Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Leg Cramps

I am on much needed holidays so what do I do, first thing? Update my work blog, go figure.

That's ok, I have a specific topic I wanted to cover as it seems to impact more athletes than I had first expected. Several club players have asked me about night cramps in their legs and what causes them. When the question came up last week it got an odd reaction as several players indicated having had these.

I gave some suggestions about increased water intake, more stretching after workouts and adding a little sea salt to the water for those that already hydrate well. There was discussion that this probably related to training and recovery too, that the muscles need time after effort to build, reshape, grow etc and this might be a part of the issue. But, being a professional coach presented with a physiological question I could not definitively answer, I looked further for more information.

Here is a link to a general discussion of the problem from the Mayo Clinic - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/night-leg-cramps/AN00499# (this will not show up as a hyperlink in the blog so copy the address and post it to your web browser address line).
I provide this as it suggests that there is not a general answer to explain the cramping in all people. It does mention many of the same things I said to the athletes - exercise, water and potassium are possible factors.

So, if you are experiencing night cramps try to increase water intake and post-practice stretching first. Then, if the cramps persist, add a small amount of sea salt to the water when drinking (ie less than 1/2 teaspoon per litre) and possibly add a multi-vitamin with B-12 if your diet is not what I would suggest is healthy (my athletes know what that entails). That should take care of most of the night cramping I am hearing about at the pool, if there is someone with a serious cramping issue after these adjustments please let me know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How Much Fun is Winning?

2008 MWPA Middle Years "B Division Champs"

I had this photo sent to me today by a parent of a Middle Years school water polo player. It shows a very happy group of kids who have just won a game that determined the "B Division Provincial Champion" for Manitoba Middle Years school water polo. It made me think of many aspects of sport when I first saw it so I thought I would write a bit about those things here.

First of all, the look shows that these kids are happy. They proudly hold up a ribbon won. They are extra happy because their championship game went into overtime and then to a 2-round shootout to decide a winner. That's right, a participation based Middle Years co-ed league played overtime and had a shoot out to decide a winner. A shoot out, for pre-teens in a fun league? Yes, that is what I said. So, the next time you hear a league official from a school organization say that "it's not about winning, it's about fun" ask them to give their head a shake. The objective of the shoot out was to decide a "better" team not a team that had "more fun". And that is not wrong, I just want to point it out because I am going to talk a bit more about winning and competition to outline why this is so important and why it should be acknowledged.

The competitive aspect of this league is positive because it is a tiered format. That means the strongest teams are playing together away from the weaker teams. This allows weaker teams to play for a "B Division" crown in games that are close. They are fun BECAUSE they are competitive, not the other way around and that is the key to keeping games attractive to kids. Tiering is key tool when taking focus off winning. If all the schools were playing each other it would create hugely lopsided scores. This would place the emphasis on the losing and not the game play. If scores are close then teams are motivated to keep practicing and playing; wins and losses together make it interesting as kids learn both sides of that competitive experience.

The reason I thought of this when I saw the picture was that I had a frustrating weekend in Regina the past few days with our competitive teams. We took 4 teams to Regina; Cadet Boys, Cadet Girls, Youth Boys, Youth Girls. They played Team Saskatchewan twice on Saturday and once on Sunday. The team that had the poorest performance was the Cadet Girls and they were never really competitive with the other team. Why? Because there were only 8 players, simple. The 8 players means there is no competition for positions on the squad, everyone plays regardless of how they perform. The team has no games against squads that are close to them, such teams do not exist within 1000km, they either win big or lose big. So they don't learn to win in close games and have no idea of how to overcome a deficit or protect a lead. Mentally, they shut down when they are pushed and get behind.

Why did this team come to a point with no competition for spots? That is complicated but the simple answer is we lost a generation of players the past 3 years at the Bantam level; small group of girls, no games, no competition for their spots. It's not that we don't have great players, we certainly do. Jaelyn won swim-offs and scored several goals playing with the Youth team even though she is 13. Sarah Whitmore scored and played great defense as a Youth but was quiet and timid as a Cadet. Sarah Mutch scored and played well at 2m as a Youth even though she seldom got the ball at that position when playing Cadet. It is not the player skill that is an issue, it is the volume of players, competition for spots and local game reps that provide competitive learning that are all missing.

Vast, Frozen Prairie

This discussion brings me back to previous observations about the changes needed in Manitoba to develop the sport. The LTAD would welcome the tiering of games for kids 16 and under, it states that this is good. The problem is we can't have tiered competition with no partners developing the sport together. I could do this alone, with just 1 Winnipeg club, but it is not possible when there is a second club interfering with the projects and vision that is put out there by trained, experienced professionals. I would have hoped that this was obvious after the past couple of years of my reaching out to develop partnerships; I guess not though. The picture above shows what surrounds us and why we need to look for game solutions at home. The longer this goes unaddressed the colder and more isolated we become.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Captains From Bushido

Breda and Darryl, National Team Captains

I forgot that I had this picture. It was uncovered in a purge of old files in my office today; good thing it didn't get tossed. This is Darryl Bourne and Breda Vosters, 2 very, very important members of Water Polo Canada National Teams and captains of squads that won big international medals. Darryl would hate this picture being used but he is a confident enough guy to know that I mean well and he is not losing any street cred with this youthful photo many years later.

The picture was taken in Calgary at the Lindsay Park Pool, before it was twinned and renamed Talisman Centre. I don't know the exact year but Breda looks about 9 so let's say it's 1999. If so, this would have been the March before Darryl lead team Canada to a thrilling come-from-behind bronze medal victory at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg. It would also have been 9 years before Breda lead Canada to a Gold Medal at the 2008 Junior Pan Am Championships in Brasil.

It is very odd to me that Manitoba Water Polo has never acknowledged the contribution that Bushido made to the national teams with these amazing athletes and in these big wins. There certainly was no other major success they were dealing with could take their mind off this Provincial success story.

I am not one to overlook when athletes have success and who is by their side making contributions at the time. People may be surprised to hear that there is another person who is in the shadows playing a role in their athletic success but who will not get mentioned by anyone else. That person is Rich Corso, Head Coach of Cal Berkeley Women's Water Polo. Rich was the Canadian Senior Men's coach when Darryl made the transition from B team "young guy" to leader of a new Senior generation under a new coach. Coach Corso opened that door for Darryl to explode on a larger stage. It is a bit odd then when you consider where Breda has agreed to play NCAA water polo and take her next big step in the game, with Coach Corso at Berkeley. Talk about a small world.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

LTAD and its Impact

Last Saturday I spoke to the water polo community about the LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development) model that has been adopted by sport across Canada. This is a nice package that has charts and tables to give a broad audience a taste of what it covers. It also includes a complete package of data for coaches that helps pinpoint developmental stages of athletes and appropriate activities for those stages. It's great to have that all in one place and available for sport to use as a guide.

This is important to me as a coach because I have been a lone voice in Manitoba for many years, pushing for a distinction between participation based sport (Active for Life) and competitive sport. I have also been incorporating cross sport training for a long, long time. In fact, in the 1980's when Bushido was first starting, we once had a program called the "Summit Series" that had 3 levels of aquatic skills that came from Synchro, Water Polo and Speed Swimming. This was taught in camp settings with coaches from all 3 sports and developed aquatic physical literacy. Then, in the 90's I delivered a land based strength and flexibility program that combined Pilates and Yoga with various body weight exercises. People thought I was a bit nuts. I also used to drill into players minds that doing multiple sports at once had to be coordinated, missing one to attend another was not complimentary but harmful. Now I just smile when I read that multi sport activities should be coordinated by sports and land work for water sports is required.

But, that is not what I wanted to touch on. The LTAD is important to Manitoba Water Polo because it shows them what I was talking about the past 3 years as I have fought against having pool time taken away that I fought very hard for. This training time was awarded to water polo through my efforts for High Performance sport and it was being taken away from me by Manitoba Water Polo for "Active for Life" sport. Nobody understood why I said that the other club, practicing 2-3x week was not High Performance. Now we have a document that illustrates that very clearly and can be used to help distinguish what HP is and who has programs at that level. This 3rd party document will help take the political decision away from a provincial organization that is polarized by 2 clubs with different vision and program goals.

Maybe I am naive to think that a national sport change should be accepted by the province or that the MWPA board would see it as valuable to overlay the LTAD program variables on our clubs to see who fits where and what role they should have in our future. We'll see.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Give and Go Lesson

Here is another video of our Atom league games played in Brandon a few weeks ago. It gives another lesson in basics that are applied from practice to game. We are teaching players to make a pass and follow it with movement. The instruction is also there to move toward the net when your team has the ball. To help drive this home for the little Atom players in Brandon I had them run a set play, Natalie would win the swim-off (one of the fastest 3 or 4 girls her age in Canada!), she would pass it back to Annika or Scott who would then look at Natalie attack the goal. The pass was made to her right shoulder if the defense was on the left - which always happened. She would accelerate and take the ball to the net to score.

This was a good teaching opportunity because Natalie had the speed to make this happen often. She also has the size and strength to make the ball handling and shooting a success most of the time. This happened 2 or 3 times in an early game which allowed Natalie, Scott and Annika to understand the process. All could handle it because we have taught "pass and go" and "pass to a moving target" many times. Once they knew the pattern they could repeat it and teach the other team members in future games, which they did.

The natural step from this was "if we can do this on a swim-off, why can't we do it all the time?" That was one of those situations where the athlete teaches themselves to apply something in scenario B after seeing it work in scenario A. That sort of applied knowledge is the most important, players have ownership of it. Hopefully we get a few competitive games close enough together that the kids can burn these lessons in to their heads for all time.


Kakikouri Table

Here is a picture of the end portion of the Saturday Kids Festival. Some of the club parents decided it wouldn't be a complete party without something sweet to wrap it up. Normally I would not call attention to feeding kids sugar but this was different. Satoru and Sandie have a special device that is used to shave ice for a Japanese treat called "kakikouri". Since we don't see that every day it is worth a small mention here.

In the photo you can see the ice shaver that Glen is turning by hand to reduce a block into something similar to snow. Then the moms along the line top it with a bit of sweetened condensed milk and various flavour syrups. Yes, horrible sounding but kids were coming back for 3rds so it went over very well.

Just to confirm it was not all fun and sillyness, here is a video of kids actually doing some skill work, treading and jumping. I include it because, like the shaved ice, this camera was from Japan. It is a new metal camera that can go in the water without being put in a case. Carson was experimenting with it during the festival.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Goalie Lesson

Today I was handed a DVD with short video clips of our recent Atom/Bantam league play with Saskatchewan in Brandon. I have only started to go through the various clips but had to post this one immediately. It is an excellent example of basic goalie skills and shows one of Canada's best young goalies as she demonstrates technique that will last a lifetime.

This is a 13 year old goalie, Claire, who has a sister playing goal in the NCAA (Hawaii). Claire shows the impact of proper basic technique while a player under pressure attacks the net with the ball. As they near the goal she raises her hands so that as the shooter turns and faces the goal there is an intimidating goalie with hands up. This presents an obstacle that has to be processed by the shooter, with defense on the shooters back. The result is loss of control and the ball comes free. This is where you see instinct that foreshadows great goalie potential; Claire instantly reads the distance to the ball, the proximity of the opponent, and sprints to make a steal.

That sounded like too much analysis of a 13 year old goalie, it's not. It reflects exactly what I seek at the Atom and Bantam level - transfer training to game play. Claire is growing and working on patterns as she builds size and strength. So, as she raises her hands she shows that she has processed that instruction and can apply it under pressure. Sprinting for the ball shows she has the correct idea of what to do and the confidence to do it. This is pure athletic development as it should be.

I love writing about this sort of positive competition result, not the game score, the performance. Next blog entry will be about the Atom team at this same Brandon event. It will include a video of Natalie scoring one of her several goals from a swim off and it shows a field player repeating lessons learned in training.

Festival Wrap up

Shallow End Group

Tonight was the Fall Kids Festival for Bushido, second annual event. Whoa, what a turnout! Over 70 kids, mixed between 14& under in the deep end and younger, smaller ones in the shallow. I had been expecting about 50 new kids with the pre-event registrations but that swelled to over 70 with member friends being brought along.

I didn't think it was possible to have an Open House with too many participants but this sure maxed out the resources. Lots of age groups players in the water helping, and all the older coaches too. We could not even have considered this event without that athlete support. So THANK YOU to all those who helped.

Deep End Group

I had mentioned in an earlier post about some subtle changes that we hoped would turn tonight's visitors into future members. At the pool we got a few immediate registrations, a few still deciding between 1x or 2x practices and then another few memberships by email about an hour later. I imagine when I send out a summary email with some pictures later this week it will sway a few more.

With any luck we will have a big enough shallow end group to start some Flippaball each week and have a game that brings a smile to a bigger crowd each session. The Bantam teams are also swelling a bit so we will have better deep water scrimmages too.

I am going to get the Japanese name of that ice treat that we gave the kids at the end of the session and post a few pictures of that madness later.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Big Day

Today is a big day for water polo in Winnipeg. This morning I was part of a presentation to the water polo community about LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development). I got to address how the Water Polo Canada LTAD framework will impact the sport on the deck and in our clubs. It was an interesting mix of participants.

I tried to be non-political and somewhat hopeful even knowing that our provincial structure will kill the sport if radical changes are not made soon. There continues to be (and always will be) a reluctance from the Neptune club to allow professional leadership and that is the sticking point for the inter-club dialogue. The LTAD nails that coffin shut for them.

I spoke today using a "Summary Framework Matrix" from the national LTAD documents. That is all that is needed for the casual observer to see where the sport is going. On that document it is very clearly laid out that practicing 3x week is part of the "Active for Life" stream once players are 12 years old. The "Competitive Stream" requires 5-8 practices per week after 12 years of age. If anyone from Manitoba takes that simple template and puts it over the 2 local clubs it is very clear Bushido = Competitive Stream, Neptunes = Active for Life. If we can just get everyone to calm down and except that we could quadruple our membership in 2 years as people focus on their strengths.

Tonight I will oversee a Kids Water Polo Festival at Pan Am, that is an introduction to club activities. Players 14& under and 10&u will get a picture of what we offer in terms of practice, skills, games and then be invited to join our entry level teams for the balance of the winter. We may even manage numbers for 3 atom teams at the Bushido Invitational by January. That would be the foundation for a winter league just like the one in Saskatchewan but without the travel.

Later in the week I will also detail our latest partnership in the development arena - we are branching out to help offer the sport in UofM's 2009 Mini U. That initiative will seed a regional Atom and Bantam team for our club league in 2009-10 as we try to make the program there more autonomous. Maybe we can even get students thinking about a senior team for a local league as well, or is that too naive? I will have details about that a bit later, with a long range plan for all to hear.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Conflict of Interest?

While we are on the topic of the amazingly popular Kids Festival I will vent a bit about a conflict. As a full service, age-group club, we have a mandate to provide community access programs each year. I impose that mandate on the club as I see it being part of what we were established to do. That includes summer camps, Novice programs, school clinics and events like the Kids Festival. Most do not result in direct, immediate, registration jumps but do lead to positive community standing. This has indirect registration benefits that are seen over time.

That indirect, build upon a foundation, sort of growth is important for a club that is 100% self funded. We are the only high performance club in Canada, with the possible exception of Saanich Water Polo School, that is self funded. All other competitive clubs receive some sort of funding from government, direct or via Bingo or Casino funds. Not us. Keep that in mind while I outline the conflict that we are presented with.

There is a recreational fall school league in Manitoba that offers co-ed games from September to December, 1x week. It is subsidized by the provincial association, gets direct funding. That funding support does not happen to the club that sends teams to National Championships each year, hosts interprovincial events, developes multiple national team athletes etc. This year we have a problem, the MWPA has decided to try and offer a heavily subsidized winter drop-in league for kids from the school teams that want to play in the new year. That is the same athlete group that clubs recruit from, it is the reason we (Bushido) had volunteers initiate the middle years league to begin with. To build the sport.

2007 Kids Festival

We create things like the Kids Festival, introduce somewhere around 50 kids to the club aspect of the game in 1 day, then compete with a governing body to have them join our program. I will have to be prepared to explain the difference between a self funded club program and a provincial program that covers costs from public funds. Ouch. That doesn't seem fair, how can we compete with that? I will do it but there are going to be plenty of kids who don't play club polo this winter, opt for a free program, get turned off and then quit or lose a year of developmemt at a crucial age.

Is there a solution to the conflict? Sure, ask clubs to generate specific membership numbers in specific target groups, provide support and watch it happen. I will have more kids at this Saturdays Kids Festival than the MWPA will have at its first rec league 14& under session. So, why not use our numbers, athlete names and program profile to please Sport Manitoba and Water Polo Canada? Simple, if they use our numbers, support our club, then they feel a need to do the same for the other club in the province. They don't have the same organization or vision so it all grinds to a standstill. The lowest program level is the standard, not the highest level. Sad. I keep offering alternatives, they keep getting ignored.

But, I will have a very positive blog after the weekend, new pictures of the festival and then an announcement later in the week about a very major partnership that will help our age group program in years to come. It's a big announcement that will shape our Atom and Bantam programs next year.

PS I hope Malachi notices I have posted his picture twice in a row.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kids Festival

2007 Kids Festival

It has now become tradition that we offer a free introduction each fall through a "Kids Festival" that allows players to run, swim, jump, climb, shoot, laugh and play in the shallow end. We fill the shallow end with older players who know how to laugh and guide kids, then let the games begin. It's a blast.

Last year was our first attempt at an Open House of this nature ie big promo. It had plenty of interest but with a very low registration following. We've done a few things to address that in the second go 'round so it won't be an issue in 2008. Some of the people who registered kids in the Festival were sad that the ongoing program did not have the same volume of kids and energy level that goes with that volume.

I'm sorry if the Kids Festival is too light weight a topic for most blog readers but I had a few days of critical posts about the CSL and I wanted to move away from that. Don't worry, it will come up again.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Brandon Weekend

Bantam Girls action - Brandon

This past weekend we had a great chance to see our Atom and Bantam teams play against opponents that we know quite well. It was a good thing too, no question about how the training-to-performance ratio is demonstrable through game play. Our Bantam teams have some skill, broad range of it, but not until Sunday did it start to gel. If we played every month in a league it would be amazing to see the progress. I am working toward that with the Saskatchewan Provincial Coach so it may happen sooner rather than later.

We could also see the difference between the Bantam boys team with half the players who have practiced very little so far this season and the Saskatchewan teams who practice much more and for a longer time this fall.  The Bantam girls are trying to figure out who is who and what their team members can do. With a few new players, one only in her first week of club water polo, it was hard for them to know what to expect. Now everybody has a starting point.

The Atom team is like a few previous generations, lead by players who have played for a few years and have a high skill level - swimming fast and shooting hard. I was experimenting with mentoring novice players, rotating them through while looking for leadership from the experienced ones. This worked very well. By the final Atom game I was able to play all 3 new Atoms at the same time with just 1 mentor in the water. This meant they had to initiate things on their own and figure out who to cover, when, how etc. It was a good sign that in these situations we played pretty much equal to the second place team. I look forward to seeing these kids in a 7 vs 7 event so all the players can feed off each other.

Friday, November 14, 2008


We had a team meeting with our boys team this week, Cadet and Youth. It was intended to highlight how their training had been reflected in their performance in Regina last weekend, some good, some bad. We narrowed in on focus, discipline and respect - all obvious issues with some of our group. There was not a single guy who did not understand what we were talking about and why, it remains to be seen if they care enough to change things though.

There is a pretty high skill level with these boys and plenty of experience. What is missing is a focus at practice that allows transfer of knowledge from week to week and experience from event to event. I am trying to get them to understand that in some ways this is like learning math, each lesson leads to the next, overlook one and it will show up in mistakes later.

Carson 2005

One thing we left the meeting with was a reassurance that there was nothing the team could not achieve if they set their minds to it as a group. We highlighted how individually we manage some success but it is the team that doesn't reach it's level. The pictures above and below were used to remind them of how Carson and his hard work and extra effort have allowed for a much greater improvement the past few years than most boys. This is not just maturation, it is effort and goal setting on a personal level.

Carson 2008

Technique and skill are never the issue with our club. Carson had great coaching from a Serbian goalie coach, Darko, in that earlier picture. It was that introduction to how hard he could work that let him set high enough goals. We are hoping that this image helps the boys gather a team picture of where they want to be in April and how they are going to make practice changes to do it. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brandon's First Water Polo Event

This weekend I get to coach our Atom team in a competition for the first time in about 3 years. It is amazing how much I look forward to that. I have not given much time to the Atom and Bantam ages the past few years, too many demands modeling high performance and increasing practice frequency at the other end of the spectrum.

Bantam Boys Team Captain, playing Cadet in Regina

I hear there are some really good Atom teams in rural Saskatchewan, that Weyburn and Estevan are good and Regina is close. With our solid group at that age we should see some really interesting games where players improve from game to game and feed off each others enthusiasm.

Bantam Girls Captain, playing Open Women in Regina

We are fortunate this week that each Bantam team going to Brandon will have a player that played on an older team this past weekend in Regina. Eric was on the Cadet Boys team that won silver and Jaelyn was on the Open women's silver medal team. In fact, Jae even scored in the gold medal game. I am excited to see their leadership with their own age and the confidence they bring to this level will really help influence the rest of the group.

We had 3 new registrations in the Atom/Bantam age groups last week and 2 of those players are joining us on the Brandon trip. I am very interested to see how these 2 sisters, 1 Atom and 1 Bantam, pick up skills and tactics in the weeks following their games. We seldom have players play an event in their second week of training so it might influence the sharpness of their focus.

Speaking with the Saskatchewan Provincial Coach last weekend he is as excited about this event as I am. We want to expand on it next season and have multiple events in Brandon that are single age groups and single day. That would allow a Saturday morning drive, 2 or 3 afternoon games of 30-40 minutes, a team dinner and then a drive home. A great package for our two provinces with such small populations that same-city events are tough to make interesting.

I am really excited that Cyril, the Saskatchewan coach, agrees with me about the value of these short, 5 vs 5, age group games. He has even created a provincial league on this format, the one we pioneered with the Bushido Invitational 10 years ago. For those that are not familiar with this set up it is a mini version of the regular game. We play with 4 field players so there are more touches on the ball for each player. This reduces the team tactics ie umbrella set up and complex defense. Instead of that it is possible to focus on 1-on-1 defense and passing/shooting.

The games are short since part of the learning involves team meetings to set objectives, application of specific things with a narrow focus, meetings to review objectives and execution and then a chance to do it over again. This takes the emphasis off winning a long game that tires the players and repeats errors that could be corrected with a team refocus that is not possible in a 2 minute quarter break.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I tagged this blog and named it NCAA because that is what I am thinking about today. This is the time of year when players are contacted by US schools for 2009 scholarships and it takes our focus to that part of the world for awhile. 

Of course we know that Breda, captain of the Jr National Team, will get offers from schools but there are others who are being looked at too. Like the guy in my last blog picture, Brendan Domoney. He plays in California in the summer, smart guy, so has some people there paying very close attention to him. He has a scrappy quality that most US boys with speed swimming backgrounds do not match until later in a collegiate career. He is possibly the most overlooked male player in Canada right now (but since we know nothing about NT depth charts we can't be sure). 

Old Pic from the late '90's
Girl in front NCAA bound, behind 2007-08 pro from Italy

I coached for a long time without supporting NCAA play for Canadians; didn't fight it but didn't support it either. It wasn't until I had female players being overlooked for national teams while they were offered pro contracts in Italy, or having girls told to move to Montreal to get support, that I decided it was wrong to not help them improve down south. There are no english speaking female players who have moved to Montreal to the Training Centre and have graduated from a Canadian University there. That is sad since it should be possible to combine post secondary education and training. In fact, 2 players from the Hawaii NCAA program combined studies and training that still allowed them to win Olympic gold medals this past summer after a brief return home to prepare with their national team.

Coaches in Canada have been talking for some time about using National Team cards (financial support) to help Ontario university programs attract players and keep them in Canada while boosting the level and status of the OUA league. The only thing stopping that is .... well, nothing should stop that. It just is not supported by NT coaches right now.

Hopefully I will be around long enough to help make the changes to our domestic program that I have been after for a decade or so. In fact, this past weekend the youngest member of our club told me I could not retire for 10 more years. He wanted to be sure I was coaching until he was 18. I would say that is one of the warmest compliments I have had in a very long time. But, I don't quite have 10 years of high end coaching left in me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Finally, a new blog entry

It's been quite some time since I last sat down to update this blog, sorry. I have been busy but also preoccupied with negative BS in the water polo world that I didn't want to write about.

This past weekend we had some friendly inter-club games with the Saskatchewan Provincial Team at Pan Am Pool. That gave us a really good early season snapshot of what the players know and how strong and fit they are. The absence of game knowledge was surprising for the girls and that is not explained by the fact that their national team members were away at other events. The boys, that was a different story, they picked up ahead of where the finished last year.

After 2 weeks of formal training this fall we have a decent fitness level and good passing mechanics and strength. What was poor was pass selection and leg strength with the ball. We'll deal with that in weeks ahead as we do drills that include partner work. The best thing to come out of the weekend was the interplay between Heather and the boys.

Some people thought I had lost my mind when I named Heather, a 20 year old woman, to coach an 18& under boys team. Hopefully this weekend helped people see what I am after as she was very calm, direct and specific about what she wanted and expected. The boys were better each game and seemed to follow what they were asked to. There is more excitement to come as Heather starts to share some experience from her pro career in Italy with these guys.

Now that Breda has finished her NCAA visits to the tropics and Shae is home from CSL we can turn our attention to serious training and getting ready for the Sask Open. That will be a good time to look at teams in relation to real games vs training.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Symposium Comments, Day 3

I had some bad feelings at this years leadership symposium. It was, in fact, not about leadership and only 1 national coach was present. No Men's coaches even though they had just been to an historic Olympic Games, no Junior Team coaches even though club coaches were there to hear their plans. Pretty much a wash out in that respect.

There were plenty of contradictions presented to us as well. The big push in years to come is to concentrate efforts in what is referred to as MMA's (major metropolitan areas), specifically -  Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The women's program is actually only focusing on Toronto to Montreal, nothing to the west. No mention of water polo support for the prairies or the maritimes at any level. That is consistent with past history so at least now it is being talked about openly. The funny/sad part is that there is some sort of illusion that water polo will be added to the Canada Games in future. That is odd since Water Polo Canada is shrinking the base, the provincial support, and killing all domestic competition beyond Cadet age.

I am thinking of writing a large blog on national team centralization and how it is killing women's domestic water polo while leading to slumping national team performance. That effort will take some time though since I am busy with club registration right now and getting 2008-09 going for the players who I can actually help.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Leadership Summit, Day 1

Hmmm, not sure how this is going to roll out. I had a few chances to raise points tonight, to get dialogue going in a specific direction, and that was positive.

I keep bringing up the topics of partnerships, dialogue and responsibility. It remains to be seen if this resonates with more than the few people who thanked me after the meeting for raising the points I did.

This is a very big group of people, 105 in total. Maybe 25 or so are young BC coaches so it is not a genuine cross section from Canada. But it is a good start. We'll see how Saturday goes before I have specific observations about the dialogue.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Daily Blogs Coming Soon

Hotel I will be at this weekend

As I get back into the swing of things I am starting to have meaningful things to say. Soon I will return to blogging on a daily basis. Topics I may cover are; the new designation of elite training with Bushido as the High Performance Centre; rosters and philosophy for 2008-09; why no Neptune girls will train at a high performance level; what the CSL is and how it has influenced domestic play.

This weekend I will be at a national water polo leadership summit in BC. At first I was under the impression this was to be a sharing of ideas and a coming together of ideas from all corners of the sport. I was excited by that possibility and the chance that the philosophy behind the old "Leadership Symposium" might be returning. Sadly though, I now have the agenda for the weekend and it is a not good sign. We have 2 days of meetings, much of it around Long Term Athlete Development, the NCCP and new theories in athlete development and coaching. Oddly the summit will not follow the theories underlying the NCCP and instead we will be sitting down for the whole time as people "tell us things". We won't be sharing much, just hearing what others have already decided on and want us to "rubber stamp".

You can be pretty sure I will have some things to say about the weekend. I'll have my laptop with me (as always) and may even do a blog from there if my mind is blown by something unexpected.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Back in the Saddle

It was a pretty long summer of very limited internet access so there was not much Blog activity. That will end now as I am back in Winnipeg planning the 2008-09 season.

I was very happy to see a Canadian referee that I know and respect get chosen to do the Olympic men's gold medal match. Gaetan is a great ambassador for the sport and his having been a Manitoba coach at one time is an interesting curiosity.

This week I am meeting with coaching candidates to sort out roles for the coming season. There will be some radical changes in staffing and in practice structure. All the juggling of people and resources will be sorted out soon and seasonal plans outlined for everyone.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Good News

Today Water Polo Canada named its Junior Team for the Junior Pan Am Games later this summer. Of course, Breda and Shae are both on the squad. This wasn't a surprise but it's always good to have the details confirmed by an official selection so everyone can relax and get focused on serious final prep. Congratulations girls!

Sorry that I am not blogging more regularly this summer. It's a down time from coaching, recovery is the focus, and we are also very busy moving right now. That means there is not a lot of water polo news to blog about and my energy is low for manufacturing topics. Don't worry, it will be back to normal soon enough.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Clinic by Bushido Experts in Ontario

Here are Breda and Shae in front of an important landmark in Kingston Ontario. They were visiting clinicians on Saturday June 21st as we ran an intro clinic to help kick-start club water polo in the area. There were over 30 people present, half kids 14 and under and half adults. The adults will start a weekly rec league at Queens in the fall after a few more summer sessions. The younger players will have a basic club program if we can find some weekly pool time for them in the fall.

The girls were here at my request to give a media boost to this effort. I am in the area for most of the summer and will live around here eventually so it makes sense for me to lend support. Hopefully in a few days I will have some of the photos from the clinic and will post them here after my next chance to get to a wireless connection.

For those of you who have been waiting for the land strength program for the summer it is now ready. You can find it by following the link to Mike Reid's website that is listed on the left of this page.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Page Turned

Tonight was the genuine conclusion to the 2007-08 season as we held our awards party. It was a low key affair, only about 60 people, but enough of a cross section to be interesting. This was also the last Bushido party on Dorchester as we are moving in July, there will still be lots of room for parties though.

Sorry this picture is not great but here are the 3 award winners from 2008, Breda, Callum and Hanika. Callum was Most Improved, going from uncertain field player to authentic goalie with recognizable skills - that is no easy task. Hanika had the honor of being recognized as Most Promising and that reflects how coaches noticed her personality and work ethic ahead of any game skills (even though those are solid). Breda isn't a huge surprise as Athlete of the Year because she is so talented and works so hard at practice. But above all else, she is a decent person that helps everyone and all coaches enjoy coaching, even when we have to bash heads with each other now and then. Congratulations to all of you.

Breda and Shae will soon leave for Montreal as part of a summer National Team centralization; this will prepare them for the July Pan Am Junior Championships. This will be a stressful training environment after a crazy season and it will be nice for them to get a break in August after a long 11 months.

Friday, June 6, 2008

We're Hosting 2009 Youth Nationals!

We learned today that Bushido has been selected to do something never done before, host 2 huge Youth National Championships at the same time, in the same facility. That will be on the May long weekend at Pan Am Pool and it should give our club and our High Performance programs a great boost in terms of fall excitement and spring media attention.

This event will anchor a very exciting 2008-09 season where we will play 20 games on the prairies with Team Sask and Calgary Water Polo at the Youth and Cadet ages. That will help close the gaps with other provinces in terms of seasonal games; now all we need is to get players training more frequently and with more purpose. Both are realistic expectations!

This also gives my summer planning some specific focus and puts team targets, budget realities and timelines all where I can manage them at one time. What an exciting thing to work with.

Season Almost Over

Great Goalie, Doesn't Know It

The season is soon ending, one more practice and I can let out a sigh. Already looking forward to the fall of 2008 when we get to start over. So much potential was untapped this year I hope kids have seen what is missing and hear me when I ask for a renewed effort in September.

Tonight I met with Trevor 1 last time for the season to try and find common ground for the future. He and I agree on pretty much all points for the future of the MWPA. The provincial board seems to agree with us too. What is missing is support or endorsement from a unified Neptunes club that wants to turn High Performance over to the MWPA, even though the MWPA can't fund it or manage it and has no mandate to do so.

Maybe time will change that perspective and be helped by the realization that attending nationals from Manitoba in 2009 will only be possible with a Bushido Team. I didn't want that to be a threatening reality ie that we would "steal" Neptune players, but people are pushing it that way. I was more interested in evolution, sending players form each club across membership boundaries based on their training goals, but that image is not being embraced. Maybe it isn't being understood but since I haven't been able to talk to people from Neptunes about it I can't say for sure.

Nevertheless, I am ready for a break, time to recharge some energy levels and come back ready to get it done. I'm pretty sure that if I can build a cabin, then a house, with my hands, with materials that I harvest from the land, then I can deal with some small obstacles in my way while trying to keep building water polo in Manitoba.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Year End Awards Party

The date has been set for the year end awards party and it is Monday June 9, 2008. This is the time we recognize 3 individuals, kind of against the grain of the usual "team" development we focus on. Naming an Athlete of the Year is pretty safe as there is always someone who everyone can agree worked very hard, played a high level and was a role model, it's a pretty positive award.

Giving our the Most Improved is soooo hard because so many people improve at so many levels. But, I try to mention a few big improvements before I actually name the final winner. The 3rd award is Most Promising Newcomer and that can be a hard label to place on a young athlete. We have had a few of those who take a big turn after a few years and don't even keep playing the game, whoops. But it is important to let some young players know that we coaches watch the beginners and talk about who we would like to have at our practices in years ahead. That is the focus, attitude, not just amazing skills in a new player.

Practices winding down

One of the things that becomes apparent each spring is which athletes are really thinking of long term development as water polo players. Everybody needs a break now and then, for sure, and these are built into the season. Normally I would take practice right into high school exams so players have an outlet during that stressful period. However, even with fun practice that focuses on passing, shooting and games there is a reluctance for many to actually get in the water. That is where we are now so we have our last practice week of 2007-08.

Here is a picture taken at 5:45 tonight, 15 minutes after practice started. These boys were all on deck well in advance of 5:30 but they have no motivation to work so I am getting the message that they need a break and don't want to be there training. Ben was on deck well before little brother Sam, but Sam has already swum a few hundred meters when this shot is taken.

Sorry there is netting between me and the pool but that is the safety barrier that the city has finally agreed to allow during our practice. As the boys get stronger the net becomes more and more crucial every month. I usually place myself on the other side, by the pool, but was sitting by my backpack for this photo. It looks pretty quiet in that picture but we had 18 players there tonight, quite a few for this time of the season.

Heather was there with one of her Volturno pro suits on and that had some stares from the other players. I'm not sure if she wore that while I was away at any nationals, and if anyone has seen it, but there was some prestige having it there. Serena always has her Hawaii suit too so the girls get to see some different sites this spring than they did all winter.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Thinking of Pools

Final Saturday "fun" scrimmage

Wouldn't it be nice if Pan Am looked this quiet every practice? You'd think with 6 pools of 50m or more in Winnipeg it would be possible to coordinate enough time for all sport clubs to have adequate practice space while still allowing the public lots of access. What would it take for such a thing to happen? Much less than what it takes to prevent it from happening! I'm pretty sure I could come up with a schedule that accommodated every group, every interest and every request for pool space if I was let loose on that topic by the Parks and Rec department.

I mention that today simply because I have been having discussions with some people in Southern Ontario who are trying to get a new 50m pool built in Kingston. That is possibly the largest Canadian centre without a public pool to serve its population. The fact that I will live near there one day makes it of interest to me to be involved in this discussion so I have been thinking of pools and access quite a bit lately. Maybe I will talk more about that in later posts as I am helping deliver a clinic in Kingston this summer.

Meanwhile, back with local planning, I am meeting 1 more time with Trevor this week. He is the head coach of the Neptunes and if his club will actually allow him to speak on their behalf we will have a unified sport community in the fall. I haven't given up that vision and am being as positive as possible as we work toward that. Hopefully before I break for the summer we will have some specific details, exciting ones, about how water polo will work in Winnipeg next season.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Looking Inward to Change Perpsective

I have outlined lots of external pressures that contribute to struggles of our teams so now I will turn the light on to the players themselves. What I am about to write is not criticism, it is observation. Some of the things I struggle with as a coach involve knowing what I can change in athlete focus ie what is coachable, and what I have to move beyond and look elsewhere for.

High Performance sport is not well understood by many in our community. High Performance "anything" is not well understood; it goes against much of what North American society is teaching, marketing or supporting. This makes it hard for me to get players to understand that sport performance at a high level requires personal commitment to high level performance in many things. For example, diet and lifestyle, 2 things I constantly talk to players about. How can you expect an engine to perform its best when the fuel it consumes is low quality? You can't. How can a peak performance be called up on demand if the mental skill to focus has never been developed or is cheated by lack of sleep? It can't.

Players need to understand that coming to practice 75% of the time will result in less than 75% of the performance they want in games. Players that coast through 75% of practice, half effort in swim sets or drills, will have less than 75% performance when it's needed. Players who don't get proper nutrition before and after training will not get the most out of the workload they welcome in practice. If you don't do everything you can to prepare then you won't find the personal strength to outperform an opponent who HAS done everything to prepare. That's simple and it explains the 4th quarter losses at nationals to Fraser Valley, Calgary and York (Cadet Girls), York (Youth Women), DDO2 (Youth Men) and Regina & Calgary (Cadet Boys). Sure, lack of practice was part of it but did we make the best of what was available? No, not even close, and that will change for 2008-09 - even if it means smaller rosters of harder workers.

Club Under Stress

The past few blog entries have maybe sounded a bit like the sky is falling, "woe is me" sort of thing. I'll try to re-frame things a bit with this entry to keep perspective.

They are not praying, just concentrating!

Amateur sport in Canada is always operating with a level of anxiety from stress. That stress can be political, financial, lack of volunteers, poor resources etc but there is always something. What I am outlining this week is the blanket of stress that is over Bushido programs and then some solutions so those issues can be lessened and the club can thrive. We have to acknowledge obstacles before having solutions to them.

The obvious place to start when we talk of stress is with our lack of facility access in Winnipeg. I can say without much doubt that we are the best club in Canada with teams that train 3x week in a 12x20 yard space. That obstacle can only be removed with help from our PSO (Provincial Sport Organization) in a major lobby to secure more access to city pools and to protect the space that our club fought for so long to acquire. That simple problem, adequate practice space, could change everything in one short season.

How? Here are some ways;
1) more practice time ie hours, would mean more specific team practices catering to more specific athlete development stages.
2) better practice space ie 25yds with 2 end walls, this would allow multiple water polo nets in the water and many more game-like drills,
3) more practice time ie other pools, would mean more specific age group practices catering to neighbourhoods and peer groups;
4) more training hours would also mean the ability to properly follow the Long Term Athlete Development philosophy that I have been addressing piecemeal for the past decade.

That is a quick and simple overview of how pool access could help our programs. I have lobbied the city for 20 years to get better space for our sport. Those efforts in the 80's got us into Pan Am on Saturdays after closing; in the 90's they gave us access to the Pan Am Training Tank when it was off limits and then recently I managed to gain access to Prime Time space from 5:00-8:00pm. Taking it the next step requires the MWPA to support this initiative and make some bold moves. I shouldn't be fighting with the MWPA to improve training for the best athletes in the province, that's a stress that need not be there.

Imagine if Bushido secured more and better training space during a year when we have managed to arrange a 20 game prairie competition season with Team Saskatchewan and Calgary Water Polo. That would give us increased skills and fitness from practice and increased tactical knowledge from game play; all in under 12 months. That's pretty much what I am after, too bad it's so hard to get people behind that vision.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Impact of a Negative Environment

While in BC last weekend I had an interesting conversation with Gabi Vindisch of Saanich Water Polo School. For those that do not know, she is part of a club that has had some historical difficulties with lack of support from BC Water Polo that has resulted in lots of fighting, arguing and name calling. She was in pretty high spirits and I asked her how things were going - she said that things were great and there was now healthy dialogue with the provincial association and the clubs. Then, the interesting part, she also offered that her club registrations had doubled in the past year, up 100% since the fighting and name calling stopped.

Why is that important to this blog? Well Bushido has never had any measurable, intentional public support from the MWPA in it's history. Other provinces (and many Manitoba PSO's) give their top clubs money for their coaches, but Bushido is often criticized for being lead by a professional coach as if it were some terrible sin. Other provinces fund their top players but our players only see small grants ie $250.-500. if they make a national team and have already spent several thousand dollars representing the country. Our pool resources, that we have fought decades to gain access to, are constantly being poached - the MWPA has actually taken away pool time for the past 2 years to give to a competitor without replacing it or justifying the harm they do with reduced training hours. Can there be any way to interpret that action as supportive of the provinces top athletes and coaches? Breda is the only carded athlete in any sport in Canada who has had her PSO take training opportunity away from her! This certainly has an impact on the confidence of a developing player and asking them to stand up, be proud, be confident, bring attention to themselves, it's not consistent with how they are treated by their governing body.

That lack of obvious support is not the only reason why players don't have more offensive confidence but it is an underlying theme that must be acknowledged if anyone is to understand team performance. Certainly the loss of training time we negotiated with the city also has a huge role to play in team preparation. When we are forced to reduce the team specific practices and double up age groups it creates lots of practice time with 16-24 athletes and that is too many for a 12 x 20 yard training space. The crowding means that individual attention is reduced and communication is much more difficult.

So, overcrowding and lack of public support combine to harm confidence going into intense competition. I develop various strategies and partnerships to deal with this but none are working as well as I would like. It would make more sense provincially to have external public support that gives hope to more volunteers, coaches and athletes who could then provide the energy to make significant, broader changes. This would impact sport growth, pool access, coach recruitment and athlete enjoyment.

Trying to generate an understanding that would promote that community support is one of my motivations for working so closely with the Neptunes this season. I thought that giving freely of my time and energy would lead to more support for what we were doing, but I'm still not sure if that will materialize or not. The gift of my support and experience, for athletes from another club, seems to have been taken for granted.

That may all have sounded negative but that is not what I intended. I am just trying to get information out there so that parents who wonder why their children struggled at nationals, but who excel elsewhere, can understand why.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lots to Say, be Patient

Now that I have finished an intense month of travel and competition I have quite a bit to say about competition, training and team performance. I'm going to try and be positive and non judgemental so the blog entries will be gradual and hopefully limited to simple, linear thoughts.
2008 Cadet Boys Nationals, Richmond BC
Hotel rooms with kitchenettes

First, I will say that it was a very frustrating spring to be involved in so many national championships for age group athletes that had a "elimination" format. What this meant was that every game was centred on a result standard less so than a team performance one. So, if you played well and lost by a goal your team was a "loser" and sent to a negative side of the competition bracket. This is 100% in violation of the principles being promoted by the Federal government (and Water Polo Canada) through LTAD, or Long Term Athlete Development, strategies. I don't want to discuss how that came about - the national organization promoting one philosophy of sport development but employing an opposite philosophy in competition structure. Suffice to say if leadership was strong and communication solid this would never have happened.

My preference for all of these events would have been to have small groups competing in a round robin to seed teams based on 2008 ability and not relying on 2007 championship placing. This would have allowed teams to have a strategy for developing team play, tactics and player involvement at a level that is new to a vast majority, especially at the 16& under category. Then secondary rounds could be judged on performance results that were based on teams of relative similarity and winning for some would be the obvious objective. I could write about that topic for a long time so I will stop there.

2007 Youth Girls Nationals, Richmond BC
anything familiar in the 2 pics?

I had no teams this year that were ready to win a championship medal, all of them were in the development phase, still learning how to compete. I am not too concerned about any teams placing but I am VERY concerned about some of the player and team performances based on their abilities. Only our Cadet (16& Under) Girls team has a significant number of players graduating next year, all others can return almost intact, so performance can quickly take a huge jump if teams embrace a common goal and train toward performance.

This training focus will have to be central to our 2008-09 program plans since the top 8 teams from the recent Cadet Boys Nationals all come from big centres with many seasonal game opportunities. Even Calgary, with a National Training Centre and a city league, could only make it to 9th place at this event in 2008. It's obvious that the winter games being played in Ontario the past 3 years have helped Ottawa, York, Hamilton and Scarborough all catch up with the Montreal based teams and the BC teams from the lower mainland, all of which have lots of play experience before nationals. Hopefully the Prairie plans that Team Sask and I have worked out for next year will counter that a bit and our local training intensity can be picked up with less tactical focus during the week.

My next blog will speak about team offense, sport psychology and why we can be one of the best defensive clubs in the country but have so few players that want to shoot or score.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Backlog of Topics

I am home for a brief 36 hour period so I can't possibly blog on all the topics that need discussion. Two that I am going to try and cover today and tomorrow are 1) the recent national events, their format and why teams are not finishing as expected and 2) the silliness and/or stupidity that I am dealing with around 2008-09 plans.

Cadet Girls at Nationals

I like the girls in the picture above; every one of them has a quality I respect and admire. Unfortunately I think a few adults from outside our club are going to poison their water polo futures and prevent them ever playing together again.

Bringing 2 groups together, a purely social club like Neptunes and an obviously competitive one like Bushido, is very hard to do. It was obvious from nationals how little these girls have trained together and how unfamiliar competition stress was to the Neptune crew. I took some learning opportunities away from Bushido Bantam and Cadet girls in favour of players with more years in the sport but these girls had practice experience not game experience. The doubt and insecurity I created with Bushido players I have known for years was not something I anticipated hanging around this long into the season.

Hopefully everyone can see now that I did not work with the Neptunes to "strengthen" our 2008 teams. It was an effort purely to bridge gaps, mend fences and provide a framework for the future. Our team performance for women has actually been hurt with this effort. That is not to say we prevented a top 5 performance had we played with a pure Bushido team, we just messed with team identity. So, I am hoping people now understand why the High Performance program in 2008-09 will be a Bushido club one and not a hybrid that blends coaches and athletes a couple of times per week from different training environments.

Maybe some Neptune players will be allowed to join that HP training group, some likely won't. But if their parents are more concerned about not "betraying" old club friendships by joining Bushido then we know what that says about how committed they are to Social Sport vs High Performance sport. They've had 25 years to initiate HP water polo and so far, no sign of it. Either way, we have shown how positive our teams, athletes, coaches and training environment are so that is not the obstacle to success.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Relax, I am not Giving Up

Youth Boys Nationals

Sorry if anyone was shocked that I posted a comment about Neptune leadership heading into the abyss. I am not giving up my vision for the sport, my passion or my energy; I am just not fighting any more. I have to redirect how I deliver programs in 2008-09 since a small angry group from the Neptunes, who have opposed Bushido for many years, will not allow peace in that club. They are driving their own members away, and it is the same troublemakers for many years, so I am not going to fret.

After the National Championships are done and I am back to some sort of normal life I will deal with the 2008-09 season. I will talk about this with any Bushido parent who wants to hear me talk about it.

So far I have set up a training cycle with Bushido and 3 Saskatchewan clubs (Weyburn, Estevan, Regina) for an Atom and Bantam competition series in Manitoba (Brandon/Nov and Winnipeg/Jan). Then there is a training series with 5 dates (3 Winnipeg, 2 Regina) for Cadet and Youth players, both genders, between Team Saskatchewan and Bushido. The Regina dates are also going to include a mini Prairie League for Youth Women (and hopefully Cadet Boys) that includes Calgary. That will be a 20 game season just on the prairies and we have bid to host a combined Youth Nationals next spring - Boys and Girls at Pan Am on the same weekend. So, lots of games for not too much cost to the families and that will allow me to include DartFish video tagging for the older players (very exciting) and team psychology for all the players. Anyone who thinks I am not busy building and planning doesn't know me so everyone can relax if they think I am running out of steam or being put off track. No way!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


They say that what you don't learn from history you are bound to repeat. That is certainly something the Neptunes water polo club should reflect on as they support a parent leader who wants to dismiss technical plans made by coaches from 2 clubs and replace them with some half baked "daddy plan" that takes Manitoba Water Polo back to where it was 30 years ago. I am all for working together and supporting common vision but when parents get involved with sport to stroke their own ego or give themselves a soapbox I am outta there.

2008 Youth Men's Nationals - Montreal

While on the topic of crazy things in water polo, here is a photo from the national championships I was at last week. This is in Montreal, location of the National Training Centre for women, where all our top females are sent to train. The game is mid day Friday against an Ontario team. Do you see the mass of event volunteers on deck or the fans in the stands? No, we didn't see them either. Would you believe the event program was a 2 sided photocopy of the schedule? It was very obvious this was an event site to deal with economics not celebration of the sport we train all year to play. Sad.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

simple lessons made difficult

Today was an odd day at the national championships. The Youth Boys have shown an ability to play solid defense, adjust to their mistakes from previous games, play the same for 4 quarters. However they also showed that defense is the easy part and the side of the game that invoves confidence, offense, is still not something they are ready to address.

Carson has been playing great and was the best player in the pool tonight. He stopped at least 5 breakaways, 1 poor guy had 2 shots stuffed on the same breakway after getting a rebound. He also gave an aggressive face to our 5 v 6 defense which we had to play quite a bit due to facing the "dive under" Storm squad. As solid as he ways, we did not support him with an enthusiastic offense.

The boys know what to do but they lack the confidence to put theory into action. That means the learning is not complete even when they say they "know" what they are doing wrong. We'll believe they know it when we all see it.

Brendan has been doing a good job taking all the other teams focus when setting 2m. His team hasn't stepped up to exploit what they are left with so he forces things his few times with the ball. When he reflects on that after the game he hears the problem but he has been shooting blindly out of frustration too much this weekend.

I hope the Cadet Boys are paying attention to this lesson on offense this week because I do not want to live through this again in BC in two weeks.

When I get home on Monday I will try to do a summary posting with some event photos that Phil has taken and talk about why the top 4 teams are from Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto-Hull.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Boys are really nuts

These Youth Boys are really proving to be more than I had imagined they could be. After playing terrible water polo, weak and timid in all aspects, all they can talk about is going shopping tonight. It's understandable that losing to the top seed would be a low point in terms of their excitement but I am at a loss to understand how little respect they have for themselves. They played a team they know well, and do not fear, yet played right into their hands turning the ball over at every opportunity without ANY pressure. So why do they want to shop for shoes and shiney clothes...... Weird.

Now we likely play a decent Scarborough team as we struggle to stay above the 9th place threshold and improve from our pre event seeding. Hard to get excirted for that prospect.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

montreal is getting old

It seems like I have been here forever. It was odd to not return home with the girls on Sunday and then to meet the boys on Wednesday but so it goes.

I was a bit worried about the girls and how they would play in terms of confidence. That turned out be a valid worry as they never reached their potential as a group. Players never played their best all at the same time or in the same game. With peak performance, mentally, from all girls it would have been a top 6 finish for sure and possibly a top 4. Of course, I have to keep in mind that the Neptune girls that had joined us in December had never won a game at a nationals until playing with us so I had to temper my expectations until they got a few wins under their belts.

The boys give me a totally different worry as I have no concerns about how they will play or if they will show up focussed. I only worry about what bone headed thing a 16 or 17 year old boy will do to make me shake my head away from the pool ie in a hotel or a store. It is hard to understand why we have a 730 game Thursday morning during a nationals but schedules never seem to be something I can be happy with at a Canadian championship.

Since I have limited computer access in teh hotel lobby I may do another blog entry while I am here to update on what kinds of things I see in the boys play.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Regina Recap

This past weekend the Cadet teams were in Regina as a tune up for Nationals. This was a good time to bond as a group as we included the Neptune players that have been training, but not playing, with us. They fit in well and I was quite happy to see Katie be openly and warmly adopted by the Bushido Bantams who have been her opponents for so long.

The boys were steady all for 3 sessions, 2 scrimmages and an official length game. There were a few Youth Boys playing a bit with Regina but we welcomed that to increase the strength of the opponent. Without Mike, our strong shooting lefty, it was a good test of offensive resilience. Carson was very strong and even when not playing his best was too much for the Regina team to mount any real extended threat. All the other boys had low points of performance but the good thing was that never did the whole team play badly at once so there was a player to pick up slack when another went into a lull.

The girls were a contrast, playing quite poorly as individuals during the two 6-quarter scrimmages. During these games Breda and I took turns coaching and running the bench while we played everyone as equally as possible, Shae being the only exception. This created a bit of a confidence problem for some Bushido Cadets as they were stressed about watching the Bantams and Neptune newcomers play equally on a team where they had been key players for over a year. We had some 1 on 1 talks about that and some team discussions to put things in perspective. For the final game on Sunday I challenged them to pick it up, figure out their limits, commit to basics and get it done. That worked and they played very well.

The girls were helped by my starting the same girls every game and then allowing those starters to play longer before subs in the final. That fatigue made them appreciate the first break they got and nobody stayed out long so they kept confidence high. Now they know I have plenty of confidence in them and it started to pay dividends. As the younger players went in they played with energy and confidence knowing they had already been given lots of reps and that they could do anything asked of them. In this last game I also played Shae at 2m a few times to set the standard of intensity for Olivia and Sarah to aspire to. That worked well and everyone at that position was effective.

Both teams were allowed to choose their defense of choice during the final games since we had been forcing zones and gapping on them in the scrimmages. Both teams chose the press as the defense of choice and this will be the standard for nationals, only using the zones when a 2m player is too much for that 1 on 1 defense. This is fine by me as I dislike teaching anything but a press to under 16 athletes anyway, too much focus on performance and not enough on player skill.

This week begins a long, long month of national travel for me with 4 championships. I will not get to update the blog too much on the road as I am not taking a laptop (by choice).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Provincials review

I know it has been a little while since I have done daily updates to the blog, sorry if that has broken some patterns for regular readers. We bought a new house on the weekend so there is plenty of non-water polo stress hovering around these days.

Now, getting back to the Provincial Championships that I mentioned as "interesting" the other day. This was a series of 1 game contests between 2 clubs - Bushido and Neptunes. The Neptunes won the Open Women's game, using some fit young players that train with Bushido (ad have confidence playing us) and some very experienced veterans. Having Breda away in Montreal at CSL, Heather playing pro in Italy and Serena playing NCAA took a toll on our squad and we only had 2 Seniors (Erin & Shelagh), 1 Junior (Ellen) and 1 Youth (an ill Madison). That meant it was Bantam and Cadet squad as much as a senior one and it showed in our inability to take advantage of what was presented to us.

Most of the other games were quite lopsided and it was hard to know why since there are some good solid Neptune players on their Bantam and Cadet squads. The Bantam Neptune rosters were both co-ed and while we had agreed to play a co-ed opponent with our Bantam Boys we had not with our girls. So the girls game was officially a default and that is one of my concerns from the weekend. As a championship at the end of the year I would have preferred to see the 7 Neptune girls play the final game and not have girls on the bench for a girls game while boys played in a 1 goal game. The same thing happened with the Bantam boys when they played girls while Neptune boys watched. Winning was not the objective at this age so it would have been great to play the actual gender and allow our teams to fool with tactics, back-up goalies, under-aged 2m players etc. So, I will work toward that understanding with the Neptunes for next season.

The Open Men's game was one of the closest and the most exciting. We played with only 8 players and only Jesse was older than the Youth age for us. It was great that we pressed a large team of experienced older men for the whole game and if Domo hadn't had a big day it would have been very, very close.

I am hoping this event sets the stage for regular inter-club games at the Atom and Bantam age next season. That will help my growth plans for the club and the sport in general as all kids want to play games with some regularity.

On Sunday there was an awards brunch that I would have preferred to have seen on Saturday after the final game (not a brunch but a pizza party) - that would have meant one less trip to the pool over the weekend. I think I know a band or two that would have played at that event too if it had been social in nature. Maybe next year.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Short update

I will do a lengthy blog entry on the "Provincials" on Sunday or Monday, after the weekend activities have been completed. Interesting event to be sure.

Meanwhile, some family promotion as Riley had his first solo CD reviewed in the Free Press today. It was pretty favourable and you can read it here;


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Odds and Ends

Charming Cadet Girls

Team psychologists have dropped the gauntlet, boys vs girls in enough categories to keep things interesting. Tonight the boys had greater "On Task" performance, hmmm, didn't see that coming. Girls won't let that happen again but can the boys get enough guys to practice on time to challenge in the stretching and attendance categories? Don't hold your breath.

This weekend the "Provincial Championships" take place, be still my beating heart! But, seriously, it will be fun to play some games without all the inter-club stress and BS that we have had for decades. Kids know each other well enough from each group that they will push each other respectfully.

The Cadet Boys and Open Men's event will be without Mike, today he went to the doctor to x-ray his broken finger. Great, our history of major injuries for Cadet Boys continues for another year right at Nationals. What is it with the "Granola Belt" boys at practice that their fingers break in April? Arghh!

I just heard from Beeb (Bronwyn) who made it back to Canada after a year of traveling and avoiding Hep A and everything else tropical. Maybe we will see her at the pool soon.

Thank You Shae

First, I want to be sure that all the Bushido girls realize that Shae has agreed to stay home from the final CSL weekend this week to play in our Provincial Championships. That is a pretty big sacrifice from a player so intensely competitive and driven to succeed at the highest level.

Another reason Shae is staying home is so that she will not have to travel 3 weekends in a row with the 3rd being a hugely important Youth Nationals in Montreal May 1-3. Staying home now means that she has a short 2 day trip to Regina next week and a long 5 day trip to Montreal the following week.

I mention that because it should help to focus the Cadet and Youth teams on what they are working on the next few weeks, TEAM play. The opportunity to really get in synch will be given to the Cadets on their Regina road trip where we get 3 controlled games in one and a half days. That gives us a game to work on each zone defense with switches between press/drop, press/M for a full 4 quarters regardless of success or score. Then we will see who knows what and in the final Sunday game we can do what we feel most comfortable with or what needs a final tweek before we play BC at nationals (tough first draw, but as much so for them as us).

Girls, is this picture any good or do we redo it?

The teams in Regina will spend all weekend together so there will be some healthy rivalry going on. This will help the boys a lot as they see a challenge (playing better team systems than the girls) and like to rise to it. The boys will also really benefit from having a team psychologist in Regina because they don't fully understand why they play up and down without control. Tom will help them bring that into perspective and it may even sink in enough to be applied at Nationals in BC in late May. That is an event that I am happy is last, it is the most pleasant site to visit and there is an AMAZING coffee roasting house - Viva Java, that is close to the pool/hotel if we are in Richmond again. Wohoo!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Push Push Push

When I get stressed in Winter I remember this summer solitude is waiting for me.

Now is the time of the season when we have to push ourselves hard; not to get in shape, not to learn but to apply! That is always the difficult part, the application without breakdown. Anyone can work hard at physical effort, that is just pain that goes away when you stop. The performance of skill under specific, stressful conditions is a thing that can stay with you long after the effort has been expended.

That is why coaching is not all science, sometimes less science than art, and usually a mix of craft and psychology. This month we step up the mental part of performance by doing specific drills that mirror what will happen in games. It is too late to teach new things, we just need to focus on performing what we know. If we did that there would be no problem at all.

When we travel to Regina later this month with our Cadet teams, in a pre-nationals tour, it will be with a team psychologist, maybe even 2. That is meant to bring a new set of eyes to our group so we can adjust things that we have become accustomed to but that are interfering with our performance. That is all meant to aid focus of both individuals and the teams. That involves simplifying what we do and bringing into focus what our capabilities are and how we will maximize our current skills.

What we learn from this process in the spring of 2008 will help the athletes direct the kind of support they want and will get during the full season in 2008-09. Hopefully there is benefit right away but the bigger picture is having Cadet aged athletes understand what part their heads play in their training and performance.

Besides setting team and individual psychology meetings this week I have also scheduled team photos. That will give me some Blog pics to spice things up and the pics may be in some event programs for spring nationals too.

Heather and Serena will both soon be back in Winnipeg and I hope to have some spring time contributions from them both on deck and via the blog to give players some insight into what they went through as pro's this past season (NCAA and Italy).