As the son of a swim coach, Chris Duncan said his mom was teaching her whole life. “It’s in me and I love doing it, too. I felt destined.”
He grew up in Redwood City where his mother was a YMCA swim instructor. He went to the pool with his mom every day and started swimming around age six. His mom switched to teaching gymnastics, but Chris kept swimming with a club in Half Moon Bay. By high school, he had moved to Costa Mesa High school in Southern California and played water polo and swam. Following high school, he attended Orange Coast College.
Chris then went off to Chico State and swam backstroke and IM. Chris, who is soft spoken and humble, said he didn’t have any major accomplishments as a swimmer, but that his team won Senior Nationals, and they took 3rd and 2nd in NCAA’s Division 2 while he was part of the team.
His coaching career began while he was in high school at the Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa during summers. He gave swim lessons at Saddle Back Valley Aquatics and then became an age group coach and eventually head age group coach. Unfortunately, Chris said the “team dried up and disappeared.” He coached at Irvine Novaquatics for two years prior to becoming the head coach for the Piranha Swim Team in Palm Springs from 1996 to 2000.
Chris mentioned that Olympic Silver medalist Tracy MacFarlane was the coach for Piranhas before him. She married Rob Mirande and they both coached Piranhas before moving to Buenaventura Swim Club where they coached together.
Chris moved from the desert to become head coach for SOCAL Aquatics Association and Santa Ana Junior College. He took the job as Aquatics Director and Head Coach for JCC Waves nine years ago and is “in charge of everything.” His wife Gina coaches with him and he appreciates that they’re on the same schedule. “Thankfully, I met Gina when she was a swim lesson instructor during a summer home from college. We have three girls. They love swimming, too.”
Words of wisdom from Coach Duncan: “The main thing to remind swimmers and parents is that this is a long-term sport. Be patient, work towards your goals. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll get there. Kids put a lot of pressure on themselves. They need to know that goals take time.”
One his coaching philosophy, Chris said, “I really coach each individual. Some coaches coach for their own egos and have the biggest team possible. My pride is getting to know and connect with each swimmer. I believe it produces results.” He said that if some teams are known as sprint or distance teams, “My team is an IM team. I give IM-based sets every day for everyone. I stress technique.”
“Coaches that I look up to include Richard Quick from Stanford. I never swam for him, but I appreciate his talks and clinics,” Chris said. Other coaches he admired and learned from include “ Ken Gray, who coaches at Woodlands in TX, but was a coach at Mission Viejo, NOVA, Buenaventura and Simi, as well as Dave Salo, Ken LaMont and Jim Montrella.”
“I learned a lot from other coaches. We used to go to coaches homes and play poker–30 or 40 of us. We were friends and hung out. Coaches from Orange County to San Clemente. It’s not like that now. That was in the mid-’90s,” Chris said.
“Our coach gave me a great experience. We had a fun and exciting time, and our goal is to share that experience with kids today whether it’s water polo, club or high school swimming. My coaches were happy with what they were doing and I was shaped by these coaches.”
Bio from the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County, JCC Waves:
Chris Duncan, The Merage JCC Aquatics Director, is a career swim coach with an outstanding background training Olympic Trial and Junior National qualifiers. Chris has extensive professional experience directing swim programs including country clubs, ISL, swim schools, masters swim teams and USA clubs for all age groups from preschool through adults. His swimmers excel in a small group environment where they can individualize the workouts to suit the swimmers talents and work ethic. He works with each swimmer to effectively strengthen their skills and sharpen their weaknesses. As the JCC OC Waves head coach he keeps watch for the next great talent in the younger groups and fosters the talent all the way to his group and training. Chris is a lifetime member of the America Swim Coaches Association attending 15 of its World Coaching Conventions.