Kindler’s ongoing legacy of success.
In 2006, OU Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione brought K.J. Kindler to the school to coach the women’s gymnastics program. Over the past 17 years, Kindler has created a dynasty with the program, implementing new strategies and consistent wins.
Kindler has led the program to win six NCAA national championships, in 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2022 and 2023. This year, OU ranked No. 1 in the nation throughout the entire 2023 season — its third time accomplishing the feat in program history — and won back-to-back championships for the second time in its history.
When you ask Kindler about the factors for her team’s success, she is quick to give praise to her fellow coaches. “Lou Ball, my husband, and Tom Haley are incredible,” she said. Both have been at OU for her entire tenure.
Kindler grew up in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, in a gymnastics family and attended Iowa State University as a communications major and a gymnast. Her part-time job in college was working with young gymnasts. “That’s when I learned that I loved teaching; it had so much to do with instilling confidence,” she said.
When Kindler graduated in 1992, she became an assistant coach with Iowa State’s team. Lou Ball, a Nebraska gymnast and her future husband, was also brought on as an assistant coach. Kindler eventually became head coach and remained at Iowa State for six years before being recruited to OU, where she began a dominating reign.
Although she is known for her drills — the methodical, consistent training that helps her athletes compete in a state of muscle memory — she also instills teamwork in her athletes. “I will say that every team of mine that has won a national championship has been a team that fully supported one another,” she said. “The teams that didn’t get there had a lack of cohesion, and that is something we talk about.”
Regarding the mental aspects of competition, Kindler’s “beam talks” have become legendary. Before each athlete takes to the balance beam for a minute and a half, what does the coach
say to them?
“I tailor my talks based on if they’re superstitious or not, or if something I said clicked the time before,” Kindler said. “In general, they’re an overview of each athlete’s routine and the reminders I say in practice. Again, trying to put their mindset back in the gym and in practice. If there’s a certain idea I communicate in the gym that equals great results, I say that in the talk.”
The head coach is still in touch with women she has coached in the past. Some have become college coaches themselves, such as Sooner alum Taylor Spears, the 2014 NCAA individual champion on beam who just finished her fifth season on Arizona’s coaching staff and her
first as associate head coach.
Kindler isn’t just building her legacy with winning teams, but also with the relationships she has forged and maintained with her athletes who embody the same consistency, confidence and creativity.