin h; long beach: How do you or your team girls make decisions on who goes on each event, vault, bars, beam, and floor ex??

Miss Val: We coaches make the decision of who competes. I like to get everyone on our roster competitive experience throughout the season. I believe that athletes train to compete, and if they have made our team and prepare well, they deserve the opportunity to compete during the season. We've also been in a few situations over the years where we've had to rely on one or a few of those same athletes during the National Championship meets, and I was glad that they had had the opportunity to compete during the regular season. When it comes to Championship meets, usually consistency plays the biggest role in determining line-up, and then after that is score.

John (Seattle): Coach Val,UCLA has always seemed to have at least one Canadian athlete on the team. I am wondering if go up to Canada regularly to recruit, and if the success of gymnasts like Homma, Umeh, Degteva, Tousek, and Richardson has increased the popularity of your program in Canada.

Miss Val: I would imagine the success of past Bruin Canadians plays a part in Canadian gymnasts still wanting to come to UCLA. I also think the international recognition that UCLA has as a major university helps as well.

Sarah (Orange County): Miss Val,Can you describe your feelings from the disappointment of last seasons failure to qualify for NCAA Championships, to Kate Richardsons win on the floor in her final performance. What is Kate up to now, is she still in Westwood?

Miss Val: Last season was difficult for all of us. In all honesty, the e-mails we received from some of our staunchest fans regarding the reasons they are UCLA Gymnastics fans helped our athletes realize that one's true athletic reputation is not determined by medals. Winning in athletics is GREAT and what all athletes and coaches work toward. To know that our team and staff is appreciated, respected and supported even when we don't have the results that UCLA fans have grown accustomed to, did a lot toward helping all of us pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and start all over again.

Having both Kate and Kristina finish so strongly at Nationals felt really good. It felt like they were carrying the UCLA torch and tradition to keep it alive and well for future Bruin teams. Having Kate finish her athletic career with a close-to-perfect floor routine is an athlete's dream come true. It was made even more special by the entire arena chanting 'Kate! Kate! Kate!'.

Plus, she was given a fitting farewell a few weeks ago at our men's basketball game against USC. Pauley Pavilion was sold out, and before halftime, Kate was recognized at center court with a lengthy video of her UCLA career and her most recent honor of Pac-10 Woman of the Year. Twelve thousand plus fans gave her a rousing standing ovation, which regained new life every few seconds as the video was recounting her many accolades. She is finishing up her degree in Physiological Science and is planning on returning to Canada for physical therapy school in the next few years. I keep trying to get her and Marshall to get an acro routine together. They've played around with some lifts, and the combination of his strength and her strength and flexibility, combined with both of their artistry, makes for an exciting performance.

Jen(Tempe): Miss Val,I am wondering if Maranda Smith and Melissa Chan ever have plans on coming back to the team. With the injuries in recent weeks, i'm sure the extra depth would have been nice :)

Miss Val: Ah yes... hindsight... Actually, both Maranda and Melissa have remained close to our team and staff. I don't anticipate Maranda coming back to UCLA, but the door is open for her if she decides she wants to in the future. She's really a great person and tremendous athlete. And Melissa is doing really well. She remained at UCLA, has done a great job maturing into a responsible student and young adult, and has talked with me about coming back to the team. If it's something she truly wants to do, she will be welcome.

Stacy(Boston): It had been reported that Alicia Sacramone had committed to UCLA, and she is now competing for Brown. I am wondering if she did in fact commit and if so how the coaching staff reacted to what would seem like a real loss.

Miss Val: Yes, obviously losing Alicia was a big loss to our roster. I was devasted for the first few days after she discussed her decision with me. However, if you're involved with something as long as I've been at UCLA, you learn to appreciate the 'highs' and weather the 'lows'. It's not easy wading through the 'lows', but it sure makes you appreciate the good times. As my husband tells me when I'm weathering the lows, 'You'll rise to fight another day.' That's basically what we all did in moving on and wishing Alicia all the best.

Mark (Portland): Miss Val...In recent years you have seemed to draw and number of elite level gymnasts to your program, however a significant number of these girls have not been around for the full 4 years. I am thinking mainly of Beckerman, Deegan, Conway, Vanden Eykel, Chan and Murdock to name a few. I am wondering how their departure affects your recruitment, and also what effect their leaving has on the team.

Miss Val: I believe it's unfair to lump any group of student-athletes together. Each is unique in their own talents, efforts and personal goals. The reasons why student-athletes don't remain on the competitive roster for four years are many and vary from one to another. Some get dismissed for not following team rules and guidelines. It doesn't necessarily mean their behavior was bad. It just means that being a part of UCLA gymnastics wasn't important enough to them to alter their behavior to stay on the team. Some of the athletes you mentioned had to injury-retire from 'wear and tear' issues to their bodies over the many years of training gymnastics. Some just don't feel 'the fit' at UCLA and ask to be released.

I haven't noticed that it affects our recruiting. If anything, I have been told by parents and recruits that they appreciate that no one person on our team is greater than the team as a whole. I've also been told that they appreciate us injury-retiring someone when their future quality of life would most certainly be further impaired by their continuing to do this sport.

Laura (Chicago): I recently read that Kristina Comforte has an ankle injury and she is now out for the season. Was this a new injury? Is she able to redshirt, or did she compete on beam a few too many times at the beginning of the season?

Miss Val: Unfortunately, we just found out that Kristina has a fracture in her foot that she's had for a few years. Being the tough athlete that she is, she said 'No wonder it hurt so much.' She will remain out for the season, and I believe she won't be able to redshirt, although this is definitely something we will be looking into.

Melissa (Edmonton): Miss Val,

Your 2008 freshmen remind me a lot of the 2000 group, in that they will be coming straight from the Olympic Games. I am wondering if you have any other potential Olympians in mind?

Miss Val: Sorry, Melissa. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on any recruits that have not signed a national letter of intent.

Kyle(Boise): Miss Val,

After your recruits have signed letters of intent, how often do you communicate with them and how are you able to monitor their progress.

Miss Val: I find it varies between athletes. Some recruits like to stay in contact, and we text, e-mail or call at least once a week. Others I may not communicate with for a few weeks at a time. Some call me much more than I call them. Some just shoot me a short text periodically. I do send them all a group e-mail a few times a month and encourage them to 'reply to all' when they write back so that they get to know each other before they come in the fall.

June (Singapore): Hi Miss Val, I've always wondered what qualities you look for when recruiting for UCLA gymnasts, and what you hope that your gymnasts bring with them once they leave the programme. What makes you most proud? As an overseas fan, I only get to watch limited NCAA gymnastics over the internet but watching UCLA's choreography and energy (especially Tasha's and Ariana's routine this year) always makes me smile. I love that there is coherence in the routine, rather than an extended beam routine with tumbling, badly chopped up music and gratituous booty shaking. Thanks for leaving the 'artistic' in Artistic gymnastics. Best of luck this year and more importantly, may the girls get healthy and compete the way they want to soon!

Miss Val: Hi June. Thank you for the message. Singapore! I think you're the first fan I've corresponded with from Singapore. How did you get involved with collegiate gymnastics? And UCLA? Are you a gymnast? Coach? A-ha - the Q&A tables turned ...

O.K. ... let's see... there are a lot of character qualities I like to recruit, such as respect for themselves, their family, coaches and fellow teammates. I look for an appreciation of the academic opportunity as well as the athletic opportunity here. And I like to see an overall enthusiasm for life. Athletically, we look for clean, good gymnastics and an obvious air of competitiveness. It doesn't matter how beautiful their gymnastics is if they don't love to compete. I appreciate your discussion of our choreography. I really enjoy the challenge of coming up with new routines each year.

The Toms, Northridge Bruins!: Please give us some insight into your 'secrets' for staying so grounded, positive, vivacious and inspirational through all the triumphs and adversity you and the team have experienced! We love you Miss Val!

Miss Val: Thank you, Toms. I love you too. As far as 'secrets'... I'd have to say my Faith helps with all of the areas that you mentioned above. I find I always come back to wanting to be able to have a one-on-one with God at the end of the day and be able to say 'I did a good job today with the young people that have been brought under my care.' Also, Chris, Marshall and I meet every morning before we go into the gym with the team, and we talk through each student-athlete, and what our goals are for them that day as individuals and as a team. I find that talking through this with them, two of the greatest people I could ever imagine working with, we keep each other grounded to the big picture of our coaching philosophy in coaching the person first.

Jessica(Vancouver): HI Miss Val...What type of contact do you have with the team in the off-season (May-September) are there still practices, do the girls work-out on there own, how does it all work.Thanks...and great job again this season

Miss Val: Well, in May I'm in San Diego choreographing shows for SeaWorld Summer Nights. It's an interesting dynamic because I'm used to keeping close contact with our team members, and for that month I feel like I'm a little out of touch. A few of them call or e-mail regularly, and I make a point of e-mailing them all at least once a week. Then in June they're focused on finals, and in the summer most of them go home. Usually, Chris or Marshall are in the gym a few times a week to supervise training if any of the girls want to come in. There are usually a handful that stick around the summer and train. I make sure to keep in contact with them over the summer to make sure they're staying on task. We don't usually have a problem with that.

Kristy(San Diego): Miss Val,I was wondering which bruins floor routine, in your years at UCLA, has been your favorite to choreograph? If you could work with anyother gymnast not on the UCLA team, who would that be? What is your favorite floor routine of all time to watch?(UCLA or not)

Miss Val: Oh my ... I wish I could give each gymnast their due consideration to this question. The athlete who immediately comes to mind is Heidi Moneymaker because she would do ANYTHING I asked of her no matter how stupid she might feel. The more bizarre, ridiculous and athletic the better. It's no wonder she one of Hollywood's top stunt women now.

My next thought that comes to mind is that I've really enjoyed working with all of our athletes this year. It's a combination of me spending more time than usual in the gym alone working out each part of each routine and each of our athletes enthusiastically welcoming the choreography. I can say that Anna Li is probably the most well-rounded dancer I've ever worked with in this sport. She can do any type of dance.

Who would I like to work with besides a UCLA gymnast? Nastia Liukin. Isn't she beautiful! My favorite all time FX routine? I can't even begin to think clearly about this. Probably because I enjoy all types of dance and love any floor routine that is performed well, where you can feel the heart and soul of the athlete.

Steve(Orlando): Val,

The bruins have gone through a couple of assistant coaches in recent years, when hiring for this position, what do you look for?

Miss Val: I look for humility, confidence, and maturity as well as having a command of the technical knowledge of our sport. They have to have an appreciation and enthusiasm to be a part of a program like ours, where the PERSON comes first. And (I'm smiling as I say this next part) the coach has to be able to fly by the seat of his pants really well because that is where I'm at my best. That's one of the areas that Chris and I are identical - we both fly by the seat of our pants REALLY WELL! We laugh a lot over this. This can be hard for someone if they're really organized and don't like it when plans change.

Michael (Palisades Park): Can you name the Top 5 UCLA gymnasts that you have coached?

Miss Val: Top 5 in athletic ability and competitiveness? I would imagine if we went through our archives we'd come up with Kristen Maloney, Jamie Dantzscher, Onnie Willis, Stella Umeh, and Tasha Schwikert, but then again there's Jill Andrews, Kim Hamilton, Sharon Shapiro, and on and on. Without a doubt, the toughest most competitively strong athlete was Kristen Maloney.

If you want to discuss top 5 true 'student-athletes', then it would be Onnie Willis, Kate Richardson, Ashley Peckett, Michelle Selesky, Kristin Parker and Paula Rasmussen (I'm sure I'm leaving out quite a few.) One of our all-time greatest Bruins was Carly Raab - if we're talking sheer integrity. Carly, while only competing one event at one meet for us in the four years she was here, was a HUGE part of our program during her UCLA career.

Dave (London): What kind of heels will you be strutting around in at NCAAs? How far in advance do you plan your look for championship meets? Should we expect any exciting new leotards this year?

Miss Val: Dave from London? How the heck are you? My heels? Hmmmmm - what do you think about us college coaches going back to wearing track suits and tennis shoes? =) How far in advance do I plan my look? Are you serious? This is SO Hollywood, although it's appropriate with the Oscar buzz going on in this town this week... uh... as you can probably tell... I don't plan it much. A few days before we leave I freak out and think... 'What the heck am I going to wear?' My biggest pain is my hair. I'm not always so crazy about my curls, but the whole straightening thing didn't work out too well the last few years. It's my one mid-life crisis thing that I'm still going through. I would LOVE to have SJP's hairdresser as my personal hairdresser. A new look for every meet would be fun.

New leos? Heck yeh - we get new leos each year for our Championship meets, then wear them for the next regular season. If we like one, then we reorder it. We had one with the sheer white on top and blue from the chest down that we reordered about 5 different times because our girls loved it! That's cool, it was our signature leo, I guess. I like to take Oscar gowns and rework them for leotard designs.

Dave (Montvale, NJ): Are you ever suprised by the goddess-like status given to you by gymnastics fans? GGMB discussed sending you a tiara last spring.

Miss Val: Goddess-like... PLEASE! Actually, I loved wearing tiaras when I was dancing! Maloney wore one for her last birthday party here. If I get SJP's hairdresser, maybe I'll get a tiara for one of the meets. That would create some good gossip fodder.

Betsy (Boston): Hi Miss Val -- I've been wondering how you and the team feel about winning or losing a particular meet. The win/loss record has almost no bearing on the season's outcome, but does a win or loss affect the team mentally? If so, how do you coach in relation to that? (I'm so thrilled with how you are all doing with so many challenges this season. Best of luck with the rest... all the way to nationals!!) --Betsy

Miss Val: Thank you Betsy, especially for your last comments. We go into every meet expecting to hit our routines, and if we hit we should win. There are some meets where we hit and don't win, as in our last meet at OSU. It stings quite a bit, but it feels a lot better knowing we did our best rather than leaving a meet with regrets.

While our 'win/loss' record doesn't mean anything toward qualifying to NCAA's, it does affect a team's 'swagger'. That 'swagger'/air of confidence goes a long way in determining how the meets progress on MANY levels. This last meet we had at OSU was the first meet this season I really felt we had the UCLA swagger back.

carol new york: Have you ever considered scheduling mid major programs to increase the popularity of the sport

Miss Val: By mid major programs, I'm assuming you mean programs not in a major conference. First of all, our schedule is dictated a lot by having to meet our Pac-10 obligations. That schedule eats up most of our competition weekends. Secondly, to offer to host another team to make our dual meets tri or quad meets costs a lot more money. Costs mainly include paying for extra judges' airfare, per diem, and hotel. I absolutely agree with supporting mid-major programs, which is why we do a home and away each year with Fullerton. After our conference obligations are scheduled, it usually only leaves one home and two away meets for us to schedule. It's vital to our team's competitive success that we schedule our toughest competition during that time.

Abe from Ontario: I was wondering how you learned to do choreography and what are some basic elements/steps in the process when you begin to choreograph a routine. Also, continued success to the Bruin team this year and their National Championship hopes!

Miss Val: I've had an affinity for choreographing for as long as I can remember. When I was little and just starting ballet training, I would go home and make up dances in our living room. I've also always had an ability to pick up and remember choreography easily. Anyway - the first thing I do is to make sure I pick music that I can see pictures with. If I can see choreographic pictures to the music, then I know I'll enjoy the work. Next, I come up with the style of movement for the piece. I sometimes enjoy choosing a dance style that would be atypical for the music, as in sharp movement for lyrical music. As long as you can pick out the motivation for the movement somewhere in the music, it works. After that, I listen intently to the music to find the one area in the music where the athlete will do her signature move. I feel that good choreography is about being able to see pictures in the movement. The lay person may not understand what moves he or she is seeing, but they should be able to remember the form of the picture that the choreography makes. The cleaner the pictures, the better the work.

Stephanie - San Clemente: How hard is it to keep the team focused with so many injuries?

Miss Val: I'm finding that it depends on the character of the athlete. For someone who is internally driven and enjoys challenges, it's not that difficult. As long as we keep redefining our goals and our athletes have a clear picture of what our daily and weekly goals are, they continue to enjoy the process regardless of whether our team is deep or not. These same athletes are the ones that aren't looking for an 'out'. It would be so easy to give up on our season with the perfect 'out' of 'look how much depth we've lost'. NONE of us feel that way. Who knows - it could be a repeat of 1997!

Courtney, (Greeley, Co): Miss Val,

I was wondering what some of your former gymnasts are up to. Such as Jamie, Kate, Kristin among others.....Good luck with the rest of the season!

Miss Val: Kate is finishing up school here and is planning on going back to Canada for physical therapy school. Maloney and Yvonne Tousek are with Cirque du Soleil. Malia Jones and Carmen Tausend are with La Reve in Vegas. Jamie Dantzscher is working at a few different things. I keep trying to get her into politics or into the law profession. She's smart as a whip and LOVES to argue/discuss things. Onnie is getting her masters in Psychology at NYU, and Carly Raab is getting her PhD in sports psychology. Parker is coaching at Byers in Sacramento and is really enjoying the coaching process, as is Doni. I could go on and on - they're all doing really well and keep in touch.

lauren (westwood): I always liked the music Kate Richardson was using last year and recently heard it on a car commercial. Any chance you could share what that music was? In general, how do you pick the music for the team's floor routines? I love how UCLA's music stands out.

Miss Val: Sorry, I can't share the music, and I actually don't even know the titles or artists of our music. We get all of our music from Eric Larson of Wolfjump music. His e-mail address is: He usually gives me about 30 pieces of music to choose from, then I listen to each piece in hopes of being able to see pictures of movement in the music. Every once in a while I'll hear a piece of music and ask him to find it and edit it for us. He's GREAT to work with. Feel free to contact him with any music questions you have.

John (Lawndale): Hi Coach!

I'll let the other 323 questions deal with the injury situation [although I still think you should change the water supply :-)]. Can you talk about your two seniors, Ashley Peckett and Michelle Selesky and what they have brought to the team in this their final year competing for the Bruins?

Thanks, and hope to see you Sunday!

Miss Val: Thanks, and hope to see you Sunday! I'd LOVE to talk about our two seniors. Ashley Peckett has had an amazing college career. She is a brilliant student, often getting A+'s in our toughest science classes. While she's had a horrific time with her ankles during her gymnastics career, it hasn't stopped her from enjoying her gymnastics and competing and scoring well for us. She is the ultimate competitor. Her eyes literally light up every time we put our team in a competitive situation in the gym. Her enthusiasm for competition has been a tremendous gift to her teammates. To see that stressful and challenging situations can be 'fun' is something we've all learned from her.

And Michelle Selesky ... I'm sure by now everyone that knows anything about our team knows that she came in as a level 9, I turned her down 3 times as a walk-on, I finally gave in, and she's worked harder than anyone else over the past 4 years and is finally seeing the fruits of her labors gymnastically as well as athletically (She also is close to a 4.0 student, majoring in Political Science). She's a staunch Republican and is working towards being our nation's first Republican female president. When she's having a rough day in the gym, all we have to say is 'Michelle, if you don't make this next pass, Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the U.S.' Without fail, Michelle will nail her next attempt. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver came to our men's basketball game against USC, and Michelle was sitting a few rows up from him and Maria. She literally got emotional seeing him there!

Both Michelle and Ashley have been amazing team leaders their entire four years they've been with us. Quality people. Great athletes. They will be missed.

Dawn (Corona Del Mar, CA): What is the most important thing you hope your student athletes will gain after four years of your coaching?

Miss Val: I hope they can truly understand and embrace the philosophy that life is about Choice. Everything we think, everything we feel, everything we do is a choice. And the choices we make will dictate the life we lead. Every single choice we make has an infinite number of repercussions. It's about taking responsibility for our lives instead of being a victim. If they can understand that concept completely, they will enjoy a richer life as responsible people responsible for their actions and how their actions affect others. It's not necessarily about being 'good' or doing what's 'right' all the time; it's about taking responsibility for what you think, feel and do.

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