By Lauren Hardy//Correspondent
Many of us know Dana Kirk for her achievement as a 200 butterfly semi-finalist at the the 2004 Olympic Games, but most recently, she is making headlines for her coaching success, building a team from the ground up in Los Altos, Calif. To the outside world, Kirk’s life might look like an ease-filled, epic tale, but Kirk will be the first to admit starting her own team was a scary and economically risky challenge.
Luckily challenges are nothing new for Kirk. (Her father dared her into her first 25 dolphin kick race.) Challenges keep her grounded and motivated. Most of all, they keep her working hard, a key tenant of her coaching philosophy. Her drive and passion has been contagious to the PASA-DKS swimming program, which has grown from 50 to 150 swimmers since its founding in 2008.
We sat down with Kirk to learn more about her coaching philosophy.
What inspired you to become a coach?
I coach because if I can positively impact my swimmers' lives half as much as my coaches impacted me, I will feel like I have succeeded.
What led you to start the PASA-Dana Kirk Swimming program?
During 2008, the country club I was coaching at had a chaotic staffing situation that created a toxic environment for the swimmers. To get away from the conflict, I created my own small team and became a Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics (PASA) site. It was a month-to-month, living-on-my-sister's-couch existence for a while, but it worked out in the end.
What’s responsible for your team’s continued growth?
I believe it’s because my team is a tight-knitted community. One of the things I push with my kids is that we are a family 100 percent of the time. You may not always like each other, but you will love each other and you will always have your teammates' back no matter what. Any swimmer or family who can't buy into this, no matter how fast they are, is not invited to the team.
How would you describe your coaching style?
Intense. I hold my kids to their highest potential, which means holding different kids to different standards. I am also vocal and honest. My kids know that I always see the best possible versions of who they are. When they fall short of that I will call them out. Why be a (lesser) version of yourself?
What are the most important characteristics a coach should have?
Your swimmers should know how much you really care about them, as kids, not as athletes. If a kid knows their coach loves them for who they are and not for what they achieve, they are set free to take risks, make mistakes and be themselves.
Best piece of coaching advice?
Coach your own program. Don't let parents, other coaches, or whoever tell you how to do your job. You can learn and borrow things from every coach you meet, but ultimately the program is yours. You have to walk on deck with 100 percent confidence in what you are doing and get every one of your swimmers to buy in to your theory with 100 percent of their hearts and brains.
How are you working to bring women to coaching?
Some of the strong female coaches in my area and myself have come together to put on a Women in Coaching Clinic for the past two years that has been very successful. Our goal is to make sure that every coach has the resources and support to reach whatever level they want.
Dana Kirk’s 5 Keys to Coaching Success
- Give 100 percent of yourself to everything you do.
- Be willing to make sacrifices.
- Always smile and be nice.
- Be resilient and teach that to your swimmers. Things are not always going to go your way and sometimes you will need to have 24 kids in one long course lane...
- Love it. Coaching has a lot of perks. We have the potential to make more of a difference in this world than most CEOs can.