My entire childhood was spent training and competing in gymnastics. Gymnastics required all of my dedication and time, but in return I learned twice as many valuable life skills as I did flips and tricks. I use so much of what I learned as a gymnast, and later as a coach, in my classroom. Probably much more than I learned in college, to be honest!
Valorie Kondos Field, aka “Miss Val”, the now retired Hall of Fame Coach of UCLA Women’s Gymnastics, is someone who grabbed my attention a few years back and just captivated me with her energy, attitude, and spirit. She has recently written a book called Life is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance, and it is just so inspiring.
In her book, Miss Val explains the road she took to becoming a Hall of Fame, 8-time National Championship NCAA Gymnastics Coach – without an ounce of gymnastics experience. Those stats not impressive enough? How about these, direct from Miss Val’s website:
Despite 29 years of coaching successful, happy athletes, none of Miss Val’s coaching techniques have anything to do with gymnastics. None! This is where teachers and even parents can really benefit from this book.
Miss Val realized early on that she didn’t need subject- or sport-specific knowledge; she needed to build confidence, drive, dedication, and the skills her students needed to reach their full potential. She focuses on developing strong, trusting relationships with her athletes, and carefully choreographing each interaction with intent to build the athlete’s confidence. In doing so, she has created a culture of kindness and trust, while supporting young people in their quest to find their true selves and their true strengths.
What else does Miss Val make a top priority? Joy. Miss Val believes in living not each day, but each moment to the fullest, and making each choice and action intentional. There is no way to even describe how she tackles joy, but taking a look at any of her athletes (Katelyn Ohashi, for example) will prove her success in teaching that lesson!
And because the real world can be a difficult place, Miss Val addresses the USA Gymnastics abuse scandal that has been all over the news over the past few years. Many of her athletes were victims of Dr. Larry Nassar. Miss Val explains some of the symptoms of trauma that her athletes showed post-abuse, and some of the ways that she tried to help them cope with their traumatic experiences. While Miss Val does not try to take credit for any of their healing, she opens up a window to a world of trauma, and what teachers can do to try to permit their students to heal.
Her other chapters include topics such as:
- Choosing to Motivate
- Discovering Your Default
- Helping Athletes Find Their Joy
- Unplugging from Fear, and
- Diverse, Not Divisive
…all which focusing on developing the student or athlete as a whole person.
Miss Val is exactly the type of coach, teacher, and person I want to be – one that focuses on developing well-rounded, kind, confident young people, not just training kids to act like robots based on a set of standards or requirements.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who works with children or teens. Yes, Miss Val tells her story from the eyes of a gymnastics coach, but the meaning behind everything she says has nothing to do with the sport, and everything to do with relationships, attitude, approach, and joy.