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It's Your Move


By Jack Feuer

Published Sep 14, 2018 8:00 AM

Valorie Kondos Field's success in gymnastics coaching is rooted in her past endeavors — and now made public in her new book.

Photos by Jessica Pons.

Editor's note: On Sept. 20, 2018, Miss Val announced that she will retire at the end of the 2019 season.

The Pac-12 coach of the century glides through the doors of the John Wooden Center one minute early for an interview and, characteristically, apologizes for being late. She flashes her famous megawatt smile and leads her visitor up the stairs to her office, stopping constantly to say hello to the security guards, the janitors, the athletes, her fellow coaches. She treats every one of them like she’s the fan and they’re the iconic women’s gymnastics coach who’s won seven NCAA titles.

The latest win took place this past April: In one of the most breathtaking, thrilling and improbable comebacks in the history of college athletics, the Bruins overcame a less than 3 percent chance of winning in the last two events to triumph in the meet.

Valorie Kondos Field ’87 began her professional life in ballet and still moves like a dancer, but she’s no prima donna. She inspires people in a way few others — among them her mentor, John Wooden — have been able to do. Now Miss Val, as she is universally known, shares her unique take on both coaching and life in her first book, Life Is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance, which debuts in October from Hachette.

The title is both a perfect distillation of Kondos Field’s essence and an homage to the basketball legend Bruins simply call Coach: Wooden once said his one regret was that he was too shy to dance with his beloved wife, Nellie. “I thought of the title when I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Miss Val explains (she is now cancer free, following surgery). “There were all these things I was putting off, and one was writing a book. I thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Because none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.”

In the book, Kondos Field shares her own original recipe for success, built on passion and love and activated by a fierce, joyful energy. She wants readers to “be intentional with your thoughts, emotions and actions. When you take charge of your life like that, it prevents you from being a victim, and it steers you into leading the life you want to lead.”

The book also details Kondos Field’s unconventional approach to coaching. She doesn’t do pregame speeches, for example. Instead, her team engages in spirited rounds of “Blue and Gold Trivia,” getting their competitive fires burning by answering such questions as “What year was UCLA started?” (1919, but the move to Westwood happened 10 years later) and “What was the first UCLA mascot?” (a dog).

“Most things I do in coaching seem warm and fuzzy and very elementary,” Miss Val reveals, “like playing Trivial Pursuit before competition. But there’s a reason and intention behind every single thing I do.”

Miss Val speaks about her retirement with 2008 Olympian Samantha Peszek '15.

And in one important way, Miss Val is exactly like Wooden. She’s not a coach. She’s a teacher who coaches.

“My calling is to help young adults learn really hard life lessons through athletics,” she says. “If you don’t believe that, then the only reason you’re doing it is for bragging rights and money. It has to be more than that. I would not do this job if it was only about winning national championships.”