Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Ok, odd title for a water polo coaches blog, I admit. However, it became apparent last night that I am now coaching many players from a younger generation that have not heard me talk to them enough about nutrition. One athlete actually went so far as to tell me I was feeding them conspiracy theories when I answered some questions about milk and how it has a negative impact on many people.

First of all, I am not going to tell anyone not to drink milk even though there is ample research to tell you why not to. I am also not going to tell you to drive within the speed limit, to not download movies or video from the internet, to not drink alcohol to the point of intoxication. Everyone can make their your own choices about lifestyle; I will just help with information that is current and applicable to athletes.

So, why am I saying that milk consumption is not necessary? Simple, we are one of the few cultures in the world that drink milk after infancy. We, in North America, are told we need milk for calcium as we apparently can't get enough from other dietary sources. We are told we need the calories and the nutrients. However, we have the highest dietary consumption of milk and the highest rates of osteoporosis and obesity in the world. Next time an authority (doctor, nutritionist) tells you that milk calcium is needed to prevent osteoporosis ask them to discuss that in more detail. Ask them what role exercise plays in osteoporosis (more or less important than milk) or if zinc is more or less important than calcium in that disorder. Ask them why cultures that do not drink milk have much lower rates of osteoporosis.

I don't want to dwell on this topic but I do want people to realize that Milk Marketing in North America shapes the image and consumption of that product. It places milk on a pedestal that it has not earned. The many calories from milk can easily be replaced by better sources of calcium, like green vegetables, sesame seeds and nuts. It never hurts to challenge existing patterns of behaviour and that includes food consumption.

Here is a really good place to start reading about milk if you have questions and are surprised to hear that it isn't a wonder food from heaven -

I won't even begin to discuss chocolate milk and why the addition of refined sugar just takes milk from unadvised to harmful.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Choice, or lack thereof

As the women's NCAA season gets underway I am thinking about the competition choices available to Canadians. Next year Breda will be at Cal, Brendan will be at a top 10 California school, training his butt off, and Serena will be a 3rd year starter at Hawaii. That seems good but only on the surface as it shows a disconnect with Water Polo in Canada.

I was asking one of my Cadet players today what grade she was in and she said "grade 10, you have me for 2 more years". It was said with a smile and an innocent voice. Heather, beside me on deck, had the same response as I did. Why just 2 more years? Why do Canadian players think the sport ends after high school when all around the world that is when serious water polo starts and national leagues are featuring their premier divisions? That's a big problem.

I am hoping that one day, before I leave the sport, there will be domestic choices for those beyond high school; some Intercollegiate leagues, club leagues etc. This will take a big, combined, effort but it is possible as we see parts of this emerging in Canada already (in Ontario at least).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Specific Training

One of the things that I am finding difficult to deal with is the reluctance of athletes that I coach to follow sport science in training. There is still a great deal of "old school" training methodology in the water polo world and unfortunately much of this resides with the (Canadian) National Team as well. Too little emphasis is placed on specificity of training and too much time spent on generic direction to include a volume of work rather than a specific type of work that is goal oriented.

In December I had 2 national team athletes return from Montreal telling me that they had been directed to "swim more" by national coaches. My reaction was "more than what, how do they know what you do now" and "more of what, heading toward what goal"? It was odd that teenage athletes were told to increase swimming when their coach had not been consulted about how much they were already doing. This has happened before too.

That commentary is a set up, to deal with the conversation I had to process on Monday. One of my players insisted she had to swim "more" to get faster. That was frustrating because it is not a correct relationship between more and fast. The two can work in opposition if there is no plan and no goal. Young athletes need more volume in the water to develop specific aquatic physical literacy but once that is developed training must move to sport specific energy demands and strength requirements. And, to complicate this, there is no black and white distinction in water polo for these aspects of the sport. The requirements and parameters are different for children, teens, women and men so knowing what you are after is very important.

I am writing about this today because there is light at the end of the tunnel. Sport in Manitoba is actually putting money behind sport science now and I can access various grants (tiny ones) to do real research in water polo. This allows me to keep a close professional relationship with Mike Reid who is a strength and conditioning coach with loads of water polo experience. It also lets me keep close contact with Carolyn Taylor a biomechanics expert who has worked with us the past two years. She can help me direct work in specific areas while Mike can help me tweak things to be as precise as I need to be for energy and strength demands of the sport.

That science does not help the masses much since we have no land exercise space at the High Performance facility in Manitoba, but that is another story. What I am able to do is give specific feedback to high achieving athletes who are on National Teams or headed to the NCAA. Since I am likely to have 3 players at top 5 NCAA schools next year I am eager to help them in any way I can.

One of the things Mike is helping me with is to identify the mistraining that interferes with specific athlete perfomance at a high level. For instance, the random training that athletes do that can interfere with rest or recovery is mentioned so that I can help athletes replace that with added work that makes sense and is in harmony. To their credit, most of the players are welcoming when they get that support, even if they are not sure about "less is more".

I just hope I can get the next generation of coaches from Manitoba to see the important relationship between science and training before I retire and leave this place for a quiet rural life. If my recent conversations with Heather Carson are any indication I think we are headed in the right direction.