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).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Fighter Jet" taking down an Opponent

Ok, so why am I so busy and not posting daily (I have heard this from several people the past week or so)? Well, I live in a 3 story 2800 sq' house and it is 100 years old. That takes work from time to time and when I am doing that labour I am less able to tend to personal water polo issues over required job activities (practice planning and delivery, event planning etc).

So, this week at the pool I am focusing on half court drills that require teams to follow limited, specific tactical directions. The point is to get them to follow a game plan and not fall into habits of freelance play or dependency on too few.

The boys never seem to give Brendan the ball often enough when he is available at 2m. His skill there demands we feed him the ball every time he is open. This is a problem that Riley had when he was a Youth player too, it was only Jesse (and sometimes Dana Bredin or Greg Cavers) that could follow a game plan and feed the pass to Riley at 2m. Too often Adam was busy playing with the ball himself and oblivious to what the team was doing. Pizey and Ben had that problem today, too unwilling to listen to tactics and just doing what they want. That is being corrected.

The girls have a different problem. The older ones tend to want to give it to Breda and watch what happens. Any team tactic we discuss is thrown out the window as soon as the first pass goes to her. She has this solo effort reinforced at both the CSL and the Junior National Team where they build tactics around her handling the ball. That means we are working against some big obstacles to break that model but it is happening. The good thing is Breda is smart and want steam success so when things work as a group she embraces them. She never wants to do it herself, she just keeps getting put in that spot by others.

This is the sort of thing we are doing now, force a limited tactic each day, then expand the next. Without games through the season it takes much longer to learn these tactics than it would in a country with a league but we do what we can while we change the environment we work in over time.

Also this week, finally, we have the safety nets up at Pan Am during practice. I asked for this to be done, in writing, in August 2007. Why did it take the city 7 months to do this, don't ask. I will have my camera at the pool Thursday to take some Cadet Girls team shots for the Nationals Program. I will try to get some pics of the safety netting too, then post them here.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Busy Guy

Sorry it has been a long time for a blog update. Carol has spring break right now and we have been busy with some household renovations that are taking lots of free time.

I heard from Serena in Hawaii yesterday that she may have torn her UCL (in the elbow) from a very hard outside shot from a big 2m defender on the Wahine squad. This girl, Ryan, shoots harder than Monika Eggens if you need that perspective, so maybe 65km/hr. She'll have an MRI this week and get the full report soon.

There have been some additional discussions the past week between Trevor and I concerning my 2008-09 MWPA plans. This is good, the more we talk, the more I hear questions, the more it becomes clear how we can move forward with unity and harmony. One of the things I had not made clear initially was my hope that Neptunes would strengthen their role as a provider of "life long" water polo opportunities and build more adult programs with players graduating from age group programs of both Bushido and Neptunes. This seems to be universally accepted so when both clubs graduate players from Bantam into Cadet they will choose participation with Neptunes or High Performance with Bushido. Then when they graduate from age group they will choose ongoing HP with Bushido ie national team, pro, NCAA or Adult or Masters with Neptunes. All of the players in both Cadet and Open will play in the same MWPA leagues so there is no lack of program opportunity for anyone if this is done right.

I was reading in the paper today about the synchro girls who are participating at Pan Am this week in the Western Divisionals. They have trained 20 hrs/week the past few years to be ready for this national level event. This will be an important program model for our families education next year when we initiate the High Performance Training Centre with Bushido. I certainly don't expect 20 hrs/week but we have to go part way to that frequency to get where we want to go nationally and internationally with water polo. Some of our players are training 6 days/week and twice some days right now so it isn't like they will practice more, just practice with more unity and partnership under a more specific plan.

Later this weekend I hope to look in detail at our Youth Women's National Championship schedule and talk about the double elimination system. Then I will have some comments on what happens if/when we beat Calgary 2 in our first game and jump up a few levels to play Quebec 1 later the same day.