Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why do Teenage Players Worry So Much About Referee Calls?

Tonight I had a post-practice conversation with a very talented, very bright young water polo player. She was frustrated with my referee calls in scrimmage and wanted t o compare them to what would be called in a "real game" or, worse, compare them to what I was calling for other players in the scrimmage. Well, I tried to explain, that is the wrong focus. We have engaged in a similar dialogue on many other occasions but this time, bless her heart, Joy was present. Being a younger, kinder, and much more attractive coach Joy was heard by this athlete better than I had been.

What Joy added to the conversation was an observation that the Bantam Girls she coaches have started to make comments about referee calls, and my calls when reffing practices, that they have zero knowledge about ie the comments do not come from an informed position. This attitude is being passed on to them by the role models they have present at practice. That bit of information resonated with the player and there was some reflection.

What I tried to say to diffuse the athlete frustration was that coaches referee at practice to lead players and teams to certain places. Sometimes there is refereeing exactly as we expect at events, sometimes we bring referees to practice or scrimmage, sometimes coaches want to show athletes what habits they have developed that got them into foul trouble at a recent tournament. This last piece is important because explaining a major foul to a player during a game or right after, when they are frustrated, does not always sink in. So recreating the major foul at practice when they do something similar is a good teaching point.

BUT, players should NEVER focus on what a referee calls other than to adjust their play accordingly. Accept the call and take what opportunities are presented no matter how smart, right or stubborn you may be. Even if the whole world knows the referee is wrong, like that LA ref who yellow carded me at Alberta Open!

Interestingly enough I have recently read an interview with a European 17 year old who will play NCAA water polo next year. In that interview he makes a perfect comment about referees so I copy the question and answer here with full credit to

Taken from "An Interview with Lithuanian LMU Recruit Ed Asajavicius".

WPP- You have played water polo in the United States several times, including in the summer leagues,Premier League D1, Junior Olympics and Commerce Invitational. What are the differences in the way the game is played in Europe and the USA?

EA- Since refereeing is not something a player should be concerned about :), there are not many differences I can think of. One team has to score more goals than the other to win, water polo is the same everywhere.

Sure, they put a smiley face after his remark but that just emphasizes that we all know EVERYBODY is concerned about referee calls. The point is, there is nothing players can do about it so just focus on what you can control and let coaches or event organizers deal with referee issues.

Now, just to give everyone a good laugh, here is a picture of me the day I was certified as a National referee in Canada. It was during the Gold Medal final of the mens division at the 1983 Canada Games in Quebec. Note the stylish white uniform that has not changed in 25 years. I was using an Acme Thunderer whistle and carrying a 2 colour referee flag; those things have certainly changed.

Dave reffing Ontario vs Quebec Men, Gold Medal 1983 Jeux Canada Games

The game was won by Quebec, boo hoo, since I was from Ontario at the time and coached some boys on the Ontario team. On the other side of the pool was Micheline Landry who remains, to this day, a National Referee and has been at that level since this day in 1983.

Why do I put this picture up today? Because in 1983 we had to be selected by the 2 teams in the final to be the game ref. Neither coach wanted "neutral" refs from other provinces, they wanted people they knew and could trust to not influence the game with politics or ego. This is important because even though it was 25 years ago it reflects that I have "walked a mile" in the shoes of a referee in key games. I've done this many times more since then and I know when to follow the FINA rules and interpretations and when to push an athlete to be more than they are accustomed to be in daily practice.

Hopefully a picture of me reffing with my eyes closed will give the players reading this a laugh. That might allow them to reflect and to understand that I don't referee any scrimmage to be mean and never from a position ignorance.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My Vision for 2008-09; Part 4

Related Activities, Beyond Daily Training and Competition

There has to be mention of the role and function of the MWPA in this new club structure and of Provincial level programming. Of course, what I have written about in the past 3 posts should open opportunities for new players and added vibrancy to the current MWPA School Leagues. There will be more energy for volunteer coaches and new blood in the referee pool as we increase the player base on a developmental level through the winter months.

One of the very first things I touched on when I presented my ideas to Trevor was the way this structure could mesh nicely with a summer Provincial Team Program (PT). If we have a HPTC running 10 months of the year there will need to be some monitoring and training in the summer months. Our players involved with National Teams are busy at that time with their international obligations but what about the other elite athletes who want to keep pace with the best in Canada. Well, a summer PT would allow a focussed set of training objectives for a limited group of committed athletes that are not out of the country, province or city. If we establish this summer training group it will provide the basis for a future PT when one is requested by Water Polo Canada for various summer initiatives like the Youth Cup.

The PT being tied into the HPTC allows us to access all sorts of additional services and funds through Sport Manitoba. It also allows for some partnerships like we have established this season with Carolyn Taylor who has been doing bio-mechanical research using Dartfish with us. Many of the components of ongoing Bushido programs do not get recognized by Sport Manitoba right now (Nutrition, Strength, Psychology, Coach Apprentice Program) because we don't offer them as part of a "Provincial Team". That is a quirk of Sport Manitoba that they will not change so it doesn't hurt us to alter our structure a bit and tap into some long hidden resources.

Will the Athletes all Get Along in This System?

So far, so good. By now everyone should know that we are running a pilot of this HPTC right now in Bushido. We have labeled it the Bushido Espoir Program and it initially involved our Youth Women who incorporated a few Neptune players. That success in joint training led to a Cadet Boy being added at the beginning of the year and then 3 Cadet Girls being added a month ago. So, we already have 3 of our 4 Age Group teams involving Neptune players right now. Geoff is fitting in very well with our Cadet Boys each week and even played with our Youth team at the Alberta Open. Heather, Robyn, Olivia, Hannah and Jessica are training well with the Youth Girls and Katie has joined Hannah and Olivia with our Cadets. Sure, there could be a little more social interaction outside of the practice drills but that will come with time, right now there is no fighting so that is the start we wanted given that this is a competitive setting. There is no reason we shouldn't expect that cooperation to grow into actual harmony in time.

So, what are the steps to make this transition? Well, I presented this proposal to Trevor at the beginning of February. I have kept the MWPA up to date on the outline of my ideas since then. Right now I am waiting to have follow up meetings with some Neptune coaches because, as you can imagine, this is more difficult for the Neptunes to embrace than for Bushido since it changes their programs in the most dramatic way. Basically all Bushido coaches support cooperation and growth and Bushido parents support Bushido coaches while they shepherd their children in a pretty positive and supportive way at all times. Hopefully, before the national championships cycle starts, we will have a template agreed upon for the MWPA to acknowledge and report on in a planning update for Sport Manitoba. I'm curious to see how much additional revenue flows to our sport next year.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

My Vision for 2008-09; Part 3

"Who trains where and when, who competes out of province?"

Everyone in the current system will want to now the answers to these questions. First I have to emphasize that if we create a HPTC that it will actually have to be high performance to be taken seriously.

Step #4; Put in place HP training practices. With that distinction comes a minimal amount of training and intensity and the starting point is likely to be 5 team practices per week at a minimum. All LTAD models suggest 9 or more training sessions per week for this level but I am working on a model that allows for a shift to this workload by incorporating additional personal workouts the way I have done the past decade with our Bushido Academy.

Why is it important to follow an LTAD program model and to provide this level of training? Because players here want to compete at National Championships, not just "play" but "COMPETE" and the teams at the top will be training that much so we must too. The LTAD model ensures that players will develop correctly over time the way Breda has; I use her as the example because she is from the first generation of Canadian water polo players who began their careers in a program that was structured on LTAD. Others from her generation that have had success from this model are people like Heather, Jesse, Adam, Karly, Derek, Mitchell, Domo, etc. But, that is a whole other topic for another time.

Another aspect of this program re-branding that many will not understand just yet has to do with the restructuring of Water Polo Canada. It is a given that the past practice of taking all our National team players and moving them to a common centre in Calgary (men) or Montreal (women) is about to end. Training will be localized to a great extent and there will be standards in each of the centres that emerges to fill the role of what was done with a single national centre. If we wish to keep our young athletes here to mentor our developing age group players, and to play on our Junior and Senior teams, we must have a training standard that is accepted nationally.

Step #5; Identify the correct competitions for the correct teams. Trevor and I have already discussed this point as it is easy to agree on. We would like to see local Cadet leagues develop 2 levels of team to travel outside Winnipeg. One high level team that will challenge for medals at all national events and one that is developmental and teaching players about what is involved with success at this level. At the Youth level we would likely only have 1 team traveling at a national level and maybe 2 at a regional one.

We would like there to be competition every month for Cadets and almost as much for Youth. That is an ideal and it will take time to get get there. This is something that will be discussed more with families in the program once it is unveiled.

My Vision for 2008-09; Part 2

"What about players not involved in High Performance?"

Last post we left with a vision for a combined approach to High Performance training for 2008-09 in the Manitoba water polo community. Now I will attempt to address how the developmental side of the sport fits into that new model. This will be an evolutionary process, what I propose today may take a sharp turn in a year or two, this is a beginning, not an end.

Step #2; Create a viable provincial winter league for Atom and Bantam teams that are club based. A league, to be viable, should start with a minimum of 4 teams per category. How can we ensue that we have leagues with that many teams when we only have 2 clubs in Manitoba? I have a few ideas and these will require support from both clubs. First, we can mandate that each club must develop age group programs in at least 2 city pools (ie Klassen & Eldon Ross or UofM & Pan Am). That will increase the focus and community awareness and give us centres for 2 teams for each club in each category. We can't do this overnight but we can do it in 1 season if we plan for it now, approach the pools as a unified group with the MWPA, and have the structure ready to accept players from the vibrant Middle Years League run by the MWPA.

These leagues can be 5 vs 5 or 6 vs 6, it does not matter. What is important is that we have games on a regular basis, we market the sport, we provide levels of participation and we have community involvement opportunities. This structure allows for the development of referees, coaches and minor officials. It provides players with a taste for the game that has competition as an integral part, not like the infrequent games available today. Following a Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Model we know that games at this age should not be focussed on outcome but they should emphasize process. This would allow both local clubs to participate with less emphasis on who is "better" and more on what are we learning, collectively. It also allows new clubs or groups to join in the system with less stress or intimidation.

Ok, that takes care of Winnipeg but what about other regions? Well, I have just spent a good deal of my time while in Calgary at the Alberta Open talking to Coach Cyril from Saskatchewan about water polo on the prairies next season. We would like to have some inter provincial games as 1 day affairs with both centres traveling ie Sask Teams and Winnipeg Teams. Brandon is the perfect meeting place and if we have a few Saturday afternoon games at the Sportsplex in 2008-09 you can bet that it will be possible to start an Atom program there in 2009-10. That is a nice piece of this restructuring that the MWPA could become involved with and guide through the development stages.

Step #3; Create a viable provincial winter league for Cadet and Open teams that are NOT club based. Why not based on a club? Because that would be impossible if the HP athletes are all training 5x week or more with Bushido, how could any other team compete? In order to get 4 teams of Cadet Girls or Cadet Boys we would need to (i) move up some Bantams (ii) recruit from the school leagues (iii) use both Bushido and Neptune programs that cross over the HP vs Developmental boundaries. Can you envision a Cadet league of 4 girls teams of 10 players, each with 4 Bantams, 5 HP players and the balance developmental players from school teams or other sports like swimming or basketball? I certainly can and it will be a great mentoring league for the HP players who train so much each week and want to share their passion and experience with others in a fun, experimental game situation.

If you are wondering how the teams would be created it isn't that tough. I will sit down with Trevor, Head Coach of Neptunes, and talk about what kind of teams we want to create, what tactics we want to focus on, do we want a strong countering team and a strong shooting team or do we want 4 balanced teams? Then we
will divide the HP players, assign the strong bantams from our clubs, make sure there are committed coaches and then we will all recruit from the school leagues. The tough thing here will be finding a day and time when these teams can have a weekly practice that does not interfere with HP training. That is the one complex piece of this puzzle as we do not want training to overlap with Development and HP programs.

The Open Leagues will be run the same way but with a major difference, we won't assign coaches and run weekly practices. These teams will focus on a weekly game and be lead by Mentors who play, coach, teach the younger or less experienced members of their squads. If you are having trouble with that idea imagine a team of 16-20 year old women led by Heather Carson who will have just returned from a pro career in Italy, or led by Marilyn Thorington or Nancy Smith who have played Senior international water polo for Canada.

This Open league also addresses an important part of the shift in athletes with a new structure. The Neptunes have always had a strong Masters aspect to their programming and membership. I would like to encourage older players not training more than once per week to join that club for social practices that are fitness based. Since all these players would be in the same Open league it makes no difference if they join one club or the other and that helps support Neptunes with a core membership group.

next up, Part #3 "Who trains where and when, who competes out of province?"

My Vision for 2008-09; Part 1

I will summarize my plans for 2008-09 Manitoba Water Polo programming in parts. This will make the blog entries shorter, less wordy and more likely to be to the point. If there is not enough detail in one entry, wait for the next and see if it is any clearer. At the end, feel free to post whatever questions remain from the ideas I have presented.

Introduction; For several years I have watched our local community be threatened by 2 clubs recruiting young players with a similar pitch. I say threatened because the pitch from each club hinted that the programs were similar and the end point virtually the same. That is threatening in so far as the clubs are very different and the end point nothing similar at all. Bushido has been pushing athletes and programs toward national championship play and national team placement of players. Neptunes have been much more social and have always had a strong participation base to what they do. No value judgments here at all, just observations of reality.

What this has meant is that our competitive player base is too thin to support thriving clubs. Bushido has a strong core of great young athletes who work very hard but we have to entice other players with less passion to join them to make competitive teams for national events. That splits focus and team goals are never unified. The Neptunes on the other hand have a core of fun, social athletes that includes some exceptional players. These exceptional athletes get frustrated with not having teams at high level events or attending those events and never having success. It therefore makes sense to try and unify our approach to developing the sport. Combining the top players under 1 banner takes the pushy approach and competitive pressure off the bulk of the players who are there for less competitive reasons. If we do this right it will mean more players training and playing local games at a developmental level and having less emphasis on national events, more on regional. So, how do we do that?

Step #1; I have proposed creating a Bushido High Performance Training Centre (HPTC) to take the place of what is now the "High Performance Program" within Bushido that develops teams to attend national championships. Programs would be directed toward Cadet teams and older. This Centre would be different in two ways - it would be open to players from outside the current Bushido programs ie Neptunes, and it would involve coaches from the Neptunes programs in it's weekly leadership. This leads to 2 questions: 1) why "Bushido" High Performance and not Neptune and 2) why not do this under a Provincial Team banner? The answers to those questions follow.

Why "Bushido" High Performance: This is going to succeed under the Bushido banner because (a) we have a history of national team athlete placement that is continuous, visible and includes 4 carded athletes since 2000 (Bourne, Shevtsov, Bredin, Vosters), (b) we use the leadership of a professional coach and (c) we have an infrastructure with an established parent volunteer base that has vast experience hosting, managing and facilitating this level of programing. The only changes that need to be made in 2008-09 will involve adding a coach or 2 and extending athlete membership to a small group of hard training new players.

Why not do this under a Provincial Team banner: Pretty simple, our club operating budget dwarfs that of the provincial association. This means that the volunteer ownership of the programs we run is much more intense and professional. People have a stake in program success, it is their money that funds the activities and the model is not democratic in that every opinion does not have a right to be debated endlessly (a problem common with PSO boards). Our focus is much more narrow so it is easier to stick to our mission and goals with low risk of getting sidetracked. You will read much more about how the Provincial Team meshes with this model in a later post.

Athletes will be invited to join this 2008-09 HPTC in the spring of 2008; they will be given training goals for the summer - strength, fitness, psychology and nutrition. In the fall there will be a pre-season camp where ground rules are established, team rosters presented, competition plans laid out and commitments made by athletes and coaches.

next up, Part #2 "What about players not involved in High Performance?"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Team Psychologist

I have had several responses to my question about who wants info on my 2008-09 plans so that topic will be covered over the weekend when Carol is engrossed in some escapist novel and I am being ignored on my holiday.

Today I will touch on the addition to our program for the remainder of the season, team psychologists. We are adding a "team" of psychologists to work primarily with our Cadet teams, one male and one female. This will allow them to share ideas of how to approach common issues ie game readiness without enough games (that is what I am focusing on, training environment), while still leaving room to go in different directions.

Oddly enough both genders have a similar issue to address and they both brought it up on their own, away from the other team. The boys describe it as not being jerks and treating each other like sh-t. They have a macho aura that tends to prey on the weak - or who they see as weaker than them at the time. This is a genetic trait that is reinforced in an intense competitive setting if we don't deal with it each generation. The girls express it more softly as supporting one another and not being negative. They are struggling with the same sort of group dynamic but to be alpha female does not encourage being openly negative so it works below the surface.

It's good they all see the issue because it is common at this age, 13-15, as everyone establishes their place in the hierarchy. We all know that boys deal with this process differently - see a conflict, explode, move on. Girls do things in their own way; that often involves darkly embracing tension and playing with it. The blow up doesn't appear until it is far removed from the original problem and has developed rich and complex layers. So, 2 team approaches might be needed even if the issue is similar.

I won't go into what the teams do or the details of the work the psychologists undertake. I will discuss the impact the work has on training and competition, if any.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Does anyone reading this blog want to read a summary of my plans for water polo in Manitoba for 2008-09 season? They involve a High Performance Centre in Bushido, development leagues for Atom and Bantam, competitive leagues for Cadet and Open and cooperation with the Neptunes on many fronts. There are new training partners (local, regional, international), new initiatives, totally new travel. It might be a good read ..........

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Alberta Open Redux

It has been a very, very long time since we returned from the Alberta Open without a medal for one of our teams. Some years we return with buses full of 100% of our players wearing medals; not this time. Did we all of a sudden forget to teach skills or recruit the right players? No. Did something change with the hosting, scheduling and competition itself? Yes.

First of all, our Cadet teams both finished 5th. That means of the 9 entries they were the best teams not playing for a medal on Sunday. Can that be explained? Sure, here goes. The experimental grouping placed our teams with a developmental team from Neptunes and a transitional (from developmental to HP) team from Regina. The other 2 divisions of 3 teams each were stronger than the division we were in and the format had teams only playing the 6 teams outside their division. So, we did not all face opponents of the same strength and the final rankings, after 6 games each, were not based on common opponents. As a result only the Cadet boys final was close, all other Cadet medal games were lopsided with opponents not being matched according to their strength. Also recognize that playing our first 2 Cadet Girls games in the small recreational pool was a complete joke preventing us from being ready for a switch to the big pool mid-day on Friday to face a hard swimming Valley team.

Our Bantam teams played all their games in a small pool, as small as the space we play the 5 vs 5 event in January. This meant the skill level of the players was hampered; all players crowded centre so there was very little ability to use the 2m position and that is the basis of our boys team, by far. Our girls are strong in the 2m department too and their explosive driving had nowhere to go. By Sunday the girls had figured out how to more quickly move the ball in transition and they exploded much more on the counter so they flipped an 11-4 loss to an Alberta All-star team into a 7-3 win over the same squad. The team that finished 4th had beaten them on Friday as the 5th game of the day for half our team (2 Bantam, 3 Cadet games) and immediately after the Cadets had just finished their 3rd game. So the girls should have been playing for a medal if the schedule had been developed to allow teams to recover and perform over a balanced 4 day cycle.

The Atom team may have finished where they belonged since that division has a high up & down performance factor for all but the most experienced teams. There was certainly improvement over the weekend but Mackenzie being too sick to play most of the event hurt us. And, no player was hindered more by the small pool size than Natalie who could not find space to use her speed as one of the 5 fastest girls in Canada.

Youth teams were a curiousity. I am not sure how the boys lost to Fraser Valley 2 but after leading 9-8 at half and then losing 1-6 in the second half suggests fatigue. I guess having the Cadet/Youth boys (Carson, Mike, Alex, Andrew) play 5 times on Thursday and then a Cadet game before the FV2 Youth game on Friday can be identified as part of the problem. Their Storm loss was simply a result of a 1 hour rest after their hard swimming game earlier that day vs FV1. Why did we have 2 games with a one hour break and nothing else all day? Simply a lack of concern for visiting teams.

Youth Women need their own paragraph here. I can tell you they were not the 4th best team, that is for sure. In the bronze medal game that shows us losing by 1 (7-6 to Calgary A) we had a goal ignored in the first half. Our big centre forward, Heather, scored a backhand that went into the net and out again so quickly the referees did not see. That was possible because the goals we played with were only a foot deep and sat so close to the bulkhead that the rebound out was extremely fast. You would think that having 2 Calgary referees working that game would have had them used to the rebound out of the net. I'll let you figure out why there were 2 refs from the same club as we were playing. The other difference in scoring came when the referees allowed a free throw inside 5m (at 4m actually) to be shot at net and score. So, it was actually a 7-6 Bushido win but having the medal from the event was much more important to Calgary than to us, we will focus on a medal at the end of the year, not the middle. In our earlier games vs Storm and Calgary we played many players, some of whom were very tired, so only our match with LA was close to a test of our real strength prior to the final. That game was a 2 goal loss, 10-8, and was close for the duration.

None of that is sour grapes; I'm just explaining to those who were not there or who don't have the technical background to know the factors altering team play. I am quite at ease with the standings as I could not care less about winning at this huge event with so much player overlap on rosters. I was interested in judging our training and testing our work thus far in 2008 and that was possible to some extent. We will just make note of how this major event has degenerated as a regional or international event and accept that it is now an Alberta showcase for their regional teams to come to Calgary and get some games vs teams they will never travel to see in their own cities. Maybe in 2009 some of those teams will return. For us we are looking at alternatives and I had many discussions along those lines with other coaches during the weekend.

Coming up later this week, adding a team of sport psychologists and why

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I just have to smile and let it go....

What a circus this Alberta Open has become. I was hoping to find some real positives for all teams that are here but that is so hard with the way things have been structured. The only teams that are happy with the schedule are Calgary and LA, check the Alberta website and you will see why. They have breaks and recovery time for their teams, always. That is what we have been accustomed to at this event for the past decade but no more.

We have lost of players making huge improvements, great leaps in play and confidence. Dani Parrington has turned a big corner with her play and will get lots of reps at Youth Nationals now that she is a Cadet leader. Andrew Bredin has really improved at the Cadet level after a few games as a Youth here and is steady as a much more mature veteran. The Bantam Girls have kept improving in big ways even if they are too fatigued with multi-team play to win as much as they want. Atoms keep improving during games and that is what we want to see with that age.

Our Cadet Boys has 2 easy wins today and it was a shame we couldn't have played one of yesterdays team sin a 2-game-day setting like today. Youth Boys were on their way to pushing Calgary to the limit when the Calgary coach lost his cool and started yelling aggressively and with enough anger to force the naive American referee to completely change what he was calling. Too bad because it could have been the best game of the day if the Calgary team had been forced to improve their play rather than have referees change what was called for each team.

Since I don't want my blog to be too negative I will just leave it at that and say that we are talking to lots of other coaches about Alberta Open alternatives for next season.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Long Long Day (or Half Day to be Exact)

Thursday is always the hardest part of the Alberta Open. We've had a draining 14-15 hour bus ride to get here, a night of little sleep, then mayhem at the pool. Everyone plays their first game on adrenaline and then crashes. Sometimes the crash is during that game in the 3rd or 4th quarter, other times it is during the next game.

Our Cadet Boys started out very well vs Calgary and controlled every aspect of the game. Unfortunately they gave the ball away 30+ times and allowed Calgary back into the game after leading 5-1 in the second half. It was a 1 goal loss that resulted from fatigue. From there it was downhill and they played their most lazy and lethargic game ever vs Saanich to end up losing to a much inferior team. Tonights last game, yes their 3rd in half a day, was a lopsided loss to a hard countering Fraser Valley team that is half Valley and half Storm from last years BC teams.

Bantam girls also struggled with mental errors and lost a decent 1st game to Fraser Valley and then a lopsided game to an Alberta team that is made up of 2 alberta clubs and some Neptune girls from Winnipeg. They had too many players to outswim us and the lack of jump in our play resulted in lost passes and missed shots. Nothing that is not able to be corrected right here, this weekend. They are playing well, just to tired to be really sharp. Bantam Boys also lost to Calgary today as we did not have the depth to keep up to the never-ending driving and shooting of that more experienced Calgary group.

Atom team played only 1 game but came from behind to win and feel confident for tomorrow morning vs LA. The Cadet Girls also came from behind vs a Calgary team after losing 3-0 in the first quarter. Delaney had started in net and all the goals were outside shots on free throws that were high corners that she just could not get to. None were her fault though since the defense was supposed to block those free throws. They adjusted in the second quarter and no mire goals against Delaney.  Shae as really frustrated and tired so missed many shots in the first half. I had a chat with her after the 3rd quarter and she made every adjustment we talked about to lead the team on a 4 goal outburst to win by 8-4. She only scored a couple of those but her confidence and renewed effort gave Jaelyn and Sarah Mutch the confidence to score to last 2 insurance goals.  Sandra also benefitted from watching the shooters early and was superb on the long shots when she got to play net.

Youth Women just humbled Calgary B 11-2 but we had been winning 9-0 for the first 3 quarters. Everyone did things well in that game so we have lots to look forward to there. The Youth Men gave Regina some hope as they went up early then relaxed and let them come back to within a goal. I was frustrated with some starters and sat them for awhile so it was not a "play the best guys all game" sort of match by any means.

We have some small teams here and some players to ill to play today (Dylan, Devon, Miranda) and some ill enough to not be at their best. Friday is always a rebound day for us so I hope we play with a little more zip and confidence. Lots of early games Friday with Cadet girls and Atoms at 725, Youth Women at 820 (Storm) and 1010 (Calgary A). That means Youth women will be finished for the day by 1100am having played twice, what are the chances that was a coincidence in schedule making?

Over-all our goalies are outstanding and have shown they are the best club of goaltenders here. That reflects well on everyone and it anchors our defense which we are having fun experimenting with.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

We're Here

The bus ride almost seems to be getting shorter. I guess the road conditions were ideal and the buses comfortable so the 14 hours went pretty fast. Kids were all well behaved and no movies that could not be tolerated by the adults.

We got the schedule from the host while en route, not ideal. There are some difficult scenarios but only 1 head to head conflict where Cadet and Youth girls play at the same time. Since we have 5 Cadets (half the team that is entered here) on the Youth roster we can;t play without them. We have asked for this to be changed but who knows.....

Weather in Calgary is pretty good, certainly no sign of snow. It's warm enough to be sweater or light jacket weather for us but the LA athletes may still want their UGGS and shiny new parkas to beat the chilly north air.

I will try to do meaningful daily updates via this blog or the family email chain but that will depend on my schedule of daily games.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No Schedule Yet

Midnight on the night before we leave for the largest water polo event in Canada and there is no schedule. It shows a sign of the difference of being from a have province and a have-not one. Calgary is genuinely trying to do a fair schedule and give all teams what they need, they just don't have the perspective of what it means to us to have to wait.

The last time a Calgary team traveled to Winnipeg to play was for the CWPL about 4 years ago. Their coach objected to being red carded after an outburst and vowed never to return to Winnipeg to play again. And Calgary has not returned! Imagine if Manitoba or Saskatchewan had tried to host an event that invited 57 teams and did not give a schedule to teams until they arrived for the event. We would be very harshly judged.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Calm Before the Storm

I had hoped to do a blog entry on the lead up to the Alberta Open today or yesterday. That hasn't been possible since I am still waiting for schedule adjustments and clarifications before it is settled. This is a big event but for some reason they are reluctant to limit teams or do an advanced schedule for club input.

There are too many teams at the Alberta Open this year. We don't need 9 Atom or Cadet teams and the 11 Bantam teams is too many as well. 8 or 12 teams in divisions of 4 would be ideal. Some clubs have pushed for "more games is better" and "we want to play LA" so the host tries to give everyone a balanced, meaningful event. I like that accommodating approach but we have past over into the overwhelming. For 12 and unders who are learning to train, exploring skill development, forging psychological patterns it is not possible to play 9 games in 3.5 days and have time to play, recover, enjoy, learn, observe. They will not know how to look after themselves and will burn out, many will return home ill.

So, I will wait to see how things unfold, may be there is a surprise revision in the works.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Olympic Qualification - Positive Story

I can only consider one thing to write about today, Canada qualifying for the Beijing Olympics! This team was flying under the radar, keeping a very low profile while the women were struggling under close scrutiny in Imperia a few weeks ago. The men have now done what they never managed before, Olympic qualification through head to head games with the best in the world.

This is so important for many reasons but chief among them is the fact that the team is primarily amateur athletes competing against European pros. That is such a key thing to remember, the sacrifices these guys have made, and there is no doubt that our having had some guys play pro in other countries the past few years was a big part of the success. The other big piece of the puzzle was a coach on deck with a European pedigree who had the respect of the world as a player. Do not underestimate that bit of social reality in that patriarchal part of the world.

Congratulations to Dragan and his staff for taking them the final step to Olympic credibility. And, let me be the first to thank the coaches that contributed to delivering the quality players to Dragan for his finishing touches - Michel Roy, John Csikos, Wing Wong, Mike Morton, Quinn Fairley, Andras Szeri, Scott Smith. There are others but I am not sure of their role so won't try to name everyone.

Insightful Young Women

Tonight I had a wonderful conversation with two insightful young women who were frustrated at the lack of performance from their "teams" at practice today. I put the word teams in quotations because we never have the ideal set up where we can put a full squad together in a training environment and test it's cohesion, confidence and execution. This is because to field a first line Cadet team we must move up Bantams, to field a first line Youth team we need to move up many Cadets. This leaves no squad to challenge the "first line" team we are testing.

So, why the frustration from Shae and Breda? Because they see very capable players not executing, not using their abundant skills, in drills that review and reinforce tactical instruction from weeks gone by. They wanted to know why that was so we talked for a few minutes about that. There was question about improving their execution if we did more drills and less swimming and skills. Well, if they have been taught the tactics and been given 30 minutes to work on them will it make a difference to increase that to 60 minutes or to 90 minutes? Yes, to some extent, and that is why we have entered the Competitive training phase right now, to determine what has been learned and been added to their repertoire.

Then, as we talked about this and I asked questions of them, ie "how would we increase the learning rate or boost the confidence level?". Breda didn't even hesitate to answer "by playing more games" and she is so correct. Smarter at 17 then any of the people who are making decisions for Water Polo Canada about domestic competition. More games during a season under a system that is understood by the whole team and the whole club. For Bantam and Cadet players a meaningful game in this sense is one that they can repeat tactical systems; scores and standings are irrelevant. Youth teams would need a certain standard of opponent for a game to be meaningful but close scores are not even required as long as they get these games more than 2 or 3 weekends per season.

I'm really glad they figured that out so quickly by themselves since that is the direction I am headed with changes that I have proposed for Manitoba Water Polo next season. It is also what I am currently discussing with Cyril, the Provincial Coach from Saskatchewan, who sees the same basic problems on the prairies that I do.

The good news for the girls tonight is that we get to accurately judge team and player performance in Calgary in a week after a few more days of increased focus on tactics. Then we go into a short 7-8 week cycle of recover, rebuild, re-peak before Nationals and that cycle will have a decent competition phase that teaches nothing, just tweeks what is already known. That process of working toward an end point is hard to visualize for players in their teens that are ahead of the group in confidence and/or skill.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Getting Ready for Alberta Open

The new Agon suits look great, girls are really happy with them. Let's hope they last longer than the sketchy ones we got from Turbo last year.

When you see the whole group in them it really looks like a powerful "team" not just a bunch of girls in suits. I guess that is actually what we were going for. The objective now will be for every player to have the white of their suit out of the water with every shot. Shouldn't be a problem for these dynamos.

I've taken a break from writing about the shooting technique from last week. Still waiting to get some concrete biomechanical data to mull over before too many comments. There is no rush on that since I am not encouraging any drastic changes in shooting before we go to the Alberta Open next week.

Speaking of Alberta Open, holy crap! Got the draft schedule today and it is asking us to play 4 games a day on Friday with 2 of our teams, no way! We won't drive all day Wednesday to be available to play Thursday to Sunday and then sit around doing nothing Thursday while waiting to kill ourselves Friday. There is only 1 US team this year, playing teams in 3 divisions, and no eastern teams. Lots and lots of Calgary teams though.

Jesse is planning on taking his laptop to Calgary this year so I may do Blog updates while I am away. Not sure if I will do journals too since that would double up the writing and electronic communication. This could be a problem since I might need to be at the pool 14 hours Friday (7:00-21:00) and longer on Saturday. I shouldn't have any trouble sleeping on the way home!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Shooting Technique Being Revised?

Is there a Canadian standard for water polo shooting technique? No, nothing close to resembling that. Should there be? Well, if national coaches are concerned that the majority of club players are not coming into the national team system with correct shooting technique then there must be a standard set for all to follow. I am discussing this now because the MWPA just had a weekend shooting clinic with the former Men's national team captain, Noah Miller, and the current women's national team captain, Krystina Alogbo. We chose those clinicians to bring us the perspective of the current national coaches on domestic athlete shooting technique.

Of course, with a standard shooting technique would come a standard skill set to support that shot. There would be specific passing technique to set up that shooting skill, specific catching to prepare for the pass and shot. These would be supported by specific strength and flexibility of the upper body and torso. Also needed would be exact legwork needed for support, lunge and recovery. All of that wouldn't take more than a 1 or 2 hour workshop lead by national coaches to create such a family of "basic shooting skills". Delivery of that information would be so simple at a national coaches symposium I won't even bother to discuss it.

So, why isn't this sort of national shooting skill being taught across the country? A skeptic would say that the fewer clubs there are teaching standard technique the fewer athletes (ie clubs) would be involved in the national team system. That idea can not be taken seriously since EVERY national coach must want competition for spaces and want as many great athletes as possible to fight for team spots. No, the reason most likely for this lack of a national system is related to security for those that create it. National coaches believe they have too many things they are responsible for to create this program and oversee it. If they don't oversee it then they don't want it brought forward. More to the point, if a national skill set is created there will never again be a possibility for national coaches to use lack of skills coming into a program to be the reason for lack of program success.

Maybe there is an "it's coming, don't worry" idea out there in Water Polo Canada that this is part of the current LTAD project. If so, it puts too much faith in that program as delivery will still be the obstacle that it is today. LTAD will deal with this sort of hierarchical structure of learning and skill development but what the skills are and how they are delivered are a generation away. Why wait that long?

The basic difference in the way Canadians shoot the ball now and the way Dragan is pushing us, toward a Serbian model, is found in a more vertical torso. There is more forward hip pivot and less torque from a torso twist. I will talk about that in more detail once I have reviewed the Dartfish video that Sports Biomechanist Carolyn Taylor, who has worked with our athletes twice this winter, has provided. Today I post a quick, low quality image of Breda showing her evolution from "old skool" shooting to Serbian influenced method. I am going to get some specific feedback from Darko on her shot in Calgary next week, then will make up my mind on the transition in our club for the balance of the season.

Breda Modifying her Shot

If you are interested in coaching science, or education theory, I will touch on supplantive learning when I talk about the alteration of shooting technique in established players. Right now I am allowing this modified shot to be experimented on by just the players who have given up trying to improve their shot through all other methods. Otherwise it is just being experimented with mid-season in some passing drills.

Final thought, I know the video quality is crap but that brand new AGON suit that Breda is wearing is pretty slick and "super heroish". Girls were crazy excited to see those custom made and delivered in 7 days from Spain!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sport Nutrition

Having a few days without a blog entry tends to create a backlog of topics if you have been in the daily routine of writing about coaching. I am working on three specific topic areas motivated by this past weekends MWPA clinics which covered shooting and, to a much lesser extent, nutrition.

Two of these revolve around the techniques being taught by national coaches and being "expected" from athletes coming out of Canadian clubs. One blog will outline the shooting technique favoured in Canada today and hopefully show video and give a simple biomechanical description of the old method and the newer "Serbian" method. The other blog will talk about why this is a symptom of a huge disconnect between the national teams and the clubs developing 100% of the athletes for those teams. This modified shooting is the way Mike G. has been shooting since Darko began working with him as a Cadet 3 years ago.

Today, the topic is nutrition and that jumps ahead of the shooting dialogue thanks to Mike Reid, or club strength and nutrition guru who now advises us electronically from Sweden. Mike has a blog himself ( and this weekend it has a wonderful entry about artificial sweeteners. Mike and I see eye-to-eye on so much nutrition and lifestyle information that I am not going to repost his blog entry, I'll just direct you to it.

I love that he has located research about something that supports what I have known intuitively for some time but not been able to articulate due to a limited background in the science of nutrition (and limited hours to research that myself). Here is the conclusion from the research Mike has written about;
"... products containing artificial sweeteners may lead to increased body weight and obesity by interfering with fundamental homeostatic, physiological processes."

It is appropriate to post that link today since so many young club athletes had a great sport nutrition introduction from Jorie Janzen on Saturday. Jorie took a practical approach to this topic with our athletes by dealing with the big picture, avoiding preaching, and giving athletes specific examples of things they could relate to. I particularly liked how she made a differentiation between water and sports drinks and then talked about a sport nutrition plan. These are things the coaches can follow up when planning with the athletes of each team. The follow up will be easy since Jorie has added to our portfolio of support literature that will now be delivered to athletes over a period of time to reinforce the regular inclusion of nutrition planning in their sport lives.

This is the month, March, when all our youngest athletes (Atoms and Bantams) get their first comprehensive introduction to nutrition. We always use the Alberta Open as the test event to give young teams the chance to connect what they learn about nutrition to how they live while on the road. It's so easy when we have them in a hotel and on the bus for 5 days to exercise influence on what they eat and what thoughts they form in that regard. I am also working on a strategy to help bring athlete hydration to the bench during games in a way that is shared between staff and athletes.

Busy weekend

Sorry to those who read this blog on a regular basis, I have been sick this week and am spending the weekend at a shooting clinic put on by a couple of national water polo team members. This has given me a significant topic to deal with in a day or two, talking about the disconnect between clubs and nationals teams. Stay tuned.