JESSICA: This is episode 75, a classic all interview episode for you today. We had a scheduling conflict with Aly Raisman so don’t worry though she will be back and we will ask her all of your burning gymnastics questions when we interview her. This episode that we’re airing today originally aired in December of 2012. Next week is our Valentines Day show and we have something very special planned for you. And I want to ask you guys if you would send in your like a Valentine letter to your favorite coach ever. The coach who you still think about today, the coach that changed your life, the coach that made you who you are today. Maybe you never thanked them. Maybe you’ve never told them how meaningful and how important they were in your life. And we would like to read some of those letters in our Valentines Day show. So send us those letters to firstname.lastname@example.org, again it’s email@example.com and let us read one of those on the air and maybe your coach will hear it. So work on those while you watch the Olympics. You know they start- and you know Nastia’s going to be there, so we all have to be watching. In the meantime, enjoy our interview with Miss Val from December 2012.
[EXPRESS YOURSELF INTRO MUSIC]
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JESSICA: Welcome to GymCastic, the greatest gymnastics podcast on earth. I’m here with:
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
DVORA: Dvora Meyers from Unorthodox Gymnastics
JESSICA: And I’m Jessica O’Beirne from masters-gymnastics.com.
JESSICA: This week’s classic episode with Miss Val is sponsored by Tumbl Trak. Tumbl Trak is offering 15% off all products launched this year right now through the end of February. That means the laser beam, the climbing wall, the rings, the fun conditioning with sliders DVD, and of course my personal favorite, handstand homework. Another item that’s 15% off right now are hot spots and the hot block. You know when you have a bunch of little tinies and you’re working on vault drills but there’s only one board available so you put a carpet square and that slides or you’re trying to tell them to jump on a line and it’s just not the same. Well, hot spots and the hot block are for you. Hot spots are compact air filled pancakes that are great for working on punching and blocking drills and of course keeping kids busy while they’re waiting in line so the coach can coach instead of wrangle the littles. This is also great to work on anything with teenage athletes and a masters gymnast so you can prevent some of the wear and tear that punching drills bring on. Check out the hot spots and hot block at tumbltrak.com. That’s tumbltrak.com. Tumbl Trak, do it again.
JESSICA: So let me tell you about Miss Val a little bit. So her name is Valorie Kondos Field, but she became known as Miss Val because of her background in dance. She was a professional ballet dancer in the Capital City Ballet in Sacramento, California, where she grew up, the daughter of Greek immigrants; and she also was a dancer in Washington DC with the ballet there. She came to UCLA as an undergrad and was a choreographer for the gymnastics team, and was there when the men’s program was super-crazy. They had, like, every Olympian on the team, and Mitch Gaylord and Peter Vidmar and all those guys were there. And she ended up being the head coach and led the Bruins to their first National Championship, and then they’ve now won six National Championships. And one of the things that Miss Val is really known for is her choreography, not just her work as a choreographer, but also really pushing the limits of artistry and choreography in gymnastics. So we’re going to start our interview with her now, part one of our interview, and it was really, really interesting for us because it started out with her asking us questions, and we were like, “wait a minute, is there where the life lesson stuff starts? We weren’t prepared for this!” So it’s a good thing we did our homework, so we think you guys will find this a very enlightening interview. Alright, here it comes.
JESSICA: First thing we ask people if there’s anything you definitely you want to talk about, that you’ve never been able to talk about, or something that you’ve never been asked that you’ve always wanted to have been asked?
MISS VAL: Ok. What do you think that is?
JESSICA: Umm, I would say, um…overuse of Toradol in gymnastics? The painkiller.
MISS VAL: [[Laughs]] Ok.
JESSICA: Ok. We’ll skip that. Is there anything you do not want to talk about or we should not discuss?
MISS VAL: Well, the one thing that I always think is very touchy and have been wary about talking about is why gymnastics matters, because I don’t come to this—I don’t come to this profession as a gymnastics fan. You know, you’re all here as gymnastics fans. I’m not here as a gymnastics fan. I’m here as someone who has a tremendous amount of respect for athletics, and in particular the sport of gymnastics.
MISS VAL: Ok, silence, you guys have no…
JESSICA: Ok! No!
DVORA: This is way too deep for ten AM.
MISS VAL: Ok, got it.
DVORA: No no no, I’m just like….so, could you just—cause actually I was thinking as you were speaking, that I wish we were recording at that moment.
JESSICA: We are recording. We’re on. At this moment.
DVORA: So can we just jump back for a second? What was the question, that you were looking to be asked? Or not asked? I’m sorry, I just got a little confused, as I said. I apologize.
MISS VAL: No, it’s fine, it’s fine. I’m always wary about, when I’m being interviewed, to me it seems like it’s kind of it’s light fluff. What do you think about artistry? Ok, well I can talk about artistry until the cows come home, right. And I’m fine to talk about that, because people want to talk to me about artistry all the time. I think that it’s a very deep, philosophical conversation to have, but it’s about, why does gymnastics matter? Because, to me, athletics is about bragging rights. Being able to say, “We beat you.” What’s so—why is that important, in what we do? Why is my job important? Why are you guys doing this radio station? What is the relevance of this radio station, besides sheer entertainment? Do I sound like I’m Debbie Frickin’ Downer?
DVORA: No no no! It’s, like, I feel with in an existentialist sort of territory. Like, why—so you don’t want to be asked, and I wasn’t planning on asking you why gymnastics was important, but I will stay away from that.
MISS VAL: Say that again?
DVORA: I said I wasn’t planning on asking you why gymnastics matters, because I think we come from the assumption that it—well, we all love it, and that’s kind of our starting point for discussion.
MISS VAL: Right. So let me ask you, why does it matter?
DVORA: I can’t say that it does. I mean, I can’t say it does more than anything I enjoy in this world: writing, telling jokes. And that’s what it boils down to, I’m saying, in people’s lives here.
JESSICA: I mean, I think I will argue that, for me, I feel like literally saved my life in the past, and—let’s get super deep right away—and I feel like anything else, like sports can be a—it doesn’t matter what it is, it can be sports, it can be art, it can be your favorite subject in school, it can be whatever, it can be a way to find your higher purpose, to make the world a better place, to get through a horribly hard time. It can be all of those things, and if it’s done correctly, and if it’s done right with the right intention behind it, then it can be a way of really improving yourself as a person and helping other people to become good people too, and that’s why it matters.
MISS VAL: I agree, because I think once you get—excuse me, I cut someone off.
BLYTHE: No no, you didn’t, I cutting you off, go on.
MISS VAL: I mean, as a dancer, coming into the world of athletics, I struggle with this: I struggle with the 90% of doing what I do being able to say we beat you. We beat Florida, we beat Utah, we beat you, you know? And that part of it is so insignificant to me. I love it when I’m on the floor, because I find that I’m very competitive, which I didn’t know I growing up that I was competitive. And I’m extremely competitive. But at the end of the day, I think gymnastics matters because it’s, from what both of you just said, it was, any type of athletics challenges you and your core foundation, to—really, I mean, I sound like an army commercial, with the “be all that you can be”, but no sport greater than gymnastics challenges you and develops your discipline and focus to…I don’t think there’s anything else that in life that someone could do on a daily basis that challenges you at that level like gymnastics does physically and mentally. So that’s why I love my job, cause I think gymnastics matters.
DVORA: Well, I was just going to add, I mean, after I give my response that essentially that we’re not saving lives here, but I think gymnastics matters to me because it—I mean, you view things with meaning, and me coming from an ultra-religious background, and finding a sport like gymnastics that really played with the gender roles and what I was being told about what was expected of me, I got two very different messages, so it changed my life.
MISS VAL: What kind of background do you come from?
DVORA: Ultra, like, Orthodox Jewish.
MISS VAL: Oh, ok. Ok.
DVORA: So, pretty much, but…yeah. So, I think, it’s not just the sport itself. It’s everyone thinks and brings their views and activities, whether it’s literature or sports or, specifically in my case, gymnastics. I mean, viewing has certain types of meaning, and it meant a lot to me, and it really informed my feminism in many ways.
MISS VAL: Great. And I tell the girls that all the time. I tell my girls, when you’re in a meet, and the meet starts with the National Anthem, it’s my opinion is that before you start thinking, you know, “Please may I have a safe meet”, “Oh please can I win this meet”, whatever, the first thing you do is look at that flag and realize and appreciate the fact that few other countries allows you, as a female, to play a sport, and allows you, as a female, to be scantily clad and not wear a lot of clothing in order to allow you to play the sport to your best of your abilities, because a lot of countries, A. You wouldn’t be allowed to do it, and B. You’d be walking around covered from head to toe.
DVORA: Yeah, and, my, as I said, my background—I didn’t walk around covered from head to toe, but I wore long skirts, long sleeves, and was told that this was an activity that was ok when I was younger, but once I turned twelve I would have to stop it. And when I didn’t it created all kinds of, you know, emotional turmoil, but I definitely came out better for it. You know, figuring myself out in terms of what I wanted versus what people were telling me I should want. But, you know, it’s hard to state what the significance is without your personal experience. Is gymnastics, is it important in and of itself to do a back handspring on the balance beam?
MISS VAL: No.
DVORA: Probably not as important as, you know, rescuing someone from a burning building. But, what does that back handspring mean to you? What is your backing, what are you breaking to it? And then…
MISS VAL: And, well, what I think for as a young girl, as a seven year old, for you to develop the determination and the courage and the mental focus to be able to perform the back handspring on four inches is what shapes everything else in your life, and that is what allows you, a young girl, to grow up to be a strong, confident woman, to make a difference. Not that you’re going to, not that gymnastics, I mean, makes all gymnasts grow up and out there, but I think gymnastics is for a woman the foundation to jump off and do whatever they want, because…ok, well, I don’t want to get off topic here. So we can go back. What do you guys want to talk about?
JESSICA: No no, go on.
DVORA: Precisely what we want to talk about.
MISS VAL: I remember, we had our once has our Chancellor, she had never seen a gymnastics meet and she came to the Pac 10 Championships that we hosted a while ago, and she owned a very successful PR company. And she asked to come speak to our team the day after our meet, and so we had a team meeting, and she said, I just want to tell all of you, she says, I don’t know a thing about gymnastics more than you, but what I got out of that meet was that there were seven teams there, and every single young woman that was on the floor had this developed understanding of being part of a team, something greater than herself, but had developed the ability to go out and perform, as an individual, while calm and poised and confident, and then assimilate right back into the group. She said, those were the exact type of people that I would hire in my company. Someone that understands the bigger picture of the company, but I can send out and I know will be confident and poised and mature and focused, when they represent my company as an individual.
BLYTHE: I find that really interesting but it kind of does relate to a question I had asked a couple, I was thinking of asking, a couple of years ago, or a year and a half ago there was an article in LA Times about Alyssa Kitasoe, who used to be on the team, and her difficult transition. So it seems like, what is your challenge as a coach to help these young women who spent their entire lives identified with gymnastics, transition away from the sport, while at the same time you’re coaching them at how to be successful in competition? It seems like a weird, like a strange challenge, almost.
MISS VAL: The challenge that I see is helping them understand that gymnastics isn’t—helping them to see that their gymnastics training, especially when they’re in college and you get four years of it and you get four hours a day of it, of gymnastics training—use this as a life skill course. Use gymnastics, the hours that you’re spending every day in a gym, as another class, as another university class in life skills, and then developing life skills, developing that strategic planning that you have to have in order to be ready to compete in January. Develop your sense of focus and discipline and consistency to purpose, use gymnastics as a life skills course, and not as something that defines you, whether you have succeeded or failed, whether you have won or lost. That part doesn’t matter, in the big scope of things. But if you can use this as a launching pad to life, then you help someone like Alyssa Kitasoe, go from being defined by her weight and her body fat percentage and whether she hits a beam routine or not, to defining herself as this strong confident woman who is able to put on this beautiful costume, leotard, and go out and perform with confidence in front of a thousand people, so…time to help them shift that mindset. is difficult, but it’s something that’s very, very clear to me in my role as their coach.
DVORA: Obviously anything we do in our lives we can apply those skills to other sectors of our lives for the most part. But what’s really interesting to me is how do the gymnasts stop thinking of themselves as gymnasts once they stop doing it?
MISS VAL: It’s very difficult. Very very very very very difficult. It really is changing their mindset. Right now, I had a conversation two days ago with Monique de la Torre. She is a senior. She’s in the best physical condition of her collegiate career. She’s doing beautiful gymnastics and she has a labrum tear in her shoulder that is preventing her from training as much as she can and from really enjoying this last year of her gymnastics career as much as she can because she’s in constant pain. But she’s been cleared to train because it’s not that big and it’s not getting bigger so she can train to tolerance. She was in my office sobbing the other day. She said, “you know I don’t want to look back at the end of the season and just have regrets that it wasn’t everything that I wanted it to be.” And so I’m having consistent dialogue with her about stop basing the value to the team and the value of gymnastics based on whether you’re going to go out there and make a squad, make one of our top 6 or score 9.9s or higher. Stop basing your satisfaction meter on that and start basing it on everything that you have learned over the three and a half years you’ve been here and how you can develop your leadership skills and really make an impact and what your legacy will be for this team. The entire time she was sobbing about not being able to train. She kept talking about Niki Tom and how much she learned from Niki about perseverance and consistency to detail and making each day a masterpiece. I said if you were given two choices and one choice is God came down and said ok Monique. You’re going to compete in the national championship. You’re going to score 9.9 on three events at the NCAA. Or ok Monique. You’re not going to be able to compete much this year because your shoulder’s just not going to allow you to but you’re gonna leave a legacy here like Niki Tom and the future generations are going to to talk about Monique de la Torre like you’re talking about Niki Tom. Which one would you choose? And she said Oh God I would do anything to have a legacy like Niki Tom. I said well that’s 100 percent in your control. And so having constant conversation like that to get her to change her focus and then you hope that at some point they have an “a-ha” moment and they switch. They get it. There’s no guarantee that they’ll get it during the time that they’re in college but if you keep planting that seed and watering it, watering it, watering it hopefully at some point in their college career or after that they will get it, that their value is not based on what they do but their value is based on their intentions.
DVORA: And in that same article, you mention your own difficult transition from after you stopped dancing professionally. Do you use your experiences, your own personal experiences in helping the girls kind of come to terms and learn to transition and learn to figure out a new path after they stop doing gymnastics?
MISS VAL: Yes, absolutely. That was one of those things in my development as a coach, when I switched from- when I first got the coaching job and I was trying to be like all the other successful coaches and so I started talking like a coach and acting like what I thought a coach was and I failed miserably and was not being true to myself at all. And then I literally read Coach Wooden’s definition of success and kept saying become the best that you are capable of becoming and that word you kept growing and growing and growing in my mind and I realized I was trying to be the best that Greg Marsden could be or Suzanne Yoculan could be or Sarah Patterson could be and wasn’t being the best Valorie Kondos that I could be. I really just took a hard look at everything that I had learned as a professional dancer and having had a long career as a professional, classical, disciplined dancer and how I could apply that to leading a group of sixteen young women. And there was so many similarities. I kept telling myself stop trying to be what you think a coach is and start being a teacher and a leader and share your experiences of what you went through in the dance world which are very very similar to that of a gymnast.
DVORA: And kind of speaking about that dance background, we always ask the gymnast what was their most embarrassing moment because a lot of times the coaches don’t have backgrounds in performance. And you have a background in performance, what you are some of your highlights as a dancer, let’s say funniest or most embarrassing moment that you had.
MISS VAL: My most embarrassing moment, which ended up being most most memorable moment that has helped me, especially in my speaking career. I was doing a solo. I was on stage and I remember I was being spotlit so there wasn’t a lot of lighting. I was in this pool of light in the middle of the stage and I had to do this series of plie high kicks on point. Plie high kick. Plie high kick. Like eight of them. And by the fourth one, my point shoes flipped out from under me and I landed flat on my tailbone. And it was that moment of truth when you can either crumble because you quote unqoute failed or you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and realize that everybody makes mistakes in life and what I do from here on out is what’s going to determine my significance in this performance. So I jumped up. Everybody was silent. The whole audience, it was like they weren’t even breathing. And I just kind of shook my head and laughed it off and kicked up and danced my heart out for the rest of it, the rest of my solo and I got a standing ovation at the end of that. And I carry that with me. It’s one of my most memorable, enjoyable moments. And when I speak, you know my girls often ask me if I get nervous before I speak. I never get nervous because it’s those human moments, that is when you connect with an audience or when you connect with another person or in a relationship. It’s being human. Not being perfect. Be human.
DVORA: It’s sort of like in sketch comedy when you watch it and you know you’re enjoying it, but it’s always fun when an actor kind of breaks and starts laughing. I’m thinking of Saturday Night Live. Those are just always fun moments. You don’t want it all the time, but every once in a while you realize they’re having fun, they’re in the joke. We’re all in this together kind of situation which I think people really respond to.
MISS VAL: And that people can laugh at themselves. You know, it’s why we like bloopers so much. I can’t tell you. When I’m speaking, I don’t speak with cards because they mess me up. I get my bullet points in my head. I do thorough preparation when I speak, but I don’t use cards or notes. And there are times when I’m going off, I’ll be speaking to a thousand people and I’ll say what the heck was my point? I can’t even remember my point. And everybody will laugh. It’s like they get drawn in that much more. So that’s a really important lesson I try to instill in these athletes on my team is that please don’t ever think that your success is based on being perfect. It’s not. And that is another great joy of coaching. I can’t tell you an athlete that has had a perfect meet even though they got a 40. They haven’t had a perfect meet. Vanessa went 9.98 at national championships last year. You know, it wasn’t perfect. You’re going to have mistakes. And it’s how you work through them that is a life skill and that will carry you through everything else you do in life.
DVORA: It’s interesting that you say that because obviously gymnastics is so identified with perfection and the 10 and when gymnasts are interviewed and coaches are interviewed, they are always talking about how they’re trying to be perfect, trying to do everything right. And it’s interesting that you say that. You seem to be de-emphasizing when you’re teaching the girls. You’re de-emphasizing perfection.
MISS VAL: I emphasize intention. I get really excited when we have a hard day, when we’re struggling and girls are falling all over the place. Because now let’s see what kind of team we are. Now let’s see what type of character we have. Now let’s see what we can learn from today. Those are the exciting teaching moments for me.
DVORA: Can you think of another sport or several other sports that emphasize perfection? I’m thinking more of the traditional sports like basketball, football. You know you have fumbles. There isn’t the same sort of emphasis on no mistakes. None whatsoever.
MISS VAL: I think it’s golf.
DVORA: Golf. That’s one sport I don’t know about.
MISS VAL: Only because there’s no one to pass the ball to. It’s just you. It’s just like gymnastics. You get nervous up there on the beam. You can’t pass the ball to someone else. You’ve got to finish that routine. Second of all, golf, you can hit that drive out into the rough but that doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the game. It’s just like gymnastics. You can have a fall on beam but if you pick it up and finish that routine, that doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the meet. Golf reminds me a lot of gymnastics because you cannot play a perfect golf game. You can’t. And it’s very difficult, near impossible, to have a perfect meet on four events. But it’s how you work through them that will determine whether you’re still successful at the end of it or not.
DVORA: So kind of piggy backing on that thought would you say that, and we’re talking about more international elite gymnastics, do you think that removing the 10 and kind of removing the pretense of perfection is a good idea ultimately in development?
MISS VAL: I don’t think it’s a good idea because the flipside of this coin, of what I’m talking about is that we can never forget that our sport is entertainment. And we always have to be very conscientious of our fanbase. And we need to make it fun, we need to make it easy to understand, we need to make it that they feel that they can come in and be a Monday morning quarterback, where they feel that they can come in and make strategic planning on the skills and the order of competition and all that. And I feel that taking away the ten has taken the fans out of it more because it’s difficult to understand. Entertainment! Let’s not forget that! Entertainment. When we lose our fanbase, we cease to exist.
DVORA: So kind of thank you for leading me into one of my other questions perfectly. So recently a friend of mine went unprompted by me, I don’t even know how this happened, to the last stop of the Tour of Champions. I had not had the opportunity to see it because I was out of New York and had already happened in LA by the time I arrived here and she hated it. She absolutely hated it. She asked if she could write a review for my site and I just put it up. The problems were that it just seemed very messy, unprofessional and I wonder if I wasn’t so enamored of the sport, since I watch gymnastics with a 13-year-olds brain half the time, would I enjoy something like the tour? And how do we expand, how do we reach out to people in these entertainment settings to people who aren’t obsessed with gymnastics?
MISS VAL: So what’s the question?
DVORA: She was complaining that the tour was unprofessional. The skill level was very low. She went to the tour because she spent the summer watching the Olympics and she loved it. She had enough knowledge at this point to know that she saw really spectacular stuff on TV and she’s going to a live show and she knows she’s not getting anywhere near that in terms of skill level and for her, the dance aspect, the performance aspect wasn’t enough to compensate. The performance wasn’t necessarily good enough to make up for the lack of difficulty. And so how do we present gymnastics in professional settings? Because you can’t demand that the guys and girls do their full difficulty all the time. That would be a disaster on a 40-city tour. But on the other hand, she’s not 13. She said she felt like, you know, she wasn’t 13 and screaming in the audience. It wasn’t who she was. She wanted to see a good show. And she felt like she didn’t get to see one.
MISS VAL: I think that’s marketing though. I think that when you do a post Olympic tour or a post Olympic showcase, and it should be marketed towards people who simply want to get close to their idols. It should be all about the celebrity aspect of it and the show performance of it. It’s not a gymnastics showcase as much as it is a celebrity showcase. You get to see these men and women that you have seen in this intense, disciplined competitive setting, you now get to see them with their hair down and having fun. And so a 13-year-old girl is going to love it. And the response that I’ve heard from the tour is that it is exactly that. The people that showed up wanted that. The best part of the tour was the autographs because they got to be up close and personal with these celebrities. I think there’s two different concepts there. It’s really about how you market it. We market our program at UCLA as the best dollar value entertainment in Los Angeles. We are less expensive than a movie. You’re going to come in and you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours. From the top of the show to the finish of it. It’s going to be tight run show. It’s going to be something that you’re going to be able to bring your family to, your children to and not have to worry about sitting next to students who are yelling profanities or the hecticness of something like a basketball game, which is great but the basketball culture and crowd is different from gymnastics. Elderly people can come and not have to worry about the congestion of going to a football game or a basketball game and so because of that, we are the top female competitive sport in Los Angeles by our fanbase.
DVORA: I agree that if I had gone to the tour, I would have been excited just to have been in the same arena as a lot of the Olympians, but what does this say to someone who watched the Olympics and loved it and decided to just go to the show, what does this say to the potential to branch outside of the 13-year old uber fan demographic—
MISS VAL: Well I just think it should have been marketed differently than you should have known what you’re getting. And that tour, USAG is not in the business of putting on tours. And so, John MacReady does a great job hosting all that and I didn’t get to see the tour because we were out of town when they came to LA. But the fact that Nastia took her performance to something else besides trying to do a floor routine or gymnastics, I thought was great because you got to see her in all her beautiful splendor but I think if USAG is going to put on tours, they should hire someone who does that, that puts on shows. Let them direct and develop a tour and then market it for exactly what it is. And I think it’s an important part of our sport. I think it’s great for us to be able to see the Fierce Five having fun with their hair down; they’re normal girls. And for the men’s side, for us to see them as the sexy hot-bodied men, because you don’t necessarily get that in their whites. I think that aspect is really really really important. I would love to see USAG develop a tour that is the same thing that a lot of ice skating tours do. You don’t see them doing a lot of circles and quads but it’s very entertaining. I’ve wanted to do a gymnastics Nutcracker for years.
DVORA: Oh you should.
MISS VAL: I’d just have to get the funding and line up a producer.
JESSICA: I’m on it.
MISS VAL: I’m on it.
DVORA: I have a friend who does a break dancing version of The Nutcracker and it’s kind of amazing. We’ll all go see that.
MISS VAL: Ok! I have the whole thing all story-boarded out. I just think it would be amazing.
DVORA: Yes please! So I know you get asked a lot about artistry, but so here’s some more inevitable artistry questions. A lot of people have just watched the Olympics. What is the challenge in choreographing a floor routine and not making it look like a stock floor routine, because my feeling is that a lot of the floor routines out there, the movements are interchangeable. It doesn’t matter what piece of music is playing, if you increase the tempo, or decrease the tempo, nothing feels special or specific to a given floor routine. So how do you create floor routines that are specific for the gymnast, for the music, and for the personality?
MISS VAL: Well first of all, you have to have incentive to want to do that. And that starts with the Code of Points. So even though I fluctuate back and forth on this whole artistry issue, whether you reject or reward for artistry, you have to make it important. It’s just like we spend an enormous amount of hours on landing drills, every type of landing possible because in college, landing is a huge part of your sport. Landing and sticking a dismount appears to be of more value than having good form. So we spend an enormous amount of time on that. And if artistry was rewarded, then you would have incentive to bring people in, our choreographers, that can develop a performance in that minute and 30 seconds. But it doesn’t matter so why are you going to spend any money or time, why are you going to waste any money or any time in developing that when the Code of Points doesn’t dictate that it has to happen? You don’t.
DVORA: And what about like previous generations’ Code of Points because we have talked about the decreasing artistry, or seemingly decreasing artistry. It’s something that’s really hard to measure obviously. What would you like to see changed in terms of how to incentivize it? So we kind of go back a little bit.
MISS VAL: Well I had a really great conversation at the NCAA’s with Kathy Johnson. People don’t ever like to go backwards, but she was saying and I totally agree with what she was saying. Judges will be far less willing to deduct for artistry than they would be willing to award for it. So if we get back to the system like rich originality and virtuosity, where you take your start value— let’s just say your start value is at a 9.7, let’s say in college, your highest start value is a 9.7 or a 9.8 and you give them the ability to reward for artistry, I think that would differentiate between the teams more than asking a judge to deduct for lack of artistry.
DVORA: So it seems every four years, every time we talk about this, we know this! We know that artistry has been de-emphasized. The Code of Points does stuff like well we’re going to make these incredibly difficult leaps and jumps part of our difficulty score. And that’s our way of saying that artistry matters. If a turn can give you bonus like a tumbling pass can give you bonus, then of course, we are saying that this matters. Do you think that this has worked out or has it backfired in many ways?
MISS VAL: Well artistry has nothing to do with leaps. It doesn’t have anything to do with them. When I think of artistry, the component of artistry in a score isn’t necessarily about the level of skills in leaps and jumps and turns you’re doing. That’s not artistry. That’s skills. That’s just like if you do E leaps, it’s like doing an E tumbling pass. It’s just another skill. The artistry is, and you know I’ve listened to your last broadcast or podcast and I totally agree. I think to put it as simply as possible, it’s about evoking some impressive emotion, or emotion based on an impressive performance. And it doesn’t matter if you like the style. I think you said you never wanted to see a hip hop choreographed floor routine in your life. But that’s just your personal preference. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad artistry.
DVORA: Well it’s certain gymnasts doing them
MISS VAL: We all know those performances that draw us in, that just captivate you and that is what should be able to be rewarded. I think we could all talk about Aly Raisman, being our Olympic floor champion. Would she still be the floor champion if there was an area to be able to reward for artistry? Yeah she probably would still be because her routine was near flawless. Would someone else who had made a mistake, like one of the Russians, have scored higher with rewarded artistry? Probably. I’m not saying that Aly Raisman shouldn’t be the Olympic floor champion.
DVORA: I just wanted to add to my statement about hip hop in gymnastics, Ariana Berlin. I enjoyed watching her hip hop routines. So it’s not all of them. You have to have an understanding of the type of movement.
MISS VAL: Interesting thing about Ariana, and I love the fact that you brought her up. When we choreographed her routine, I would tell her the types of movement that I thought should go in this particular place and she would put the steps in and specific choreography in and then I would take those steps and make them more gymnastics-friendly, to look more like a gymnastics performance rather than a hip hop dance in a leotard. Because to be honest with you, the movement didn’t look good without the baggy pants and the tank top. They looked awkward in a leotard. I took those movements, I cleaned them up, made her have really clean lines as much as I could. At first, when she was a freshman, she fought me on this. She did not want to dilute the hip hop dance look. And I said well that’s great for hip hop performance. Ours isn’t a hip hop performance. It’s a gymnastics performance. And so we went back and forth, back and forth on that. We finally started understanding it, and when she started buying in, she started scoring well. And being appreciated by the people like you that don’t wanna see hip hop on the floor. But that’s a classic example of what I’m talking about. You would never ask for anyone to do a hip hop routine on floor, but you appreciated the artistry of it because she did it cleanly, it was choreographed to the music, it was interesting to watch, and it kept your attention.
DVORA: One of things in my totally unscientific survey, it seems that UCLA gymnasts presumably stay elite, go to international competitions much more than former elites or level 10s from other programs. Am I completely off base or is there something to that? Is there something about how you approach training at UCLA that gymnasts stay elite or go elite?
MISS VAL: We really try to make the sport fun for them again. You know, Chris is an amazing coach. He’s an unbelievable technician and he is passionate every single day. Our training is really fun. We train at 8 in the morning and it is high energy power packed. We love what we do. We love the palate, you know the athlete that we get to work with. And so our athletes don’t get bored. And even though you don’t see all the skills that they can do in competition, because as you well know, it’s not worth it for us to throw all the skills that they can do, we do those skills in the gym. And that’s what keeps them in the back of their minds thinking you know I could go and I can do elite again. I can compete internationally. I just had a conversation yesterday….you know Vanessa wants to go on to 2016. And Peng Peng definitely will continue to train elite. And I said you know Vanessa you need to carve out your summer so you can go home and train with her. Because you need to keep that enthusiasm up and train with someone that’s at your level to push you and that’s what we do in our gym every day. We’ve got Sam Peszek and Alyssa Pritchett. Who’s going to be the first one to throw the double double on floor? It’s a healthy competitiveness and it keeps them hungry and excited about their sport. I think that has always been our culture.
DVORA: In terms of their success in the NCAA….one thing you know when you watch elites go from elite to NCAA ranks, it’s not necessarily a given that they’re going to do very well in the NCAA even though they competed as elites. It seems like the Canadian elites that come to UCLA by and large just thrive in the NCAA. Why do you think that is?
MISS VAL: I never thought of that. I don’t know. I think it’s a combination, I’m just guessing honestly because I’ve never really thought about it. I think it’s they have a tremendous appreciation for being paid for the first time in their lives to do gymnastics. It’s not something they grow up expecting and it’s not something they feel entitled to because it’s so rare for them. I think it’s that combined with…they don’t grow up watching a lot of collegiate gymnastics meets and they don’t grow up going to collegiate gymnastics meets and so it’s so new to them that oh my gosh look at all this energy that’s put into my sport! And for the first time, they’re treated like professionals. They have everything they need to be successful that they thrive in that environment. They didn’t grow up even expecting it. They didn’t even know it existed. I can’t tell you how many Canadian parents…they don’t understand. No you don’t have to buy your leotards. No you don’t have to pay for their travel. No really you don’t. It’s just like Christmas for them for four years. They are just so appreciative of it. I remember when I was talking to, when Lena Degteva was on our team and I found out that Canadians got twice as much taxes taken out of their scholarship checks. So when Lena moved off campus and was getting her monthly check, hers was substantially lower than the Americans because they had the Canadian taxes taken out of it. And Lena just looked at me like I was crazy. She was like why would I care about that? I’m being given a college scholarship. I’m getting my education paid for and I get to do gymnastics. It’s very refreshing.
DVORA: Definitely. I know I definitely did not get paid to go to school. But also do you think, and this is just kind of spitballing, do you think that the Canadian elites, even though they come out of the elite system, do you think Canadian elites are less burned out because Canadian gymnastics is less of a pressure cooker than the Americans seem?
MISS VAL: Yes. Yes.
DVORA: That was just a random thought.
MISS VAL: No I agree with that.
DVORA: Earlier we were talking about how the girls learn to function as part of a team but still thrive as individuals. Now I imagine that not everyone works out. I’m not interested any names but what happens when a gymnast doesn’t thrive or does not work out or doesn’t manage to integrate successfully into the team? How do you handle those situations and how do you decide if necessary to cut ties?
MISS VAL: I like to give them as much time as I can, as many chances as possible for them to get those very valuable life understanding that to be a part of something greater than yourself, the rewards of that are far greater than anything you could have ever achieved alone. And I like to give them as many opportunities as possible, as long as possible to get that. But when it comes to the point that it is detrimental to the team and it is a huge distraction to us building our team, and when it comes to the point where we’re spending more time on them than the other 15 student athletes on our team, then it’s time to cut ties. When I just realize that they just don’t appreciate what they have been given. And unfortunately, a lot of time it’s being mimicked by their parents.
DVORA: How so?
MISS VAL: Well the parents are agreeing with them with whatever the issues are, that their daughters are right and I’m just being totally unreasonable. And so when it comes to that, then the athlete doesn’t have a chance. If the parents and I are not on the same page, then I don’t have a chance, I don’t have a very good chance to get that student athlete to understand the difference throughout the season.
DVORA: I’m just curious as to—if you could be a little specific, like what sort of challenges, specific challenges that someone might have in integrating into a team?
MISS VAL: That there aren’t separate rules for different people. Excuse me. I have a cold. In our program, there are certain expectations that everybody is held accountable to. And those aren’t gymnastics expectations. They’re character expectations. I expect you to appreciate the program, be respectful of the program, honor the program, which means you show up on time. That you come in in a good mood. I don’t care if you have a final that day or if something horrible happened in your family. You come in and you are respectful to other people. You don’t have to be yippy skippy happy. But you have to be a decent human being and acknowledge people and treat them with respect and dignity. And if student athletes feel that that doesn’t pertain to them, that they can come in and just be a brat whenever they want to, well that gets old real fast. And that is not acceptable. And a lot of times they think I want them to be happy everyday. You know I’m not happy everyday. Well first of all, yeah you can decide to be happy. Ok. Your life does not suck that badly that you can’t make it a great day and be appreciative of the fact that you actually have everything that you have every day. But if you are really that upset about something or bummed out sad about something, it does not give you the right to treat people disrespectfully and to be a brat. It just doesn’t. So those are the types of things that don’t fly on our team. I’ve never ever not renewed someone’s scholarship or kicked someone off the team because of their gymnastics. It’s because of a sense of entitlement. And they think there are different rules for them and there aren’t.
DVORA: It’s difficult to imagine. I mean I’ve never done any high level gymnastics but it’s difficult to imagine that someone had trained for years and they were allowed to get away with certain behavior at a high level gymnastics training?
MISS VAL: Well not really though. How many times have you seen elite kids on the floor and they do a routine and whether it’s good or it’s bad and their coach comes up to them and they don’t even look at the coach. The coach is trying to coach them and the athlete doesn’t even look at them. Ok well maybe because that’s how the coach treats them like that in the gym and puts on a different face in competition. I don’t know. But I know that’s not how we treat our athletes. Do unto others as you wish them do unto you. If I’m going to treat you with respect and dignity and if I’m going to even when you’re being a brat, I’m going to take the time out to come over to you and treat you, I expect the same in return. And that goes for how you treat your other athletes, your teammates and how you treat your coaches, staff, and everybody else. And it drives me nuts. There are times we’ve gotten athletes in and that’s their pattern of behavior. When you coach them, they think that they’re in trouble and they don’t look at you, they become very robotic and it’s like why are you acting like I’m whipping you? I’m simply helping you get your legs straight on a back handspring. It’s the deconditioning so that you can recondition. It takes a while but they have to be open to it.
DVORA: Well that kind of just, what you just said, kind of speaks to their previous training, that any time a coach approaches them, they were clearly doing something wrong or they were in trouble, and they react defensively to that, it seems.
MISS VAL: Right.
DVORA: You know, and…
MISS VAL: And that’s when, that’s the programming of your values and your self-worth is in your performance.
MISS VAL: And one of my biggest challenges is erasing that.
MISS VAL: Your value to yourself, your sense of self-worth, should be based on your intentions. If you’re intending to be respectful to your coaches and listen to what’s being given and respectful to your teammates and the encouragement they’re giving you, and your intention is to do the best that you can do, then you should be walking on clouds. It has nothing to do with whether you hit the skill or not.
DVORA: So it’s kind of…
MISS VAL: And that’s really, really, really hard, and it’s really hard, and what we’ve been going through now—we’ve been putting in full floor routines together—and, you know, we’re doing routines and stopping before their last pass. Ok, well they’re not at the point in their training right now where we can expect them to land on their feet every single time they do their last pass. It’s ok if they make a mistake, if they have a fall. It’s ok. That’s where we are in our training right now. But to get them to realize that it’s ok, and just keep working, just keep improving, it’s ok. You don’t have to get down on yourself. That’s a huge issue we’re going through right now.
DVORA: Well, that also kind of leads me into my next question, because you were kind of talking about how, in many ways, they come to college and there has to be some kind of mental deprogramming that happens, so—and it seems to be largely a function of how they were coached. So if you had the power to institute one or two changes to coaching nationwide, what would it be? What would they be?
MISS VAL: [[Laughs]] I’ve always felt that everybody–I’ve always felt that the system we have in our country is backwards. It’s…to coach at a college level, you have to have a degree, a collegiate degree, but to coach beginners and our upcoming children, anybody can coach. And so, I think that should be backwards. I think in order to coach beginners and our development of kids, you need to have some sort of teacher’s education.
MISS VAL: You have to know how to teach, how to prepare, how to influence change in a positive way. And, you know, if I was Queen of the Universe, then I would make all of our teachers, even in our school systems, mandate that they have to have the tenacity, the ability to, an understanding of how to teach from a positive perspective. And that doesn’t mean it’s always fun. I mean, I believe in tough love, definitely; in discipline and structure and all of that. But, I do think it’s backwards in our country. When I was in school at UCLA and I did a paper on the difference between the Soviets coaching structure and the United States coaching structure, and it was backwards there. It was totally different from ours. In order for them to coach elite athletes, they had to have a Master’s Degree, in some sort of anatomy, physiology, biology, psychology, something.
MISS VAL: No, excuse me, to coach beginners. I’m sorry, to coach beginners. But to coach the elites, their National and International Teams, you know, they could have just been good gymnasts, and over here it’s exactly the opposite.
DVORA: Mmhmm. They’d have to start paying the beginner level coaches a lot better. [[Laughs]] If they had that…
MISS VAL: Yeah, and school system’s and everything. Yeah.
DVORA: Yeah. Someone who coached…
MISS VAL: Yeah, and really, if I—if you want to be a great coach, then go get your Master’s in Psychology. Go get philosophy. You know, just go, go study the human psyche, and—because coaching is all about motivating change, and you can motivate change by being harsh and tearing someone down, you can motivate change that way, but the damage that it does along the way negates the change. So you may get them to be able to get them to do a beautiful triple twist on floor, but if you have damaged their psyche and their self-worth along the way, you’re never going to be able to count on that triple twist.
DVORA: One of the things you pointed out is that especially that a lot of gymnasts end up going into coaching, and don’t, may or may not, have specialized education training, and just kind of were good gymnasts. They could teach a skill. Do you think that in many ways they just kind of repeat this cycle of both the positive and negative ways they were taught, because they’re not being educated specifically in something in something like psychology, that they are just kind of repeating that cycle? And, at the same…
MISS VAL: Yup, yup.
DVORA: You know, reinforcing a lot of the same negative experiences that they had when they were coming up, and kind of thinking, “Well, this made me successful, so therefore…”
MISS VAL: Yup.
DVORA: “…It’s going to make the next generation successful.”
MISS VAL: I remember vividly having an athlete, an elite athlete, in the 80s come onto my team, and one of her teammates would not do the free series on beam. And they came from the same club. And this other athlete said to me, “Just yell at her. I promise you she’ll do it.” And I said, “She probably will do it. But there’s a better way.” There is another way, and it’s a better way, because the other way, that I’m going to do, is I’m going to instill in her the self-worth and the confidence that she can rely on when she’s out there competing, and I’m not standing next to her yelling. So there’s a better way. And it was very foreign to her, to the athlete that was telling me, “Just yell at her, just yell at her, it works, for the last ten years it’s worked.” And it was like, ok.
JESSICA: So, speaking of the 80s, and the 90s, so, you know, Jennifer Sey and Dominique Moceanu came out with their memoirs, and they talk about, you know, the kind of abusive coaching and, you know, inattentive and ignorant adults that they were around when they were elites. And, you know, do you see a change in that? Is that still going on? Do you find elites who come in with those exact same problems, or do you see more of your level 10s and elites come in who have had more of a positive coaching experience, in something that’s, and, do you know, do you see anything changing or do you see this kind of coaching still is the majority of the coaching?
MISS VAL: I think both, quite honestly. I see the same exact types of issues coming in, and I see…you know, in the 80s and 90s, we had elites that came in that were very happy with, had a great experience, positive experiences with their coaches. And I think you’re always going to see it. I think there’s always going to be the people that coach from an abusive standpoint, and it’s, you know, it’s…whenever I think of the dichotomy of that, I think of Coach Wooden and Bobby Knight. I’m sorry, you guys know basketball?
JESSICA: Yeah, you know, Bobby Knight, the chair thrower.
MISS VAL: Yeah, and that’s very…
JESSICA: They guy that beats his…yeah.
MISS VAL: …Very abusive and very…I mean, profane with his team. But you knew what you were getting into, and Bobby Knight was a very successful coach. Very successful. You knew what you were getting into, and there are some athletes that can go to a system like that, can thrive in it because that doesn’t affect them, and there are other athletes that it just, it totally destroys their value, their self-worth. And, you know, that’s probably the biggest part of, I feel, my job is spending four years with those athletes like that, those people, and helping them restructure their inner psyche. And it’s…and I mean, I have absolutely no training in it, so I do the best job I can, and I’m not great at it, but it’s very important to at least try.
JESSICA: So I want to go back for a second to just to follow up with kind of the positive coaching thing and how it’s different in other countries, and not to say that they’re more positive than other countries, but you know there’s this positive coaching alliance that I think Phil, the basketball guy in LA, I know you’ll his name…
MISS VAL: Jackson?
JESSICA: Yes, thank you. He’s a big proponent of, and that coaching alliance I think I’ve seen that it’s gaining more steam, and it really has to do with the dual coaching thing and, like, building character through sport and that being the main focus. And I feel like there’s more and more gymnasts, you know, elite gymnasts that are having this experience of college and having this dual coaching experience, and really having positive coaching, you know, the Wooden way rather than the Bobby Knight way. And I’m wondering if you think that we’ll ever really see a change in that system, that we’ll see a shift to the positive coaching model as opposed to the negative coaching model.
MISS VAL: Yes, I do. [[Laughs]] I know you want me to expand on that.
JESSICA: Yes I do.
MISS VAL: But I don’t feel comfortable doing that.
MISS VAL: Yes, I do.
JESSICA: Good. That gives me hope.
MISS VAL: Yeah. I’m sorry.
JESSICA: No, you don’t have to be sorry. That’s fine.
MISS VAL: Ok.
JESSICA: So, ok. I would like to know, in this last year we have seen some big changes in gymnastics and the politics of how gay Americans are treated, and we’ve had, for the first time, we had an out gymnast compete at an Olympic Trials. So Josh Dixon came out in a newspaper article, he was out in his life but he came out, you know, publically, and then we also had two of the male gymnasts from Michigan made It Gets Better videos and talk about their experiences coming out and competing in college. And do you think we’re at a turning point in gymnastics, where we’re going to see more out gymnasts? Obviously, there’s tons of gay gymnasts competing, but that they’ll be comfortable coming out in a sport that’s judged, and that we’ll maybe even see a head coach that’s out? I mean, I know that in the NCAA right now, there’s not a single gay head coach.
MISS VAL: Hmm. Yeah, absolutely I do. And you know what, I don’t know if I’m a good person to ask that question to, because I really have a hard time with prejudice. I just don’t get it at all. So, if you tell me that there are still gay issues out there, I go, “Really? [[Laughs]] Wow, wow, ok.” And it’s my own ignorance, but it’s probably because I just don’t surround myself with people that think like that, so…I think that once someone has opened the door and they can make other people see it’s not so scary out there, and the door’s open and other people will poke their head through and walk through the door. That’s always the way it is. Once someone breaks the glass ceiling, then there’s no more ceilings, so you can climb as high as you want, and…I should probably be able to speak more eloquently to this subject, and the reason that I don’t is because I don’t think about it. I don’t, it doesn’t…I just can’t believe that there is still prejudice out there, in any way, shape, or form.
JESSICA: Other colleges have had, NCAA programs have had issues with people of different religions and different beliefs kind of coalescing and being together on the same team, and we wonder if, you know, UCLA seems to never have these problems—at least, we don’t see them publicly—and there seems to be such diversity both in, you have straight coaches, gay coaches, and all these different religions and everyone seems to get along just fine. Do you find that it’s one of the advantages of just letting your program be instead of promoting it as a certain type of program? That this naturally happens?
MISS VAL: No. No, well, no, it doesn’t naturally happen. It’s not—our program isn’t like that because I just let it be. We have not gotten recruits that I would have liked to have gotten because of our diversity.
MISS VAL: So, you know, they had said, it’s just they wanted to go to a place that won’t…this particular girl wanted to go to a place where the team was much more Christian. All of them. And my personal point of view, and the fact that I’m the leader of this program makes it kind of pertinent and relevant, it that…I think, I believe that everybody can have an opinion. You can have opinions all you want. But I don’t believe that it’s up to you to judge anybody. And I, myself, I have a very strong faith. I grew up Greek Orthodox; I am a Christian and I believe strongly in my faith. And I don’t understand how people can have a strong faith and feel that it is up to them to judge what other people do. Those things contradict each other, to me. So, while I can respect your opinion, if you don’t want to be around gay people or if you don’t want to be around Muslim people or if you don’t want to be around Jewish people or the Jewish people don’t want to be around Christians or, while I can respect your opinion about that, I absolutely, there is no place on our team for you to judge yourself and say that you are better than someone else. And I let that be known when I’m recruiting. The diversity on our campus is mirrored by the diversity on our team, and that diversity encompasses a wide range of things, and if that is not something that you can embrace and appreciate and realize that if you could stop judging other people and just start observing them, without formulating a judgment, it’s going to help this world be a whole heck of a lot better, then UCLA is not the right place for you. And I’ve encountered that a lot, actually. So it’s not that our team just happens to be diverse. It’s something that I cultivate and I am very, very proud of, and I encourage it. I encourage them to talk about politics. I mean, when Michelle Selesky was on the team and a staunch Republican, and Trishna Patel was on the team and a staunch Democrat, and we would open discussion about this, and most of the girls on the team had never even thought about politics. I thought it was great. And I’ll never forget the time being in the van and talking with Mohini about what she believes and why she believes it. The same with Ariana, being Jewish, what she believes, why she believes it. I think it’s a really healthy discussion, to be able to moderate discussions like that and not allow them to formulate judgments on each other. I love it. [[Laughs]] I always tell them…I hate it when people get in this little gang mentality where they think what they are and what they do is better than what other people do. And, years and years ago, in the 90s I think, our reporter for our Daily Bruin, a guy, we took him on a trip with us and he was in a van—that was before we took buses—and we got to the hotel and asked how was your trip, and he said it was actually a little uncomfortable because the girls in the van were talking about how uncomfortable it would have been to be brought up in a lesbian household. Well, they had no idea that this guy was raised by two women, by a lesbian couple. And so it was a wonderful teaching moment, during that night we had a team meeting, and I said like, you know, What were you discussing in the vans? And the girls that were in that van were just laughing and laughing about what it would be like to be raised by two women, and the problems that would come up, and I said, you know, told them that, “Did you ever think that, to think that one of your teammates, let alone this guy’s parents, are lesbians?” And they were mortified. But it opened up a wonderful discussion for us to have about how they just thought jokes and laughing and formulating judgments and opinions about things was funny. And it wasn’t funny.
DVORA: Does it make you sad that someone would not want to come to UCLA because they don’t want, like, they don’t want to encounter different points of view?
MISS VAL: Yeah. Well, I felt it was sad from that perspective, and also felt that it was a bit hypocritical, because if you are a Christian and, you know, the life that Christ lead, He didn’t surround Himself just with people like Himself. He surrounded Himself with the dregs of society. And so if you’re supposed to be out there, ministering to people, I don’t…it doesn’t make any sense to me to surround yourself with people that are all Christians. So. I thought the message was lost. I mean…
DVORA: It is a really strong impulse, coming from a closed-off community, it’s not that you don’t want to have your…they’re very scared. I mean, I’m not sure how these other gymnasts are raised, but there’s a tremendous resistance, they’re so afraid of saying…they know that there are other good points of view out there. It’s not like they’re…But they also believe fervently that the world view that they’ve given you is the best one, and the one that you should have, and they’re very scared of it having been challenged, and sending kids out, particularly at an impressionable age, and let them decide for themselves. They’re very afraid of it, the parents and the community.
MISS VAL: I think…yeah, I do. And that is not a philosophy and a belief that I have. I encourage our student athletes to go out and seek. Don’t be Christian just because your parents are Christian. You need to be, you need to figure out your truth. And they’re at a wonderful age, when they come to college, that they’re starting to think about all of this stuff and formulate opinions and, don’t just, don’t formulate uneducated opinions.
MISS VAL: And I love it when the girls, you know. I’ve had many, many girls over the years come to me and ask me why do I believe what I believe. I love having that conversation with them. And I love showing them exactly why I believe what I believe. And I don’t tell them this is what you should believe. It’s just opening the door to say, go seek. Go seek and you shall find. Just go seek, go figure yourself out.
DVORA: Mmhmm. Kind of seems like the whole point. Go figure yourself out, not just philosophically or religiously, but what you’re doing in general in college gymnastics as well figuring yourselves…
MISS VAL: Right.
DVORA: …out for the future.
MISS VAL: Right. And I’ll be very honest with you and share stuff, and hope that I’m not sharing something I shouldn’t, but Mattie’s been having a difficult year this year. I think part of it has to do with the whole Olympic thing, and she says flat out, it didn’t have anything to do with her regrets. She doesn’t regret not continuing, or the fact that they won a gold medal. That’s not it at all. It’s kind of all just hit her, and she’s had a hard time in the gym, and being up and happy and appreciative. And the conversations that I keep on having with her are that it’s so clear to me that Mattie is exceptionally bright. She’s a really, really, really smart girl. She’s been blessed with smart, smart genes. She’s obviously very talented. And she has a very high emotional intelligence, intuitive intelligence. She gets things, social things, really well. And I’m telling her to not—what’s so bad to me is that you’re wasting even one day of this amazing experience and opportunity you can have here, because at the end of your four or five years here, you have everything you need to be anything you want to be in life. Anything. The sky is the limit. Dream big. You’ve got it all, right here, right now. And the fact that you are depressed because of what’s happened in your past is very, very sad. And it’s affecting your present, right now, today. And I’ve had multiple discussions with her about that. And I refuse to give up on her, and I will do everything I can to get her to have that Aha! moment where she becomes brilliant Mattie, because she is just a phenomenal, phenomenal young woman.
JESSICA: I have two more—I have one more question, and then we have some reader questions—unless Dvora, if you wanna—are you good?
DVORA: No, I wasn’t sure if we were going into the reader questions.
JESSICA: Ok. Yeah. So I have one more question that I’ve always wanted to know, ok. So, you know, I have probably fifty things I’ve always wanted to know, but this is one I’ve never heard you answer, so: if someone is offered a full—like, if someone, if you’re talking to an elite, and they’re considering going pro, and—or maybe it’s a level 10, and they’ve been offered a commercial, and they’re like, “oh, I totally want to do this, I want to get into the entertainment industry”, whatever—do you tell them, if you’re in the recruiting process, do you break it down for them? “Ok, if you’re gonna go pro, make sure you make X amount of money after taxes because a UCLA scholarship is worth this much money.” Do you do that?
MISS VAL: Yeah.
JESSICA: And if so, like, what is the number?
MISS VAL: Yeah. It’s…I’ve had that conversation a lot. I’ve had it with Jordyn Wieber when she called me after World Championships and was trying to decide what to do, and before the Olympic games, Kyla Ross and her father came up just specifically to talk about that, because they knew I had gone through it with other girls. I think everybody has a price. We all like it or we don’t, but I think everybody has a price, and it’s important that you figure out what that price is. The cost of an out-of-state scholarship at UCLA is $50,000, so after taxes, you figure you want to make $250,000. Well, I think it’s—my personal opinion is that the number is greater than that, because you cannot put a value on the experiences that you have being a collegiate student athlete. It’s priceless, in my opinion. And that was discussion I had with Jordyn and her parents, because Jordyn realized the value of that experience, and wants to be a part of a team, but was getting offered a substantial amount of money and didn’t see herself continuing doing gymnastics for that much longer. So…but she said, “I don’t want to give up my eligibility if it means that I can’t be a part of the team, the team experience.” So that was a great discussion to have with her, and I think she did make the right decision. You know, as much as I would love to have her competing on our team when she comes, I do think that her age and all of that allows her to make a substantial amount of money. It’s the same conversation I had with Kyla. Kyla—can I talk about Kyla?
JESSICA: Yes, please do.
MISS VAL: No, well, cause I’m not—you can’t talk about recruiting someone.
MISS VAL: I’m not talking about recruiting her, I’m talking about the conversation we had about her going professional.
MISS VAL: Ok.
JESSICA: That’s clear, yes.
MISS VAL: Cause that’s an NCAA violation, to talk about recruiting Kyla. I’m not talking about that. But Kyla’s, you know, 15 years old, 16? She’s got quite a few more years to be able to make a substantial amount of money. What’s the magic number? And her dad was a professional baseball player, so he knows the professional world well. What is the magic number? When we had the girls in 2000 come in, Jamie and Maloney and Schwikert, they did their homework. They called up Amy Chow, they asked Amy, Kerri Strug, after taxes and paying your coaches, how much money did you make? And it wasn’t enough for them to give up their collegiate experience.
JESSICA: Wow. Alright we have some questions from our listeners who wrote in because they knew you were going to be on the show and they have some questions for you. So let’s see. The first one, LetsTalkAboutGym asks “what traits and styles do you look for when recruiting new Bruins?
MISS VAL: Big beautiful gymnastics, maturity in their character, and appreciation for what UCLA is. And that’s a great academic institution. They’ve got to be excited about their academics. They need to be passionate about school and learning. And then that translates into being passionate about learning in the gym. And the standard of excellence. They’ve got to thrive in that. So when i talk to recruits face to face and I talk about the standard of excellence, academically, athletically, and personally and socially what it means to be a part of our team, there’s some who get scared, you can see it in their eyes. And there’s some that just come to life. When they get excited about talking about all of that, I know that it’s a good fit.
JESSICA: And Texas Bill, whom sounds like someone you know, he said “is this the most talented Bruins squad ever? How did Mattie Larson get so funny? And how did Zam become the greatest performer?
MISS VAL: [laughs] I don’t know Texas Bill. No this is not the most talented squad ever. No. uh-huh. Sorry, I should probably say yes, but they’re not. They’re very tenacious, they’re very fun. Even when they’re in trouble, and they’ve been in trouble a lot this year [laughs]. But last year we had a team that was really talented and they were pretty much status quo. You knew what you were going to get. This year, they’re all over the map. And Chris keeps saying, it’s like we’ve got a team of thoroughbred huskies that are pulling… we’re expecting them to pull this really heavy load a long way and they’re all going in different directions. And it’s our job to make sure they’re all going in the same direction. So it’s challenging but I like it because I like tenacious people like that. Honestly if we had Peng Peng back then I could say we’re probably one of the most talented squads we’ve ever had. But we’re a very different team without Peng. Mattie Larson is really quick witted and she’s really funny and she’s really smart. So that is, when I talk to her about being the best Mattie she can be, that’s that combination of person that I hope to develop in her that she can be every day of her life without having these highs and lows that she does. And then Vanessa performance quality, Vanessa’s just a sponge. And once we learned that Vanessa is… she’s by far the most visual learner that we’ve ever worked with, kind of to a savant stage, and we start coaching her differently, she’s just blossomed. When I choreographed with her, it was very funny, in fact it just happened two days ago. I took a part of her routine and I switched it from one side of the floor to the other so we could do it in the mirrors so she could see what she looked like. And when she went back to the other side of the floor, she did it as if she was facing the mirror. And I said, “I knew you were going to do that, Zam.” Because she’s such a visual learner. And I had to go over the same thing all over again, break it down all over again for her facing the other way. And I think that’s why she’s become a great performer.
MISS VAL: On beam, on beam she tries to be Elise. She says she brings out her inner Hoppy. We call Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs Hoppy. And when she’s sharp and she’s performing, she’s pretending to be Elyse.
JESSICA: That’s so adorable!
MISS VAL: I know that’s a good little nugget, huh?
JESSICA: That is! I love that! Who wouldn’t want to be Hoppy on beam? Hello!
MISS VAL: Yeah and she started that about two years ago. Because she’s so fluid and mellifluous up there and it’s like damn, you give yourself way too much time to fall off and wobble.
MISS VAL: Just be Hoppy. So I said I want you to go through a whole routine just being Hoppy. And it was sharp and crisp and clear, and you could see her finishing her skills like Elyse did. And the other day she did this beautiful routine and she got off and she looked at me and says, “I brought out my inner Hoppy.”
JESSICA: Awwww, I love her! Ok so does this mean… you mentioned Peng Peng. So does this mean that she wouldn’t even do bars maybe toward the end of the season if she’s ready?
MISS VAL: I think, actually I think she’s going to be ready to do bars and beam. I think she’ll get cleared in February and she is a maniac with her training. The only other person I’ve ever seen like her is Kate Richardson. Peng keeps herself busy with constructive conditioning and training for the entire time we are in the gym. She’s in better shape than she has literally ever been in. And I think she will be ready to go, and at that point we’re going to need to determine if she’s going to be able to score higher than someone we already have in. And are we going to use one of her four years for one event or two events. I would imagine that we would, especially the teams we’re hosting. But you know that question will be answered in late February.
JESSICA: Ooh that’s very exciting! Ok we have one final question from a listener, Danell Pestch, and she would like to know about.. you know you’ve talked a lot about how the design process works and how you do the leotards with Rebecca’s Mom’s Leotards, but she wants to know more specially how the production process works. Do you design the leotards? Do you actually sketch them out and color and embellish them, or is it a collective staff decision? Do you use existing designs from Rebecca’s Mom and then put them together?
MISS VAL: No, no. It’s very simple. I go through People magazine and I pull out all the pretty dresses from the Academy Awards that I like, front or back. And I have my little folder. And then every year, Candy, who’s from Rebecca’s Mom, Candy [inaudible]. She and I get together and we go, “oh this is different, let’s try this one! Oh this is different.” And the she’ll make up some samples and bring them in without the glitz and glamour on them. And I notoriously tell her to drop it lower in the front and drop it lower in the back. And it’s not because I want them to be risque. It’s because I’m used to the ballet costumes and the tutus that I used to wear. And dancers don’t have to worry about their bosoms because they don’t usually have any. So to me it’s no big deal to show where the cleavage should be because I never dealt with cleavage. So we argue about that, how low we can go and all that. And we have the girls try them on, how do they fit, how do they feel, can they move in them. And she’ll usually start with a sample and she’ll usually tweak it two or three times and bring it in for the girls to try on before she shows all the glitz on it, and then we have our final product. But it always starts with me pulling out a picture from a magazine.
JESSICA: Can you tell, for the people who haven’t heard the story, can you tell the Will and Grace story?
MISS VAL: [laughs] Yes.
JESSICA: Thank you!
MISS VAL: I will make it short. My very best friend in the whole wide world, his name is Paul, and he and I lived together for eight years. He is gay. Obviously before I got married. And he was dating someone that whenever they would go out, they would ask me if I wanted to join them, go to dinner. And I thought it was just a free meal so I thought ok I’ll go. And I would go to dinner with them and we would tell stories, just the funny things that happen when I straight woman lives with a gay man. And including, you know, my water bra. It didn’t burst and squirt, but I was wearing a water bra and we talked about the fact that I walked out one morning and I had this cleavage and Paul went, “whoa, where did those come from?” And said, you know, they’re my water bra. And so the guys thought we were hysterical, and they dated for quite a few months, and they broke up. And literally a year later Paul and I were sitting on the sofa watching the pilot of Will and Grace and we looked at each other and we said, “oh my gosh, that’s our lives verbatim! That’s exactly what we live!” And when the credits ran and it sid “created by” and it showed the people it had been created by, one of the gentlemen on there had been the guy that Paul had dated. So, no I have not received any residuals from that. And a lot of the episodes were taken from… I’m sure they happened to other gay guys and straight women friendships, but they were verbatim to what Paul and I had lived.
JESSICA: I love that story.
MISS VAL: And I had no chest and I had very curly hair, it’s just not red, and I’m not Jewish. But he is hot, so.
JESSICA: [laughs] Ok we are going to now, to wrap this interview up, we are going to do a little game, which I’m so excited about. So we’re going to do a lightning round, and
MISS VAL: Love lightning rounds!
JESSICA: Yes! Ok, so, the plan is, it’s like word association. So I’m going to say a word or phrase, and you just give me a one word answer or very short phrase. And you have to go as fast as you can, 60 seconds.
MISS VAL: Great.
JESSICA: Ok, ready?
MISS VAL: Yes
JESSICA: Ok, buttshelf
MISS VAL: Nastia
JESSICA: Peng Peng
MISS VAL: Lee
JESSICA: Gabby Douglas
MISS VAL: Hair
MISS VAL: Pick ‘em
JESSICA: Sexiest man alive
MISS VAL: Oh alive? Well dead would be John F. Kennedy Jr. Alive, Jon Bon Jovi
JESSICA: Sexiest male gymnast ever
MISS VAL: Dragulescu
JESSICA: Vanessa Zamarripa
MISS VAL: Absolutely darling
JESSICA: Lindsay Lohan
MISS VAL: Very sad
JESSICA: Sad wrist syndrome
MISS VAL: Jessica O’Beirne hates it
JESSICA: Sexiest woman alive
MISS VAL: The blonde british woman… why is her… the actress… her, her name is escaping me. Short blonde hair. Blonde British accent, are you guys going to help me out here?
DVORA: Helen Mirren? Are you talking old or young?
MISS VAL: Helen Mirren.
JESSICA: Helen Mirren! Oh yeah she’s hot. Ok, vajazzling.
MISS VAL: Va-what?
MISS VAL: What?
JESSICA: Vajazzling! It’s when you bedazzle your va-jay-jay.
MISS VAL: Ooooooh. I had no idea. Way too much effort. Guys don’t give a crap about that. I don’t know if girls do, but no.
JESSICA: Long-distance relationships
MISS VAL: Loved them. Absolutely… I was the queen of long-distance relationships.
JESSICA: Sexiest female gymnast
MISS VAL: Boginskaya
MISS VAL: Therapy
JESSICA: Chris Waller
MISS VAL: Remarkable
JESSICA: Best dancer I’ve ever coached
MISS VAL: [long pause] probably…
JESSICA: I’m giving you bonus time now, you’re very slow at this lightning round
MISS VAL: I know it, this lightning round is killing me. I’m not going to answer that. I’m going to answer the quickest study I’ve ever coached.
MISS VAL: And that’s because she just shocked me. Is Sophina DeJesus. Oh my goodness, that girl. Normally when I… I’m sorry lightning round ok we’re taking a pause. Normally like when you choreograph you do something and then you go “what did I do?” and they go “I don’t know” and try to figure it out again. I will do something, she will mimic it, and I’ll say, “what did I do?” and she’s like “you did this” and she has it down like photographic memory choreographically.
JESSICA: Best performer I’ve ever coached
MISS VAL: Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs
MISS VAL: Why not
JESSICA: Favorite choreographer
MISS VAL: I don’t have one. I actually… ok, George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, and my new favorite Travis Wall.
JESSICA: Favorite gymnastics choreographer
MISS VAL: Dominic
JESSICA: Hm, Dominic…
MISS VAL: Zito
JESSICA: Zito. Mustaches
MISS VAL: Love ‘em.
JESSICA: London Olympics…
MISS VAL: On women or on men?
MISS VAL: Oh, love them. I love facial hair.
JESSICA: [laughs] London Olympics
MISS VAL: London Olympics… It was extremely exciting. I couldn’t get past the pink in the arena. And that obnoxious woman that would not stop commentating the whole time.
MISS VAL: Homeland
JESSICA: Stella Umeh
MISS VAL: What?
JESSICA: Stella Umeh
MISS VAL: Stella Umeh?
MISS VAL: Crazy
JESSICA: [laughs] Alright well done. Excellent lightning round. Even though you took pauses
MISS VAL: I did
JESSICA: But we’ll let it pass because you answered
MISS VAL: Oh you know who I should have said for most… what was it, the best dancer I’ve ever worked with?
JESSICA: Yeah, best dancer you’ve ever coached.
MISS VAL: Alright. Let’s go back to that one.
MISS VAL: Ask me again.
JESSICA: Best dancer you’ve ever coached
MISS VAL: Jessica O’Beirne.
JESSICA: Ah! Thank you! Thank you! Well now you have to tell the story.
MISS VAL: That’s the truth because…
MISS VAL: Do you know what Jessica… what I gave Jessica for her wedding gift?
UNCLE TIM: No…
BLYTHE: Enlighten us
MISS VAL: Ok I’d never met her fiance Coop. I get this call…
[Jessica tells others to take a pause]
MISS VAL: from this very darling man, who says “Miss Val you don’t know me, but I know such much about you. I’m Coop, I’m Jessica O’Beirne’s fiance.” I’m like oh I can’t wait to meet you, blah blah blah. And he says, “I want to give Jessica a priceless wedding gift. I don’t care how much it costs me, I want her to have a floor routine by Miss Val.” I thought he was the craziest human on the planet. And I go “are you serious?” And I thought it was a joke and he said “no no no seriously I want you to choreograph a routine for her and that’s going to be my wedding gift to her.” And I said “well obviously I’m honored and it’s my pleasure to do this for free.” And I choreographed a routine for Jessica O’Beirne. And it was stunning.
JESSICA: Best four hours of my entire life.
MISS VAL: [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: Is it on YouTube?
JESSICA: No, it’s not on YouTube. Because it’s so precious, I just…
MISS VAL: She puts everything else on Youtube but she won’t put her own floor routine on YouTube.
JESSICA: [laughs] There are videos of me messing around on YouTube but that’s not up yet. It’s just… ah. But let me tell you how my husband told me about this. So he.. it’s like five days before the wedding and he brings me into the… he’s like “I’m going to give you your wedding gift now.” And I’m like no no no. So he takes me in front of the computer and there’s a picture of… he has like this gymnast like running to Miss Val after a meet but it’s like my head is on her. And it says like “you’ve supported the team now let’s see what you can do.” And I was like “what is this? What are you talking about?” And then he’s like “Miss Val’s going to do a routine for you as a wedding gift. And I was just like..
MISS VAL: [laughs]
JESSICA: I didn’t believe him, and then of course I burst into tears, and of course he’s taking pictures of me crying my eyes out and sending them to Miss Val. And then…
MISS VAL: So weird
JESSICA: [laughs] And then he tells me “I told you about it five days before the wedding because I knew that you wouldn’t be able to think about anything but this, so I need to make sure that you can actually concentrate on me when we get to the wedding ceremony.
MISS VAL: [laughs]
JESSICA: And he was totally right, that’s all I could think about until the actual day of the wedding.
MISS VAL: And then Jess had to get in shape. She wouldn’t let me choreograph it until she got in shape [laughs]
JESSICA: That’s right. I had to get in serious shape. That was like four hours of choreography! Ah! I feel asleep at like 4:00 that day and slept till the next morning.
MISS VAL: Thank you all for your time, this was fun!
JESSICA: Thank you so much
DVORA: Thank you
BLYTHE: Thank you very much
ALLISON TAYLOR: This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. Elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com, that’s sportz with a z, and save $5 on your next purchase with the code Gymcast.