Coaching With A Twist
Coach Pyke Faces Off Against Coach Pyke
On Saturday morning at a small college in Sherman, Texas, a diving meet between two schools will take place. Similar to other diving meets, the two diving coaches will sit together and judge the seven divers that will bounce and spring off the one and three-meter boards into a deep well of water. Yet, there is a twist to this story. The two coaches from the opposing teams are married and are facing off against each other for the first time.
For Jim and Krissa Pyrch, this is just another day at the office or the diving well for them. They have been coaching side by side, on and off for 20 years. The only difference this weekend is that they won't be on the same side. Jim is in his second year as the diving coach at North Texas, while Krissa has been at Austin College for just six weeks. Diving is such a small world that it is not a big surprise that they have literally run into each other. Because diving is what brought them together, and what eventually brought them to Texas.
The adult Pyrches are not making a big deal out of the upcoming meet between their two teams. They say they haven't talked about it a lot; they think it's funny.
Their two children are having a lot more fun with it than they are. The 15 and 12-year-olds have been going around the house, saying, "Pyrch versus Pyrch!" and "Mom versus Dad."
"There is a little more heightened anticipation with this meet than others," admits Krissa. "It's going to be fun."
Jim agrees it will be fun. He admits he is more focused about how his divers will perform. He is looking to see a progression from meet to meet.
Diving meets are always friendly competitions, says Krissa. You are usually going up against a good friend or you become best friends with the coach after the meet. This upcoming meet is just an extension of that.
The Small World of Diving
Diving is a small world and the elite diving sphere is even smaller. And elite is what you think of when you talk about the Pyrches. Jim is a two-time National Diving Coach, has an extensive international coaching resume with the US National Diving team and spent nearly a quarter of a century as the diving coach at Yale. Krissa was a four-time Big East Diving Champion at Pittsburgh and still holds the all-time school record there on the one-meter diving board. She also was an elite trampolinist and went on to coach trampoline.
They met while coaching at a Yale Diving Camp. At their wedding, they took a photo with all their diving friends. It included about two-thirds of the invited guests. The diving community is an extended family to the couple.
"Diving is the fabric of which everything is woven," says Krissa about the impact of diving in their lives.
Their kids grew up alongside the pool deck. As babies, they fell asleep to the lullaby of cracking boards and the splash of water. Water is still in their kids' lives. Their son, Austin, who is 12, dove at a national meet last year. Their daughter, Mikaela, who is 15 and junior at Denton Ryan High School, swam at the high school state meet last year and also advanced to the state meet with the water polo team. They have been around diving so much, that Jim says, they both can judge about as well as anyone.
In addition to being the diving coach at Yale, Jim also started his own club program and coached there, alongside Krissa. They bring different aspects to the sport because of their backgrounds, and the result when they coach together is a nice blend. Jim has a pure diving background. He has been diving since he was a young kid and went on to be an All-American diver at Southern Connecticut State. Krissa was involved with gymnastics and the trampoline before getting into diving. She brings a little more movement, resembling the trampoline, to her diving.
Moving To Texas
After working at Yale for 25 years, Jim took a break from coaching. After the Pyrch family spent a few years in Minnesota, Jim decided to get back into full-time coaching. He started going on interviews in 2008 and ended up meeting with Joe Dykstra, the head coach of the North Texas swim program.
"I met Joe, and I really liked his straight-forwardness and his approach to what he wanted to do with the swimming & diving program," said Jim.
On the other side, Dykstra felt lucky that the circumstances had worked out that Jim needed a job at the same time that North Texas was looking for a diving coach. Dykstra had worked hard in the previous two years to repair the diving program and make the coaching position an attractive one. When Dykstra arrived in 2006, the diving program was lacking attention, equipment and had only one diver on the roster.
Known for developing talent and having started with a young Yale program, Jim began at North Texas with two returning divers for the 2008-09 season and soon laid the groundwork for the future. In his first year, he had three divers finish in the top seven all-time at North Texas in the one and three-meter dives. The team also had three divers receive scores of at least 200 points in a meet for the first time in program history.
"I think Jim stabilized the diving program after that first year," said Dykstra. "His name brings a level of respect to the program, which is huge in recruiting."
Now midway through his second season, Jim has added two transfers and three freshmen to accompany sophomore Delia Covo and senior Kim Nelson-Wulff. Jim likes the direction the program is headed. The next step, he says is to get someone into the NCAA Championships. The diver with the best shot is Covo, who has become one of the leaders on the diving team.
Covo placed fourth at the Sun Belt Conference Championship last year and set a career high on the three meter board with a score of 245.65 at the team's last meet against Denver and Utah. The coaches believe she can challenge for the Sun Belt title on the one and three-meter boards.
"Jim is a second father to me," says Delia. "I can talk to him about anything. And he is a world-class coach. I came to North Texas knowing very little about diving. I had been diving for about four months. All I knew was flipping from gymnastics. He transformed me from a gymnast to a diver."
Headed to Austin College
Krissa is also starting with a young program that has never had a paid diving coach. She is starting with three divers; two freshmen and a senior that has not had a coach in two years. Circumstances and timing also played a role in her arrival at the Division III program. While going back to school at North Texas to finish up pre-med requirements, Krissa found she had a little extra time on her hands.
Dykstra passed along an e-mail to Jim over the summer about Austin College looking for a volunteer to help with the diving program. Krissa recommended that the school make it a paid position. The head coach did and ended up hiring Krissa.
Having not had a coach for a few years in high school, Krissa knew what it felt like to have a passion for something and not have someone to push you to that next level. She felt that if she did not take the job, no one would. And six weeks in, it is going well. The worst part is the drive, which is an hour and 15 minutes from her house in Denton.
Krissa says she will be wearing two hats, figuratively speaking, on Saturday. She goes to the North Texas diving meets and cheers for their divers. She is also a student at North Texas, so she wears her Mean Green clothes with pride. Yet, on Saturday she will be wearing Crimson and supporting her Austin College divers.
And so as they have for the past 20 years, Jim and Krissa Pyrch will sit together at the meet on Saturday and judge their divers. There may be a little more ribbing going on than in other meets, says Jim, but it also will be a little bit more relaxed.
"Twenty years ago, it would have been more competitive, but not anymore."