Collegiate coach KJ Kindler has come full circle in her love affair with gymnastics. She began her training in Minnesota at the age of four and some of her earliest memories are of watching college gymnasts train. “I would watch those athletes every single day and I looked up to them. I was mesmerized by them.” As the head coach of the University of Oklahoma (OU) women’s gymnastics program, she now helps mentor the very same collegiate-level gymnasts that she once admired.
Leading a Championship Team
Kindler attended Iowa State University as a communications major and a gymnast. Opportunity and preparation collided when the Iowa State coach retired at the same time KJ graduated and KJ was offered an assistant coach position. “I thought it was a blessing and a great opportunity to see if this is what I was meant to do,“ she explains. Her future husband, Nebraska gymnast Lou Ball, was also brought on as an assistant coach. Coach Kindler eventually became head coach and remained at Iowa State for six years before being recruited to OU.
With Lou still by her side as assistant coach at OU, the couple knew they were reaching for the stars—in this case, the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship. “When we came here, this is what we came to do, and we knew it,” she said. “Every year was a building block working towards the national championship.”
Under her leadership, the team finished second in 2010 and missed winning the championship by .2 of a point in 2013. This year, five seniors led the team with positivity and optimism to win the first NCAA championship in OU history.
Raising an Extended Family
Recruiting new gymnasts is a responsibility that KJ shares jointly with Lou. Although many might think it would be difficult to work with their spouse, the couple splits responsibilities and alternates their traveling so that one parent can be home with their two daughters, Maggie (age 7) and Adelade (age 5).
Both daughters take gymnastics lessons and Maggie competed for the first time this year. KJ admits that she found it hard to be just a mom in the stands. “As a coach on the floor you don’t feel like you have full control over what they do. You bring them in the gym, you practice every day, you give them the best advice you can, but really they have to fly on their own,” she explains. “I felt 10 times more of that with my daughter. “
But KJ does not feel like she is the mother of two. “It’s like I have 17 other daughters,” she says referring to her gymnasts. “I am watching their academics. I am watching their social behavior. I am watching their athletics. Every single day I know what’s going on with them.” And it’s a role she wouldn’t give up for the world, as it has been one she has trained for her entire life.
Here’s more about how this 44-year-old mom keeps her eyes on the prize
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I am a vegetarian.
How has motherhood changed you?
It has definitely softened my edges.
How do you banish stress?
A pedicure, a talk with an old friend, organizing my “to do’s” gives me peace.
What is on your wish list?
A family vacation to a tropical island with a spa, dolphins and an amazing view!
What are you most proud of?
I am proud when I take risks. It is easy to be comfortable.
How do you find balance?
We are on call 24-7. We keep traditions alive and visit extended family whenever possible.
Advice for other moms?
Say “I love you” as often as you can…it will never be too much. Make time, even when it feels like you have so little of it.
What’s your biggest challenge?
Being away from home and the kids when we are in season and on the road recruiting.
What is your parenting style?
I like to promote creativity and I am a big believer in building self-esteem in young girls.You can’t say “You’re smart, you’re amazing” enough.
Favorite quote or advice about motherhood?
“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.” – Sophia Lauren
QUICK FACTS ABOUT KJ:
- What are five words that describe you? Reliable, driven, strong, creative and passionate.
- What is your favorite indulgence? Chocolate, a pedicure and Kate Spade.
- What’s on your playlist? Adele, Mumford and Sons, Muse and Cold Play.
- What’s your favorite TV show? Anything on Bravo. I am a reality TV sucker!
- Coffee or tea? Coffee