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2009 Track Week 6

Coach Dan Kuiper

Valley Christian HS, AZ

Throughout the 2009 track season, the editors of DyeStat.com will choose an Eastbay National Coach of the Week to recognize coaches around the country for outstanding recent achievements in guiding prep athletes.

Coach of the Week Archive

"I think we are all about loving and caring for kids.  Sometimes this comes out as tough love ... I believe some of the work ethic has been lost in kids.  Hopefully, we can help instill this a little.  We tell kids pain is their friend."

Interview by SteveU

From the humble beginnings of track practices in a parking lot, Valley Christian AZ head coach Dan Kuiper probably never imagined he’d be coaching with a national championships record on the line.  He just wanted to have a “worthwhile program.”  But maybe he’s just a good example that if you do the right things, and your heart is in the right place – and you have a good leader to follow at first – sometimes amazing success can follow. 

Kuiper was raised in, competed in, and did his undergrad work (Dordt College) in Iowa, but it was at the Chandler, Arizona Christian institution that he began his career.  He became the girls track coach when the program was started in 1987, and took over the boys as well in 2000.  Valley Christian joined the AIA (Arizona Interscholastic Association) for the 1988 season and by 1989 finished 2nd in 2A.  They won state from 1992 through 1994, finished 3rd in 1995, then have won every year since, a national record 14 consecutive titles (and 17 of 18).  His girls have also produced 102 event champions (74 individual, 28 relay) in 16 of the 17 events competed in Arizona.

Coach Kuiper’s boys have won seven of the last nine state titles, as well.  The program is particular strong in the hurdles, where the girls have had 19 hurdle state champs (8 different athletes) in 22 years.  In the May 13-16 state meet this spring, they placed five in the 100H and four in the 300H, with both champions.  Their boys also won both this year and placed three in both finals.

In a school of less than 400 students, more than 90 are on the track teams.  Valley Christian has 13 coaches, many of them part-time or volunteer, and who are alumni wishing to come back and help.  In 2005, Coach Kuiper was named national girls track coach of the year by the National High School Coaches Association.

Coach Kuiper Q&A

DyeStat:  Please talk about your background in the sport before you came to Valley Christian.  What had you done competitively as a prep and/or collegiate athlete, and what coaching, if any, had you done before?  It looks like maybe you fell in love with Arizona while getting your Masters' at NAU.

Coach Kuiper:  I ran both cross country and track my four years of high school.  In track, I mainly ran the 800m (880 yds) and 1600m (mile).  I did not compete on the collegiate level, but stayed close to the sport by running myself and following my brother’s running career (he was an All-American in the marathon).

As far as previous coaching experience - I did not have any, but had a fabulous mentor at Valley Christian when I started.  His name was Bernie Benson. 

He taught me a number of things: 1) get as many athletes out that you can, 2) keep it simple, 3) build leadership into your team, and 4) put emphasis on the events in track that take work.  For example, hurdling, distance running, throwing, and pole vault.

DyeStat:  What kind of interest existed in girls track, or track in general, when you first came to Valley . and how did you build it from there?  Did you begin coaching with true championship aspirations, or was it something that evolved and snowballed over time?

Coach Kuiper:  There really was not much of an interest when we started.  We had around 150 students in the school, so it was tough to generate a lot of interest.  We started out our first practice in a church parking lot.  We made do with what we had.  We probably had around 13-15 girls come out that first year.

We continued to practice in that parking lot for a couple of years.  After that, we were able to use some local community tracks, for which we were very grateful.  Eventually our school built a new campus as well as a track in 2001.

As far as aspirations of championships - definitely not.  I just wanted to make it a worthwhile program and do the best I could.  I am a firm believer if you are a good teacher you can also be a good coach.  I began to study and learn the different events.  I went to clinics and watched a lot of film.

I also picked up a plethora of things from Bernie Benson, whom I mentioned before.  In addition, obviously you have to have a passion for teenagers and wanting to help them succeed.  As we started to build the program and have more success, more people wanted to be involved and it started to roll from there.

Looking back, I was very impatient.  I did not think I was ever going to win my first state championship.  My first year of coaching our school was not a member of our state's association, so we could not compete for a state championship.  My second year we finished 5th, my 3rd year we were 2nd, and then another 4th and 2nd the next two seasons.  In 1992, I coached my first team to a state championship and have won 17 out of the last 18.  What an awesome run it has been.  I feel a little sorry for our guys’ program.  I also started coaching them in 2000 and they have been very successful as well.  They have won 7 out of the last 10 state championships but sort of have taken second fiddle to our girls program due to the fact the girls were chasing a national record..

  For a relatively small school, you have quite a few kids go out for track and quite a few coaches.  How does track fit in the sports culture at Valley?  Does the school have a strong tradition in other sports, too?

Coach Kuiper:  Track was one of the first sports to be real successful at the school, along with volleyball.  Ever since, we have had a very successful sports program at the school.  In the 28 years the school has existed, we have won 50 state championships. 

As far as the numbers of athletes coming out, I believe the program is recruiting itself today.  Athletes know it is a worthwhile program to be part of, they are encouraged to just improve on themselves each day, and it is a very positive and encouraging group to be part of.  These are a few reasons I think we get the numbers out that we do. 

When I mentioned that I learned from Coach Benson the importance of building leadership into my program, it has paid off.  I now have six alumni coaching for me.  They just want to give back some of what they got out of the program.  It is so gratifying to see this happen.  I would also be remiss if I did not mention Al Nelson.  Al has a real gift with numbers and he uses it to encourage athletes.  All our athletes know what their PRs are and they also know the top 10 lists for freshmen, and school, etc.  This is always motivating to them.  Al is the biggest motivator on our team.  It is people like this that make it a program that athletes want to be part of.

DyeStat:  After you win a few titles, is there enough momentum that the program also runs itself, or are there challenges each year (that the average fan may not see) that are overcome to keep the tradition alive?

Coach Kuiper:  As I mentioned previously, the program does sort of run itself but there are always challenges.  The biggest one for me is the mentality of the one-sport athlete at the high school level.  It is sometimes hard to get some of the better athletes out because they are focused on only one sport.  In their off-season, they are doing clubs etc.  I try to help them understand that college programs are looking for athletes and not necessarily a specialized athlete.  I try to help them understand that track can only help their other sports and not hinder it.  I also believe that, in a lot of ways, this generation has lost some degree of work ethic (compared to previous generations).  Track takes a lot of work and it is very painful at times.  It is sometimes hard to retain athletes.

DyeStat:  As far as really strong events, it appears that the hurdles reign above all, somewhat - which I'm told is the event you coach.  What are some things you've learned over the years about coaching the hurdle events, that maybe everyone doesn't do, that you've been able to teach to help feed that success?

Coach Kuiper:  I do not know if I do a lot that is different then most coaches or maybe just because I have done it for so long; I think it is pretty normal - I don't know.  As I said before, I made it a point to learn a lot about the events I coach.  I realize that as a head coach it is my responsibility that if athletes are coming out to practice, I have to make it a growing and worthwhile experience.  So if that means I do not have a throws coach one year – and I am it – then so be it.  I make sure I learn the event to make it a worthwhile experience for the athletes out there.  I have done the same with the hurdles.

I was a middle distance/distance runner in my day and did not know a thing about hurdling before I started coaching.  I guess by forcing myself to learn the event, I have really focused on technique.  I do a lot of technique drills which helps us be faster over the hurdles.  The second thing I do not lose sight of is the fact that it is a sprint event with barriers.  We work hard at staying fast and a lot of workouts focus on this.

DyeStat:  Please talk a bit about your philosophy of Christianity and competitive sports, and how you and your coaches help maintain the right balance in a society full of pressures that can distract kids from becoming the type of student-athletes and young men and women that the school hopes for them.

Coach Kuiper:  Thanks for this question.  It is not one I get too often in fact; in fact, one I probably have never gotten.  It is a very insightful question and one I often struggle with as a coach.  Anyway, I know it is too long, but here is my coaching philosophy.  You can glean from it what you want.

MOTTO:  "All for one and one for all."

MISSION STATEMENT:  Using track and field as a medium to train, develop, and enhance not only individual athletes physically, emotionally, and mentally but also instilling in them the importance of working together as a team to glorify God.

1.  Every athlete on the team is as important as any other - no matter what their abilities are.
2.  Develop individual talents and helping them understand how their talents further team goals.
3.  Training athletes to develop leadership skills so they may use them to unify and encourage the team.
4.  Help athletes understand one of the most important things about competing is to compete against themselves.
5.  If we are going to do something - we are going to do it well.
6.  At the high school level, it is important to keep all training instructions to the athlete simple.
7.  Use track and field as a medium to help athletes mature and prepare for life.

To help answer the question a little more directly, I believe it is important for everyone to use their gifts to glorify God.  They are not our gifts but ones that have been loaned to us.  Therefore, we try to celebrate the gifts and not necessarily the person.  That is hard to do at times.  This hopefully takes the attention off the individual a little.

God directs us to work together in harmony.  This is where the team aspect comes in.  We constantly preach about what is going to be better for the team.  If it comes down to what is best for the individual or team, team will always win out in my system.  Especially today, teenagers must realize it is not all about them.  I think track provides a great medium to bring this philosophy across.

DyeStat:  What are some other hallmarks and philosophies of your program that are part of the tradition, in terms of training, mental preparation, other factors - things that your program is known for, either just within or to those around it as well.  If a young coach just out of school, as perhaps you were, came to you for advice on building a championship program, what would you tell him?

Coach Kuiper:  I think we are all about loving and caring for kids.  Sometimes this comes out as tough love.  As mentioned before, I believe some of the work ethic has been lost in kids.  Hopefully, we can help instill this a little.  We tell kids pain is their friend.  Worthwhile things take hard work.  I believe this is one of the marks of our program.  Our practices, even though we have a lot of fun, are very business-like as well.  We are there to do work.

I think our program is known for the number of coaches we have, too.  For a small school, I would put our coaching staff against any in the country.  Along with knowledge of their events, they bring so many other intangibles with them as well – intangibles that want to make kids be part of and come back to the program.

As far as advice to a young coach - it would be the four things (see first question) that I learned from my mentor coach (Bernie Benson) when I started coaching.

Congratulations to Coach Dan Kuiper, the sixth Eastbay National Coach of the Week for Spring 2009!
Eastbay Coach of the Week Coaches will receive a team color Eastbay jacket.

Coach of the Week Archive