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.