Greatness Personified

On the bulletin board by his desk, UC Irvine’s Women’s Water Polo head Coach Dan Klatt has pinned a quote that reminds him of his duty to continually challenge his players to grow. It reads:

“Although each athlete has to find their own reasons and motivations for wanting to be great, it is the coach’s responsibility to lay the possibilities out before them. It is also a coach’s job to shove athletes in the direction of greatness even if they are a little reluctant to charge in that direction on their own.”- RAK.

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

The initials stand for Richard A. Klatt, Dan’s father. A retired American swimmer who set a world record in the 4x200m freestyle relay  in 1973 World Aquatics Championships, the senior Klatt has coached water polo and swim for about as many years as his son has been alive.

At the age of 35, Coach Klatt is on track to having a longer coaching career than his father, having already coached water polo for 14 years with his best years still ahead of him.

Growing up as the son of a dedicated swimming coach, Klatt spent much of his earlier years poolside by his father. As soon as he was able to, Klatt began swimming at the age of three and started competing soon after. The adolescent Klatt did not limit himself to swimming, and whether it was baseball, tennis, flag football or wrestling, Klatt always found a way to keep himself occupied actively.

“I loved playing, I was active, I always wanted to be moving around and going,” Klatt said.

When he was first introduced to water polo in the seventh grade, Klatt instantly gravitated towards it because it combined elements of all other sports that he had been engaged in. He would play for the water polo team in high school, where he helped lead his squad to three consecutive CIF championships. Upon graduating, Klatt committed to UC Irvine as a player after being scouted by the legendary Coach Ted Newland, who saw potential in Klatt and promised to develop him as a player.

Upon graduating from Irvine in 2001, Klatt spent the next four years training with the national team, eventually competing at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

While preparing for the Olympics, Klatt acquired his first taste of coaching by landing a job as a coach for the boys and girls water polo teams at Foothills High, where he led the school to four CIF championships. Despite the fact that his body would have been in its prime at the games in 2008, Klatt decided to retire early as a player and assumed the post of head coach of women’s water polo in 2005.

“I really fell in love with coaching during that time, and after my stint as a national team player and seeing this job opportunity being open … I felt like I was good player, but I felt like I had a higher potential as a coach and a leader.”

As head coach, Klatt has propelled UC Irvine to become one of the nation’s premier water polo programs, leading the team to five Big West Tournament Championships and earning just as many coach of the year awards. In spite of his success, Coach Klatt stresses that winning isn’t as important as the personal growth of his players.

“Winning sports is great. I love to win, there’s no question about that. But there’s so many more things you can do through sports to help them, and at the end of the day this is going to be a small portion of their life, they’re going to play water polo for maybe they play it for 10 years, but they’re going to live and exist for 80 years, 90 years, 100 years, who knows? You can really use this opportunity to help them be the best that they can be in whatever they do from here in those four years,” Klatt said.

For Klatt, his first and only priority is his players. The purpose of the program isn’t just to produce good players, but good students and citizens as well.

“[The growth] of the student athletes is paramount and important beyond the results of the team. I would say to me, the results like winning the Big West, going to NCAAS, these kind of things are kind of a background thought [to the success of my players].”

Coach Klatt still constantly thinks about how to climb forward as a program each year, but he refuses to do so at the cost of compromising of matters that he holds to be more relevant.

“If we do not perform academically where we should I will take away practice time because it’s just flat-out less important. The most important thing that they’ll do here is get a degree.”