Feb. 1, 2004
Q: How do you continually get World and Olympic caliber gymnasts to come to UCLA? (Brooke, New Orleans)
A: There are obviously quite a few reasons World and Olympic gymnasts come to UCLA. First of all, UCLA has an impressive, illustrious athletic history of all of its sports. When you look at the diversity in sports, and the success UCLA Bruins have had, there's not another athletic program that beats us. I believe if UCLA had been its own country in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, we would have finished 4th in overall medals. That is extremely attractive to a certain type of athlete who wants to be a part of a successful athletic "family" and not just successful gymnastics program.
Also, success breeds success. Most high-level athletes want to go to a place where they can win and where the coaches and program have proven to do so in the past.
Q: Which UCLA floor routine stands out as the most innovative, well-performed, most well-rounded routine of all time? (Andrew, Los Angeles)
A: I would have to say Kate Richardson's routine this year is extremely innovative (for a gymnastics routine), and well-performed. I've been asked a lot which animals she is conveying in the routine. This cracks us up, because I didn't have any particular animals in mind when I choreographed it. But I enjoy hearing what other people think I had in mind.
I would also say Heidi Moneymaker's last routine here at UCLA. It was rather bizarre, but extremely well-performed. Heidi perfected the visual "focus" I try so hard to get my athletes to "get". I always tell them, "There is a big difference between 'looking' in a direction and really focusing your vision. It makes your movements come to life if you focus throughout your routine.
Q: As a fellow coach, what do you suggest as motivational tools for older gymnasts who are struggling on whether or not to stay in the sport, as well as whether or not they personally feel they can continue to progress and achieve? (Karen, Rock Island, IL)
A: The latter part of your question is the key; does she feel she can continue to grow as a person and an athlete through her sport? I feel that it's the life lessons that are learned through athletics that are the "big picture" reason why people are athletes. If it's only about bragging rights, then that's an awfully shallow reason. The reason to stay in a sport is because it continues to strengthen your mind, body and resolve.
Motivationally, I use short-term smaller goals to help keep them motivated. Often the goal is to make a "change" in their gymnastics and not focus on making the skill. I also focus on their strength and fitness. Helping them to set conditioning and fitness goals is something they can feel is 100% in their control. We all know how good we feel when we get physically stronger.
Q: What part of coaching do you enjoy the most? (Steve, Woodland Hills)
A: I LOVE the day-to-day part of coaching. I LOVE being able to help our student-athletes look at life differently. Too often we all suffer from feeling like victims in life. If we can all realize that life is about "choice" and the "choices" we make in life dictate the life we lead, it opens up all sorts of possibilities for us as we go through our lives. Helping our student-athletes understand concepts like this are what excite me the most about my job.
Q: Hey Buddy! Who are the goofiest fans you have? (K.K., Modesto)
A: Without a doubt, our soccer buddies from Northern California are AWESOME and are among our dorkiest fans. WE LOVE THEM!
Q: Val, I know of a couple songs that I can imagine you making great floor routines with. They are both on a CD called "Production", and the artist is Mirwais. The songs are called "Disco Science" and "Definitive Beat." Check them out! (Jason, Garden Grove)
A: Jason, thanks for the music tips. I've got my music guy researching them. I always enjoy suggestions. Many thanks. ~miss v
Q: Hi Miss Val, Is there an exit program for athletes? I imagine it's hard to go from the spotlight to being a civilian again. (Jessica, Huntington Beach)
A: This is an excellent question, as gymnastics is one of the few sports that does not have true professional opportunities. When I talk with our seniors, I talk about the different stages of our lives as truly great opportunities for us to grow as people in developing our character and beliefs. Even though a college gymnast may have a few more good gymnastics years left in them (unfortunately, most physically don't), it's usually in the student-athlete's best interest to "move on", start a new chapter, take everything they've learned from their athletic experience and apply it to something new.
Peter Vidmar is a great example of this. Not only is he a highly-successful motivational speaker, but he is also intensely involved in mountain bike racing. When you talk with him about his races, he says he actually gets as much of a rush now from mountain bike racing as he did competing in gymnastics.
Q: If you were choreographing a floor routine for yourself, what music would you choose? (Andy, Pasadena)
A: Wow - I've never been asked this question before. I'm getting excited just thinking about it. It would have to be a medley of styles - a lot of drama, some funky stuff, a bit of comedy/satire - Therefore, it would have to be about 5 minutes in length to fit all of that in. And ... of course ... there would be no tumbling!
Q: Miss Val ... You often speak of something you call "Calm Confidence". I think I get a general sense of what you mean. What do you think creates calm confidence within your athletes? (Kevin Burnside, Champaign, IL)
A: Quite simply, Calm Confidence comes from honest and thorough preparation. Whether it's taking a test, speaking in front of people, performing, competing, having a serious discussion with someone, etc., if one has prepared well, she will be able to feel calm and confident participating in the task at hand.
Q: Is anyone on the team going to try out for the 2004 Olympics? (Jessica)
A: Yes, Kate Richardson is training hard and well to make the Canadian Olympic team. Her coach in Canada, David Kenwright, was thrilled with the gymnastics shape she is in when he saw her over Christmas break. Our plan is to put Kate up last on beam for our next few meets, and if the first five of our team members hit their routines, then Kate will compete her Elite routine ... which is amazing!
Mohini is also training in hopes of making the U.S. team. She is in the best gymnastics shape of her life. All of her events are more solid than they've been in years. She's also training a 2 1/2 twisting Yurchenko, since her double is easy for her now.