Last night I had the pleasure of chatting with Chris Burdette of Texas Dreams Gymnastics. I’ve spoken to Chris in person before, at Visas last month: you can read the full story about that over at the Couch Gymnast Magazine. I was impressed with him then because he was personable and funny, and he also seemed gentle with his gymnasts. So I was quite pleased that he was willing to be interviewed, via facebook chat, for this blog.

Information about how Chris got into gymnastics is quite difficult to find. Luckily, he was willing to tell me himself. He was a “north Texas traditional sports guy,” playing soccer, football and track until, at 16, he drove over to the YMCA that had produced Jennie Thompson and gave up his other sports. As it happened, their entire team of coaches moved away after a year, and Chris started working with some of the lower level teams.

One of his coaches had worked for a summer on the Ranch and had recommended Chris for a job there. So, somewhere around ’91-92 Chris got a call from Bela Karolyi.

Let’s pause here to picture getting a call from Bela Karolyi.

Chris informed that “that’s when it got real.” I bet.

I’m also still a little stuck on getting a call from Bela.

At any rate, of course I asked Chris what the Ranch was actually like. He said that as it happens the Ranch and the Karolyis aren’t “really that controversial…just a lot of hype” and that furthermore, “there [were] always ‘rumors’ [about how things were at the Ranch] but it was NEVER as dramatic as people thought.” When he arrived, he did Bela’s grunt work: lifting and spotting conditioning. He says that, as the only one in the gym aside from coaches and kids, it was “very calm, very quiet.
Very inspirational and very technical. Not the hard-ass workouts that everyone hyped them up to be.”

Inspirational, it turns out, because at the time Kim Zmeskal, Dominique Moceanu, Svetlana BoginskayaKerri Strug, April Burkholder and Brittany Smith were training for the 96 Olympics . “Very awesome” was the phrase he used to describe the atmosphere, and although awesome doesn’t usually require a modifier, I must say that in this case I agree.

So he and Kim met at this time, only she was dating his roommate and he was dating her best friend. As Chris said, awkward. Eventually, though, both became “free agents” and finally got together. And the rest, as they say, is history.

They started Texas Dreams in 2001. Chris informed that they rarely disagree about coaching, although they disagree about everything else! He coaches bars and vault. Kim coaches beam and floor, and they split conditioning evenly.Chris will also spot floor if Kim needs him to, but interestingly, they don’t spot beam. Apparently, Kim doesn’t use spotters on beam, except very occasionally on landing a new dismount. Otherwise, they use loose foam to resi to landing mats. This makes me wonder if other gyms do the same thing or if they spot beam. Anyone know?

Good coaching, Chris says, is about the “ability to coach multiple personality types.” He says that while motivation is a big part of the job, it’s not because the girls are exhausted, which was my first guess. “Once they are in the system, it’s [workouts are] pretty normal.” Only the new girls get exhausted. Motivating comes into play more  “because they are paying more attention to other kid stuff, just goofing off, not paying attention, etc.”

He and Kim currently train 18 kids, 4 under 10 and the rest 12+. They have so many girls, he says, because they have a “solid system” that people can “believe in” and that is proven to work. They qualified eight athletes to Visas this year, although their only senior is Chelsea Davis. I asked him how he felt about how Chelsea did this year at Visas. At the time, I wrote of Davis that she

looked pretty solid, coming in fifth. Alas she fell on bars, the one event that the US is severely lacking. She made the National Team again but might be better served going straight to UGA, although later she told me that she is still trying for Worlds and isn’t sure when she will start college—but she is still excited about Georgia, despite their lackluster year.

Chris told me that he was “very happy with Chelsea’s performance… bummed about the fall on bars, but it’s all good.
It’s just great to have her back out there, [it] makes us very happy.” (Davis has been riddled with injuries for much of her career).

I tried to get him to tell me what coaches he looks up to and where he would send daughter Riven if she wanted to be an elite gymnast. He’s very grateful that the Karoylis took him under their wing, and “thrilled that Mary Lee (Tracy) took me in for three years and helped me learn so much.”

MLT is controversial herself, which I mentioned. Chris said that she is, in fact, nice–which I noticed myself, oddly. (scroll past C.B. for MLT report). She also has a “good eye for sport.”

As for Valeri, he is the “real deal,” very reputable and knowledgeable.

As for Riven, well, he doesn’t know that he could send her anywhere, and furthermore, it would depend on what type of little girl he raises. He doesn’t know who she’ll be yet, and thus, as much as he admires certain coaches and gyms, he wouldn’t commit to one for his daughter. Rats.

Obligatory question about the direction the sport is going:

” I trust that we have enough ambassadors that will keep the sport going the right direction. There is always controversial chat, but ultimately, we are part of a dynamic sport… one that changes every four years. It’s like politics… every four years, depending on which side you’re on, it’s either going to be the Savior of humanity or Armageddon.”

As for a gymnast to watch, Chris suggests you take a look at this girl, who is now 10. She trains with 2 others and they are all fantastic. It will be, he assured me, a fun race.

It always is.

Chelsea Davis of Texas Dreams, coached by Chris Burdette and Kim Zmeskal Burdette, Visas 2010.

One response

  1. Pingback: Embracing what is worth celebrating….. | The Couch Gymnast

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