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.