Dordt College News

Dan Kuiper

January 25, 2013

"All for one and one for all"

What is the most important thing you do as teacher and coach?

I try to help students realize that they are unique, created in God’s image, with gifts and talents to use for his glory. Even though those gifts may be vastly different for each student or athlete, each person must do his or her best to maximize what they have been given. It's my duty and obligation as a teacher and coach to motivate students and athletes to reach this potential.

How do you coach?

Athletics is part of life, but it is not life. It is a great tool to learn many life skills, but it should always be kept in balance. I believe it is important for students to know how to do the dishes and mow the lawn—and that athletics can actually help us be disciplined in these areas. All too often, though, we make athletics the focus and make things secondary that should be primary in our lives.

I run my program only during the competitive season. I do not do anything out of season with my athletes. This also helps me keep athletics in balance in my personal life.

What makes a good coach—something different from what makes a good teacher?

I don't think there is much difference between being a good coach and a good teacher. In fact, to be a good coach you need to be a good teacher. Both demand a passion for students, a passion for the subject area, an understanding of where students are in their lives and the struggles they are going through, as well as organizational skills and an inquisitive mind.

I break each year into training cycles just like I break my science classes into units. I then break each training cycle into smaller cycles, like I break a unit into different lessons.

It comes down to knowing your objective for the day. I tell my students what we want to accomplish that day, break it into smaller chunks, and then put it back together again. In both the classroom and athletics, you have to know where your students are starting from, create a program around them and their abilities, and progress from there. Good teachers and coaches know each of their students and what helps them learn most efficiently. They learn what motivates their students and what inspires them to improve.

Many teachers today don’t stick with teaching for 30 years. What keeps you going and enthusiastic?

One reason I have been able to coach this many years is because I have a very supportive wife, Kathy. I truly mean that.

I stay enthusiastic because I try to stay obedient to God’s call. I’ve set some criteria to help me understand if I am at the place where God wants me to be. They are:

1) Is what I am doing biblical?

2) Is what I am doing making an internal impact on people’s lives?

3) Am I affirmed in what I am doing?

4) Do I enjoy what I am doing?

If I can answer “yes” to at least three of four of those questions, I believe I am where the Lord wants me and can continue to carry out his work.

How does your faith shape your teaching and coaching?

Schools are not islands. School, home, and church must work together to develop a child. I believe that every individual must come to realize that we do not live for ourselves but we live to honor Christ. A Christian education prepares students to reach their full potential to serve God and his calling for them in this world. Through lessons, activities, and experiences, teachers must stretch and challenge every student, socially, spiritually, physically, and academically. Students may excel or falter in one or more of these areas, but each of these qualities must be considered when preparing lessons and instructing students. 

My coaching motto is “All for one and one for all.” I approach track and field as a means to train, develop, and enhance not only individual athletes physically, emotionally, and mentally, but also to instill in them the importance of working together as a team in a way that glorifies God. I try to see every athlete on the team as important as any other, no matter what their abilities are. We:

develop individual talents and help students understand how their talents further team goals.

train athletes to develop leadership skills they can use to unify and encourage the team.

help athletes understand that one of the most important things about competing is to compete against themselves.

encourage students to work hard and train well.

keep training instructions simple.

use track and field to help athletes mature and prepare for life.

What drew you to track and field?

I was part of track and cross country at Unity Christian High School in Orange City, Iowa, but I did not run track at Dordt College. After college, I began to run some road races. We did not have a track program when I started at Valley, so there was an obvious need. I had a wonderful mentor who worked alongside me during the first few years of coaching. I learned a tremendous amount from him.

I like the tangible progress I see in athletes. I ask them to try to get better at something each day. Even if an athlete will never score a point in a meet, it feels satisfying to develop one's potential. We keep meticulous stats on each person so they can see how they progress throughout the year and throughout their career. 

Track and field is a sport where team members are usually very encouraging to each other. A great deal of camaraderie develops among members of the team and between teams.

Are there memories that stand out?

The firsts stand out: the first state championships for both girls and guys and the first year we had our own track and did not have to bus students to practice. 

When I was a young coach, I was impatient and thought we would never win a state championship. Our first shot at a state championship came in my fourth year of coaching. We were in first place before the last event and were ranked ahead of our main competitors in the event. The team we had to beat was one point behind us—all we had to do was beat them, and we would be state champions. The event was the 800-medley relay, in which the person who runs the last leg (400m) is allowed to cut to the inside of the track—something you obviously want to do because it is a shorter distance.  Our anchor leg was so nervous that she forgot to cut in and ran all the way around the track in the fifth lane. We lost to the team we were supposed to beat for the championship by about 10 feet.  The next year, though, we went on to win our first of many championships.

A memory that has left the biggest impression on me is when our girls huddled to pray before the last event of a state meet. They invited some other athletes to join, which they did. Still other athletes noticed this and asked if they could join, too. In the end, a circle of athletes lined half of the infield. That was an awesome sight.

About Dan

After they graduated from Dordt College in 1982, Dan Kuiper and his wife, Kathy (Bolkema), moved to Mesa, Arizona, and Dan began teaching at Valley Christian High School. This is Dan’s 30th year at Valley, where he has served as teacher, administrator, and coach.

Dan has become a respected teacher and administrator and a highly acclaimed coach. He has coached more than 1,600 track and cross country athletes during his career, and the list of records and championships earned by his teams is long. In 2012, Dan was named National Girls Track and Field Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletics Coaches Association. Dan has also been active in church and community groups, including Dordt College, where he served on the board of trustees for six years.

By the numbers

Kuiper’s teams have won:

18 state girls track championships
(15 in a row, a national record)

8 state boys track championships

1 state boys cross country championship

3 state girls track runner ups

3 state boys track runner ups

23 regional girls track championships

11 regional boys track championships

5 regional girls cross country championships

5 regional boys cross country championships

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