NORMAN, Okla. -- The University of Oklahoma, and the state in which it resides, has a rich tradition in gymnastics and new women’s head coach K.J. Kindler comes to Norman looking to build on that success and take the Sooners to the next level. The 2005 National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women (NACGCW) Coach of the Year and three-time Big 12 Coach of the Year led Iowa State to its first Super Six appearance in 2006.
Since arriving at OU in July, Kindler has gotten settled in and adjusted to the Oklahoma heat. More changes are on the way, however, as Kindler and her husband, OU assistant women’s gymnastics coach Lou Ball, are expecting their first child, a girl, in September.
Kindler recently took the time to sit down with SoonerSports.com for a question-and-answer session to allow fans to get to know one of the newest members of the OU family.
SoonerSports.com: What are your first impressions of Norman and Oklahoma in general?
Coach Kindler: It’s been very hot. Of course I moved during the heat wave. Norman is a very quaint town. I think as a college town, Norman provides everything that a student-athlete would possibly want. Certainly in making a big move for my family, I think this is a really great place to raise children. I’m very excited about the Norman area and what it has to offer.
The University of Oklahoma has a beautiful campus. I am very impressed with the level of excellence in the athletic department, in the campus and in the facilities.
SS: What is your first gymnastics memory?
CK: I was four years old and I was taking baton in the basement of Mary Jane Olsen’s house that was my first coach. She had runways in her basement that were tumbling mats. That’s where my first gymnastics experience was. I hated baton and I wanted to tumble. Finally, my mom moved me over to tumbling and I would tumble in her basement. That is where I started. I was very young but I vividly remember it.
SS: What was it like coming from a gymnastics family?
CK: I was the one who initiated it. My dad wrestled and my mom liked to dance, but I was the start of the gymnastics family. After me, my sister, who is two years younger, also did gymnastics at the University of Minnesota. My three brothers all took recreational classes. My youngest sister, who is headed to DePaul this year, also did gymnastics. When she retired at 16, she decided to coach. It’s in the blood now. My sister Lori and her husband Bart own a gymnastics club in Maplewood, Minn., called Flips Gymnastics.
SS: What is your fondest gymnastics memory?
CK: It definitely isn’t as an athlete it is as a coach. It was last season, when we qualified for the Super Six at Iowa State. That was a really proud moment for all the alumni, the team and for the staff.
SS: Is there anyone you try to emulate in your coaching style?
CK: I think what I’ve done is actually blended a lot of styles together to make my own. I’ve had a lot of different experiences and met a lot of great people along the way. I try to take a little bit from each person and apply it how I feel it fits my personality, my university and my team the best. Certainly my parents and how they brought me up has made an impact. Still, it’s nice to talk to people and get their perspectives. I keep learning every single day so I can’t say that my style is complete.
SS: What is your second favorite sport?
CK: Well, ESPN is on constantly in our house, so it’s difficult to narrow it down. My family really enjoys tennis. I love watching college basketball and football. I pretty much watch everything. If it was a sport I would like to do, I would go with water sports.
SS: What is your favorite food?
CK: Probably Italian food. I really liked the new Italian restaurant on Main Street. I’m big on veggies too.
SS: What do you like to do in your free time?
CK: I think I’m going to like being a mom in my free time. Up until this point, free time wasn’t really an option. We were running a club and running the college program it made for very long days. Gymnastics was definitely the focal point, morning, noon and night.
SS: How did you meet your husband?
CK: He came to Ames to do a summer camp for Iowa State. He was a Nebraska gymnast and was coaching at Cahoy’s gym at the time. We needed an additional coach for the camp and my boss called him to help. I’d seen him a few times before, though. At Nebraska and Iowa State we were in the same class and sometimes we’d compete at Big 12 championships together, so I’d seen him, but never met him.
SS: How would you describe your music taste?
CK: I like alternative music high energy. I like a little bit of everything though.
SS: If you could have dinner with any three people, who would they be and why?
CK: My great-grandfather Harris is one. He was an architect and I have his blueprints and drawings framed around my house. I’ve also never met my paternal grandmother and would love to meet her. My third dinner would be with Oprah.
SS: What is your favorite vacation spot?
CK: I love Salsberg, Austria.
SS: What experiences as a gymnast at Iowa State stick with you the most?
CK: I came in as a freshman with seven other gymnasts. We still talk all the time. We are still the best of friends. If anything, that’s what stuck with me. It ends up being a lifelong experience, having people that you can depend on forever. That is definitely what stands out.
SS: What are some of your favorite movies?
CK: I like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Shawshank Redemption and The Red Violin.
SS: How would you describe your coaching style?
CK: I would describe it as structured and positive. I like athletes to be able to express their love for the sport. I emphasize personality through performance. The importance of team chemistry is something that I truly believe in.
SS: What are some of your favorite TV shows or channels?
CK: I like all HBO shows. I’m a fan of Entourage and The Sopranos. I also really like Will & Grace.
SS: What is the best part about being a coach?
CK: The potential to really make a positive impact on the lives of young adults.
SS: What do you see as some of the benefits of the strong gymnastics tradition in Oklahoma?
CK: That’s one of the reasons I took this position. The state of Oklahoma obviously has a great tradition, from a USA gymnastics standpoint, an Olympic standpoint and a collegiate standpoint. I certainly think that OU can be one of the top programs in the nation. There is absolutely no reason why the support wouldn’t be there from the community, gymnastics fans and sports fans in general.
SS: What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
CK: I’m a vegetarian. I have been since I was 22 years old.
SS: What are your first impressions of your returning team here at OU?
CK: We have very strong and talented athletes. I’d like to see a 14-15 person roster and we’re looking at a 12 person roster this year. That is something that I definitely want to expand upon in the upcoming years. As far as leadership and potential, we’re great. Finishing 10th in the country is an exceptional spot to finish. We want to build upon that. The returning team has been very accepting, excited, motivated and ambitious. As far as being on the same page with our goals and what we want to accomplish, we’re definitely there together.
SS: What is your vision for the OU program?
CK: You have to start with small steps. It will take us some time to get our feet on the ground as far as bringing in recruits and having an impact on the team and the program. Ultimately, being in the Super Six every year or vying for a position in the Super Six is a goal. Eventually we want to break into that top three, which is very tough to do with only four teams having ever won the NCAA championship, in history. I feel if there is any school out there that has the potential, the support and the athletic department behind them, it’s Oklahoma. We can definitely make an impact in the NCAA gymnastics community.