JESSICA: This is episode 75, a classic all interview episode for you today. We had a scheduling conflict with Aly Raisman so dont worry though she will be back and we will ask her all of your burning gymnastics questions when we interview her. This episode that were 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 youve 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 its 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 Nastias 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. Im here with:
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Mens Gym
DVORA: Dvora Meyers from Unorthodox Gymnastics
JESSICA: And Im Jessica OBeirne from masters-gymnastics.com.
JESSICA: This weeks 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 thats 15% off right now are hot spots and the hot block. You know when you have a bunch of little tinies and youre working on vault drills but theres only one board available so you put a carpet square and that slides or youre trying to tell them to jump on a line and its 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 theyre 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. Thats 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 mens 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 theyve 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 were 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 werent prepared for this! So its 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 theres anything you definitely you want to talk about, that youve never been able to talk about, or something that youve never been asked that youve 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. Well 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 dont come to thisI dont come to this profession as a gymnastics fan. You know, youre all here as gymnastics fans. Im not here as a gymnastics fan. Im 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, Im just like .so, could you justcause actually I was thinking as you were speaking, that I wish we were recording at that moment.
JESSICA: We are recording. Were 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? Im sorry, I just got a little confused, as I said. I apologize.
MISS VAL: No, its fine, its fine. Im always wary about, when Im being interviewed, to me it seems like its kind of its light fluff. What do you think about artistry? Ok, well I can talk about artistry until the cows come home, right. And Im fine to talk about that, because people want to talk to me about artistry all the time. I think that its a very deep, philosophical conversation to have, but its about, why does gymnastics matter? Because, to me, athletics is about bragging rights. Being able to say, We beat you. Whats sowhy 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 Im Debbie Frickin Downer?
DVORA: No no no! Its, like, I feel with in an existentialist sort of territory. Like, whyso you dont want to be asked, and I wasnt planning on asking you why gymnastics was important, but I will stay away from that.
MISS VAL: Say that again?
DVORA: I said I wasnt planning on asking you why gymnastics matters, because I think we come from the assumption that itwell, we all love it, and thats kind of our starting point for discussion.
MISS VAL: Right. So let me ask you, why does it matter?
DVORA: I cant say that it does. I mean, I cant say it does more than anything I enjoy in this world: writing, telling jokes. And thats what it boils down to, Im saying, in peoples lives here.
JESSICA: I mean, I think I will argue that, for me, I feel like literally saved my life in the past, andlets get super deep right awayand I feel like anything else, like sports can be ait doesnt 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 its done correctly, and if its 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 thats why it matters.
MISS VAL: I agree, because I think once you getexcuse me, I cut someone off.
BLYTHE: No no, you didnt, 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 Im on the floor, because I find that Im very competitive, which I didnt know I growing up that I was competitive. And Im extremely competitive. But at the end of the day, I think gymnastics matters because its, from what both of you just said, it was, any type of athletics challenges you and your core foundation, toreally, 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 dont think theres 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 thats 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 were not saving lives here, but I think gymnastics matters to me because itI 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, its not just the sport itself. Its everyone thinks and brings their views and activities, whether its 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 youre in a meet, and the meet starts with the National Anthem, its 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 wouldnt be allowed to do it, and B. Youd be walking around covered from head to toe.
DVORA: Yeah, and, my, as I said, my backgroundI didnt 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 didnt 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, its 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 youre 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 dont 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 dont 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 youre 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 isnthelping them to see that their gymnastics training, especially when theyre in college and you get four years of it and you get four hours a day of it, of gymnastics traininguse this as a life skill course. Use gymnastics, the hours that youre 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 doesnt 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 its something thats 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 whats really interesting to me is how do the gymnasts stop thinking of themselves as gymnasts once they stop doing it?
MISS VAL: Its 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. Shes in the best physical condition of her collegiate career. Shes 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 shes in constant pain. But shes been cleared to train because its not that big and its not getting bigger so she can train to tolerance. She was in my office sobbing the other day. She said, you know I dont want to look back at the end of the season and just have regrets that it wasnt everything that I wanted it to be. And so Im having consistent dialogue with her about stop basing the value to the team and the value of gymnastics based on whether youre 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 youve 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. Youre going to compete in the national championship. Youre going to score 9.9 on three events at the NCAA. Or ok Monique. Youre not going to be able to compete much this year because your shoulders just not going to allow you to but youre gonna leave a legacy here like Niki Tom and the future generations are going to to talk about Monique de la Torre like youre 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 thats 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. Theres no guarantee that theyll get it during the time that theyre 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 Woodens 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 wasnt 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 dont have backgrounds in performance. And you have a background in performance, what you are some of your highlights as a dancer, lets 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 wasnt 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 whats going to determine my significance in this performance. So I jumped up. Everybody was silent. The whole audience, it was like they werent 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. Its 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 its those human moments, that is when you connect with an audience or when you connect with another person or in a relationship. Its being human. Not being perfect. Be human.
DVORA: Its sort of like in sketch comedy when you watch it and you know youre enjoying it, but its always fun when an actor kind of breaks and starts laughing. Im thinking of Saturday Night Live. Those are just always fun moments. You dont want it all the time, but every once in a while you realize theyre having fun, theyre in the joke. Were 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, its why we like bloopers so much. I cant tell you. When Im speaking, I dont 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 dont use cards or notes. And there are times when Im going off, Ill be speaking to a thousand people and Ill say what the heck was my point? I cant even remember my point. And everybody will laugh. Its like they get drawn in that much more. So thats a really important lesson I try to instill in these athletes on my team is that please dont ever think that your success is based on being perfect. Its not. And that is another great joy of coaching. I cant tell you an athlete that has had a perfect meet even though they got a 40. They havent had a perfect meet. Vanessa went 9.98 at national championships last year. You know, it wasnt perfect. Youre going to have mistakes. And its how you work through them that is a life skill and that will carry you through everything else you do in life.
DVORA: Its 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 theyre trying to be perfect, trying to do everything right. And its interesting that you say that. You seem to be de-emphasizing when youre teaching the girls. Youre de-emphasizing perfection.
MISS VAL: I emphasize intention. I get really excited when we have a hard day, when were struggling and girls are falling all over the place. Because now lets see what kind of team we are. Now lets see what type of character we have. Now lets 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? Im thinking more of the traditional sports like basketball, football. You know you have fumbles. There isnt the same sort of emphasis on no mistakes. None whatsoever.
MISS VAL: I think its golf.
DVORA: Golf. Thats one sport I dont know about.
MISS VAL: Only because theres no one to pass the ball to. Its just you. Its just like gymnastics. You get nervous up there on the beam. You cant pass the ball to someone else. Youve got to finish that routine. Second of all, golf, you can hit that drive out into the rough but that doesnt mean youre going to lose the game. Its just like gymnastics. You can have a fall on beam but if you pick it up and finish that routine, that doesnt mean youre going to lose the meet. Golf reminds me a lot of gymnastics because you cannot play a perfect golf game. You cant. And its very difficult, near impossible, to have a perfect meet on four events. But its how you work through them that will determine whether youre still successful at the end of it or not.
DVORA: So kind of piggy backing on that thought would you say that, and were 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 dont think its a good idea because the flipside of this coin, of what Im 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 its difficult to understand. Entertainment! Lets 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 dont 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 wasnt 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 arent obsessed with gymnastics?
MISS VAL: So whats 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 shes going to a live show and she knows shes not getting anywhere near that in terms of skill level and for her, the dance aspect, the performance aspect wasnt enough to compensate. The performance wasnt necessarily good enough to make up for the lack of difficulty. And so how do we present gymnastics in professional settings? Because you cant 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, shes not 13. She said she felt like, you know, she wasnt 13 and screaming in the audience. It wasnt who she was. She wanted to see a good show. And she felt like she didnt get to see one.
MISS VAL: I think thats 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. Its 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 Ive 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 theres two different concepts there. Its 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. Youre going to come in and youre going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours. From the top of the show to the finish of it. Its going to be tight run show. Its going to be something that youre 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 youre 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 didnt 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 its an important part of our sport. I think its great for us to be able to see the Fierce Five having fun with their hair down; theyre normal girls. And for the mens side, for us to see them as the sexy hot-bodied men, because you dont 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 dont see them doing a lot of circles and quads but its very entertaining. Ive wanted to do a gymnastics Nutcracker for years.
DVORA: Oh you should.
MISS VAL: Id just have to get the funding and line up a producer.
JESSICA: Im on it.
MISS VAL: Im on it.
DVORA: I have a friend who does a break dancing version of The Nutcracker and its kind of amazing. Well 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 heres 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 doesnt 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. Its 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 doesnt 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 doesnt dictate that it has to happen? You dont.
DVORA: And what about like previous generations Code of Points because we have talked about the decreasing artistry, or seemingly decreasing artistry. Its something thats 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 NCAAs with Kathy Johnson. People dont 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 lets just say your start value is at a 9.7, lets 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 were going to make these incredibly difficult leaps and jumps part of our difficulty score. And thats 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 doesnt have anything to do with them. When I think of artistry, the component of artistry in a score isnt necessarily about the level of skills in leaps and jumps and turns youre doing. Thats not artistry. Thats skills. Thats just like if you do E leaps, its like doing an E tumbling pass. Its just another skill. The artistry is, and you know Ive listened to your last broadcast or podcast and I totally agree. I think to put it as simply as possible, its about evoking some impressive emotion, or emotion based on an impressive performance. And it doesnt 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 thats just your personal preference. But that doesnt mean its bad artistry.
DVORA: Well its 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. Im not saying that Aly Raisman shouldnt 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 its 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 didnt 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 thats great for hip hop performance. Ours isnt a hip hop performance. Its 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 dont wanna see hip hop on the floor. But thats a classic example of what Im 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. Hes 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 dont get bored. And even though you dont see all the skills that they can do in competition, because as you well know, its not worth it for us to throw all the skills that they can do, we do those skills in the gym. And thats 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 thats at your level to push you and thats what we do in our gym every day. Weve got Sam Peszek and Alyssa Pritchett. Whos going to be the first one to throw the double double on floor? Its 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, its not necessarily a given that theyre 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 dont know. I think its a combination, Im just guessing honestly because Ive never really thought about it. I think its they have a tremendous appreciation for being paid for the first time in their lives to do gymnastics. Its not something they grow up expecting and its not something they feel entitled to because its so rare for them. I think its that combined with they dont grow up watching a lot of collegiate gymnastics meets and they dont grow up going to collegiate gymnastics meets and so its so new to them that oh my gosh look at all this energy thats put into my sport! And for the first time, theyre treated like professionals. They have everything they need to be successful that they thrive in that environment. They didnt grow up even expecting it. They didnt even know it existed. I cant tell you how many Canadian parents they dont understand. No you dont have to buy your leotards. No you dont have to pay for their travel. No really you dont. Its 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? Im being given a college scholarship. Im getting my education paid for and I get to do gymnastics. Its 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. Im not interested any names but what happens when a gymnast doesnt thrive or does not work out or doesnt 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 were spending more time on them than the other 15 student athletes on our team, then its time to cut ties. When I just realize that they just dont appreciate what they have been given. And unfortunately, a lot of time its 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 Im just being totally unreasonable. And so when it comes to that, then the athlete doesnt have a chance. If the parents and I are not on the same page, then I dont have a chance, I dont have a very good chance to get that student athlete to understand the difference throughout the season.
DVORA: Im just curious as toif 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 arent 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 arent gymnastics expectations. Theyre 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 dont 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 dont 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 doesnt 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 Im not happy everyday. Well first of all, yeah you can decide to be happy. Ok. Your life does not suck that badly that you cant 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 doesnt. So those are the types of things that dont fly on our team. Ive never ever not renewed someones scholarship or kicked someone off the team because of their gymnastics. Its because of a sense of entitlement. And they think there are different rules for them and there arent.
DVORA: Its difficult to imagine. I mean Ive never done any high level gymnastics but its 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 its good or its bad and their coach comes up to them and they dont even look at the coach. The coach is trying to coach them and the athlete doesnt even look at them. Ok well maybe because thats how the coach treats them like that in the gym and puts on a different face in competition. I dont know. But I know thats not how we treat our athletes. Do unto others as you wish them do unto you. If Im going to treat you with respect and dignity and if Im going to even when youre being a brat, Im 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 weve gotten athletes in and thats their pattern of behavior. When you coach them, they think that theyre in trouble and they dont look at you, they become very robotic and its like why are you acting like Im whipping you? Im simply helping you get your legs straight on a back handspring. Its 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 thats when, thats 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 youre intending to be respectful to your coaches and listen to whats being given and respectful to your teammates and the encouragement theyre 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 its kind of
MISS VAL: And thats really, really, really hard, and its really hard, and what weve been going through nowweve been putting in full floor routines togetherand, you know, were doing routines and stopping before their last pass. Ok, well theyre 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. Its ok if they make a mistake, if they have a fall. Its ok. Thats where we are in our training right now. But to get them to realize that its ok, and just keep working, just keep improving, its ok. You dont have to get down on yourself. Thats a huge issue were 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, soand 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]] Ive always felt that everybodyIve always felt that the system we have in our country is backwards. Its 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 teachers 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 doesnt mean its always fun. I mean, I believe in tough love, definitely; in discipline and structure and all of that. But, I do think its 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 Masters Degree, in some sort of anatomy, physiology, biology, psychology, something.
MISS VAL: No, excuse me, to coach beginners. Im 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 its exactly the opposite.
DVORA: Mmhmm. Theyd have to start paying the beginner level coaches a lot better. [[Laughs]] If they had that
MISS VAL: Yeah, and school systems and everything. Yeah.
DVORA: Yeah. Someone who coached
MISS VAL: Yeah, and really, if Iif you want to be a great coach, then go get your Masters in Psychology. Go get philosophy. You know, just go, go study the human psyche, andbecause 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, youre 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 dont, 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 theyre 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: Its 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 shell do it. And I said, She probably will do it. But theres a better way. There is another way, and its a better way, because the other way, that Im going to do, is Im going to instill in her the self-worth and the confidence that she can rely on when shes out there competing, and Im not standing next to her yelling. So theres 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 its 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 thats, 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 youre always going to see it. I think theres always going to be the people that coach from an abusive standpoint, and its, you know, its whenever I think of the dichotomy of that, I think of Coach Wooden and Bobby Knight. Im sorry, you guys know basketball?
JESSICA: Yeah, you know, Bobby Knight, the chair thrower.
MISS VAL: Yeah, and thats 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 doesnt affect them, and there are other athletes that it just, it totally destroys their value, their self-worth. And, you know, thats 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 its and I mean, I have absolutely no training in it, so I do the best job I can, and Im not great at it, but its 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 its different in other countries, and not to say that theyre more positive than other countries, but you know theres this positive coaching alliance that I think Phil, the basketball guy in LA, I know youll his name
MISS VAL: Jackson?
JESSICA: Yes, thank you. Hes a big proponent of, and that coaching alliance I think Ive seen that its 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 theres 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 Im wondering if you think that well ever really see a change in that system, that well 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 dont feel comfortable doing that.
MISS VAL: Yes, I do.
JESSICA: Good. That gives me hope.
MISS VAL: Yeah. Im sorry.
JESSICA: No, you dont have to be sorry. Thats 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 weve 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 were at a turning point in gymnastics, where were going to see more out gymnasts? Obviously, theres tons of gay gymnasts competing, but that theyll be comfortable coming out in a sport thats judged, and that well maybe even see a head coach thats out? I mean, I know that in the NCAA right now, theres not a single gay head coach.
MISS VAL: Hmm. Yeah, absolutely I do. And you know what, I dont know if Im a good person to ask that question to, because I really have a hard time with prejudice. I just dont 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 its my own ignorance, but its probably because I just dont 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 its not so scary out there, and the doors open and other people will poke their head through and walk through the door. Thats always the way it is. Once someone breaks the glass ceiling, then theres 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 dont is because I dont think about it. I dont, it doesnt I just cant 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 problemsat least, we dont see them publiclyand 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 its 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 doesnt naturally happen. Its notour program isnt 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, its just they wanted to go to a place that wont 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 Im 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 dont believe that its 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 dont 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 dont want to be around gay people or if you dont want to be around Muslim people or if you dont want to be around Jewish people or the Jewish people dont 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 Im 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, its going to help this world be a whole heck of a lot better, then UCLA is not the right place for you. And Ive encountered that a lot, actually. So its not that our team just happens to be diverse. Its 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 Ill 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 its 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 vanthat was before we took busesand 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 guys 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 wasnt funny.
DVORA: Does it make you sad that someone would not want to come to UCLA because they dont want, like, they dont 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 didnt surround Himself just with people like Himself. He surrounded Himself with the dregs of society. And so if youre supposed to be out there, ministering to people, I dont it doesnt 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, its not that you dont want to have your theyre very scared. I mean, Im not sure how these other gymnasts are raised, but theres a tremendous resistance, theyre so afraid of saying they know that there are other good points of view out there. Its not like theyre But they also believe fervently that the world view that theyve given you is the best one, and the one that you should have, and theyre very scared of it having been challenged, and sending kids out, particularly at an impressionable age, and let them decide for themselves. Theyre 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. Dont be Christian just because your parents are Christian. You need to be, you need to figure out your truth. And theyre at a wonderful age, when they come to college, that theyre starting to think about all of this stuff and formulate opinions and, dont just, dont formulate uneducated opinions.
MISS VAL: And I love it when the girls, you know. Ive 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 dont tell them this is what you should believe. Its 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 youre doing in general in college gymnastics as well figuring yourselves
MISS VAL: Right.
DVORA: out for the future.
MISS VAL: Right. And Ill be very honest with you and share stuff, and hope that Im not sharing something I shouldnt, but Matties 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 didnt have anything to do with her regrets. She doesnt regret not continuing, or the fact that they won a gold medal. Thats not it at all. Its kind of all just hit her, and shes 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 its so clear to me that Mattie is exceptionally bright. Shes a really, really, really smart girl. Shes been blessed with smart, smart genes. Shes obviously very talented. And she has a very high emotional intelligence, intuitive intelligence. She gets things, social things, really well. And Im telling her to notwhats so bad to me is that youre 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. Youve got it all, right here, right now. And the fact that you are depressed because of whats happened in your past is very, very sad. And its affecting your present, right now, today. And Ive 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 moreI have one more question, and then we have some reader questionsunless Dvora, if you wannaare you good?
DVORA: No, I wasnt sure if we were going into the reader questions.
JESSICA: Ok. Yeah. So I have one more question that Ive always wanted to know, ok. So, you know, I have probably fifty things Ive always wanted to know, but this is one Ive never heard you answer, so: if someone is offered a fulllike, if someone, if youre talking to an elite, and theyre considering going pro, andor maybe its a level 10, and theyve been offered a commercial, and theyre like, oh, I totally want to do this, I want to get into the entertainment industry, whateverdo you tell them, if youre in the recruiting process, do you break it down for them? Ok, if youre 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. Its Ive had that conversation a lot. Ive 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 dont, but I think everybody has a price, and its 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 itsmy 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. Its 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 didnt see herself continuing doing gymnastics for that much longer. So but she said, I dont want to give up my eligibility if it means that I cant 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. Its the same conversation I had with Kyla. Kylacan I talk about Kyla?
JESSICA: Yes, please do.
MISS VAL: No, well, cause Im notyou cant talk about recruiting someone.
MISS VAL: Im not talking about recruiting her, Im talking about the conversation we had about her going professional.
MISS VAL: Ok.
JESSICA: Thats clear, yes.
MISS VAL: Cause thats an NCAA violation, to talk about recruiting Kyla. Im not talking about that. But Kylas, you know, 15 years old, 16? Shes got quite a few more years to be able to make a substantial amount of money. Whats 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 wasnt 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 lets 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 thats a great academic institution. Theyve 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. Theyve 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, theres some who get scared, you can see it in their eyes. And theres some that just come to life. When they get excited about talking about all of that, I know that its 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 dont know Texas Bill. No this is not the most talented squad ever. No. uh-huh. Sorry, I should probably say yes, but theyre not. Theyre very tenacious, theyre very fun. Even when theyre in trouble, and theyve 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, theyre all over the map. And Chris keeps saying, its like weve got a team of thoroughbred huskies that are pulling were expecting them to pull this really heavy load a long way and theyre all going in different directions. And its our job to make sure theyre all going in the same direction. So its challenging but I like it because I like tenacious people like that. Honestly if we had Peng Peng back then I could say were probably one of the most talented squads weve ever had. But were a very different team without Peng. Mattie Larson is really quick witted and shes really funny and shes really smart. So that is, when I talk to her about being the best Mattie she can be, thats 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, Vanessas just a sponge. And once we learned that Vanessa is shes by far the most visual learner that weve ever worked with, kind of to a savant stage, and we start coaching her differently, shes 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 shes 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 thats why shes 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 shes sharp and shes performing, shes pretending to be Elyse.
JESSICA: Thats so adorable!
MISS VAL: I know thats a good little nugget, huh?
JESSICA: That is! I love that! Who wouldnt want to be Hoppy on beam? Hello!
MISS VAL: Yeah and she started that about two years ago. Because shes so fluid and mellifluous up there and its 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 wouldnt even do bars maybe toward the end of the season if shes ready?
MISS VAL: I think, actually I think shes going to be ready to do bars and beam. I think shell get cleared in February and she is a maniac with her training. The only other person Ive 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. Shes in better shape than she has literally ever been in. And I think she will be ready to go, and at that point were going to need to determine if shes 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 were hosting. But you know that question will be answered in late February.
JESSICA: Ooh thats very exciting! Ok we have one final question from a listener, Danell Pestch, and she would like to know about.. you know youve talked a lot about how the design process works and how you do the leotards with Rebeccas Moms 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 Rebeccas Mom and then put them together?
MISS VAL: No, no. Its 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, whos from Rebeccas Mom, Candy [inaudible]. She and I get together and we go, oh this is different, lets try this one! Oh this is different. And the shell 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 its not because I want them to be risque. Its because Im used to the ballet costumes and the tutus that I used to wear. And dancers dont have to worry about their bosoms because they dont usually have any. So to me its 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 shell usually start with a sample and shell 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 havent 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 Ill 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 didnt 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, theyre 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, thats our lives verbatim! Thats 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 Im 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, its just not red, and Im 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 Im so excited about. So were going to do a lightning round, and
MISS VAL: Love lightning rounds!
JESSICA: Yes! Ok, so, the plan is, its like word association. So Im 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 OBeirne 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 shes hot. Ok, vajazzling.
MISS VAL: Va-what?
MISS VAL: What?
JESSICA: Vajazzling! Its when you bedazzle your va-jay-jay.
MISS VAL: Ooooooh. I had no idea. Way too much effort. Guys dont give a crap about that. I dont 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 Ive ever coached
MISS VAL: [long pause] probably
JESSICA: Im giving you bonus time now, youre very slow at this lightning round
MISS VAL: I know it, this lightning round is killing me. Im not going to answer that. Im going to answer the quickest study Ive ever coached.
MISS VAL: And thats because she just shocked me. Is Sophina DeJesus. Oh my goodness, that girl. Normally when I Im sorry lightning round ok were taking a pause. Normally like when you choreograph you do something and then you go what did I do? and they go I dont know and try to figure it out again. I will do something, she will mimic it, and Ill say, what did I do? and shes like you did this and she has it down like photographic memory choreographically.
JESSICA: Best performer Ive ever coached
MISS VAL: Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs
MISS VAL: Why not
JESSICA: Favorite choreographer
MISS VAL: I dont 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 couldnt 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 well let it pass because you answered
MISS VAL: Oh you know who I should have said for most what was it, the best dancer Ive ever worked with?
JESSICA: Yeah, best dancer youve ever coached.
MISS VAL: Alright. Lets go back to that one.
MISS VAL: Ask me again.
JESSICA: Best dancer youve ever coached
MISS VAL: Jessica OBeirne.
JESSICA: Ah! Thank you! Thank you! Well now you have to tell the story.
MISS VAL: Thats 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 Id 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 dont know me, but I know such much about you. Im Coop, Im Jessica OBeirnes fiance. Im like oh I cant wait to meet you, blah blah blah. And he says, I want to give Jessica a priceless wedding gift. I dont 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 thats going to be my wedding gift to her. And I said well obviously Im honored and its my pleasure to do this for free. And I choreographed a routine for Jessica OBeirne. And it was stunning.
JESSICA: Best four hours of my entire life.
MISS VAL: [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: Is it on YouTube?
JESSICA: No, its not on YouTube. Because its so precious, I just
MISS VAL: She puts everything else on Youtube but she wont put her own floor routine on YouTube.
JESSICA: [laughs] There are videos of me messing around on YouTube but thats not up yet. Its just ah. But let me tell you how my husband told me about this. So he.. its like five days before the wedding and he brings me into the hes like Im going to give you your wedding gift now. And Im like no no no. So he takes me in front of the computer and theres a picture of he has like this gymnast like running to Miss Val after a meet but its like my head is on her. And it says like youve supported the team now lets see what you can do. And I was like what is this? What are you talking about? And then hes like Miss Vals going to do a routine for you as a wedding gift. And I was just like..
MISS VAL: [laughs]
JESSICA: I didnt believe him, and then of course I burst into tears, and of course hes 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 wouldnt 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, thats all I could think about until the actual day of the wedding.
MISS VAL: And then Jess had to get in shape. She wouldnt let me choreograph it until she got in shape [laughs]
JESSICA: Thats 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. Weve got your back.
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com, thats sportz with a z, and save $5 on your next purchase with the code Gymcast.