Saturday, February 21, 2009

Frank Dialogue

Someone observed today that my blog lately has been quite blunt. There is a frank dialogue that openly states differences in the Manitoba clubs in a way that is usually danced around carefully. They wanted to know why.

Well, it is pretty simple really. We have tried long enough to get clubs to work together on common goals and it is not going to happen (for reasons I touched on yesterday). I have also tried to work with the MWPA on this, hosted an open meeting with the community to talk about how LTAD was going to impact us. It didn't make any difference, we still have one club that does not have an identity, won't embrace it's strengths and won't move out of the way of progress.

That last point is why I am being a bit more open in the recent comments about working in partnership. I am hoping that enough people have now seen that there is no partnership in long term development; we are on our own to go down this path. That is a big, big point to make as it means decisions have to start being directed at what we need, not how do we find a common program with someone else. And, importantly, when someone else is obstructing our efforts with chaos or nonsense we need to be quite blunt and say "get out of the way".

I have known for quite awhile this point had been reached but the LTAD is helping others see it much more quickly. Now parents can put their 10 year old in water polo in the fall and see by the spring how our programs go in a specific direction and that we are alone in Manitoba. They can see why I am trying to be in an Atom and Bantam league with 3 Saskatchewan clubs and why we have monthly games with 16&U and 18&U Team Sask squads. Next year when I am trying to get our satellite pools going they will see that we should not wait to see if the Neptunes want to play along or be part of the growth. Everyone will know we have to do it ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with any of that. We just have to start talking about our sport and it's programs in the right context. We have to see that if we are not following the Water Polo Canada LTAD much more closely as an organization that we will be lost forever. If the rest of Canada is running local leagues for 12&U and 14&U teams and having hundreds of kids playing in tiers, and the top ones practicing 6x week, we are behind already. In 1 short generation, no more than 4 years, the 14&U playing level will be where many 18&U Canadian clubs are now. The problem is that this level will only be in BC, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. That will fit the short term plans of Dragan and Pat, both want more hours spent on standard skill at a younger age, but it won't help any of the clubs outside 6 or 7 of our biggest cities.

That is our challenge now, figure out what we want and set local programs toward those goals.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Provincial Championships & LTAD

Not directly related to the topic, just nice Prairie athletes

My blog entry yesterday prompted a few people to talk in more detail with me about Provincial Championships today. Some coaches had an interesting conversation at the pool tonight when discussing another difference between clubs in Manitoba when we consider season ending games. We tend to look at a championship as a summary of something, an exercise in evaluation of progress made. Sometimes this involves looking at the win-loss outcome but slowly I am getting people to look away from that to the seasonal development.

By contrast, I always hear Neptune coaches talk about "getting games for the kids" as if that was the purpose of a championship. It is not, "getting games" is what the 10 month season is for, it is why we train athletes - to play games and measure growth or development. I don't want to say the other coaches are wrong, their perspective was common in Canada for a long, long time. It is just that sport evolution does not come from grass roots volunteers in Active for Life endeavors, it comes from professionals in comprehensive programs. So, we see things from a different perspective.

Last year I sat with the Head Coach of the Neptunes and talked about having 12&U and 14&U leagues this year with specific growth targets for each club. This would have involved developing programs in new neighbourhood pools (like we have at UofM) and bringing the kids together often for local games. This would have been a learning league where outcomes were measured against program goals. The main reason it did not happen, in spite of both head coaches agreeing it was needed, is that only Bushido had goals against which outcomes could be measured. Without these goals we could not convince Neptune leaders to see where this type of league could go.

What I had wanted was a 14&U league with a wide range of skills in 2008-09; players like Jaelyn and Erik playing with 1st year athletes. This would have been social for the very experienced players and they would have seen fun in the growth of the sport they love. Then, with the fun and enthusiasm generated, we would have had a broader base to deal with in 2009-10. That would have allowed us to remove the top 14&U players and have them play in a 16&U league, leaving the 14&U league to grow bigger again as a unified growth vehicle. I could see that but could not help others from another system see what we were talking about.

This type of league structure would really help growth and it would help every level of the sport, not just the entry. Having a broader base would allow the early maturing athletes to play up "age groups" which are not really about chronology in an LTAD matrix. That aspect of chronological age vs developmental age is something that people have trouble with. They can't see how we can use LTAD and develop athletes with a less rigid age group ie play according to actual development. Well, the easy answer is the early developers are removed from an age group and play up with older players. Once in awhile there will be a very late developer who could justifiably be held back to a younger age but this is not a central issue. More often than not these would be athletes who are too small for the physical aspect of water polo and should be doing a different sport. They will often have technical skills to allow them to play with "larger" players but the size makes parents want them held back for safety.

LTAD is supposed to be a blueprint for the sport growth and it is great to see how it is being used properly in Ontario. I'll discuss it whenever anyone wants, just let me know. Today I just wanted to follow up with some folks who have mentioned this the past few days.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Planning without Partners

If you are a songwriter or an author you might have some success looking at the world, reflecting and then putting thoughts to paper to share with others. If you develop a sport or a team it is pretty much impossible to do so without partners. Nobody plays alone for long.

The reason I am thinking about this today is I am looking at the competitions for the balance of the season and one of the gaps, or undetermined events, is a Provincial Championship in Manitoba. We chose a date last spring and competition categories and format were agreed on 3 years ago. What is missing is a team to play in most categories.

It's no problem for us to get people to agree that Seniors, Juniors and Masters from the other club in Manitoba can play against our 18&U teams, everyone is ok with that. After that it is very difficult to find game play since Bushido is developing athletes according to the LTAD framework with Technical Foundations, Competitive Foundations and then the more advanced training and competition levels. The Neptunes are offering FUNdamentals and Active for Life programs but under the label of Competitive ones. This is not always obvious to observers but it becomes clear when we sit down to plan events.

The Water Polo Canada LTAD documents are pretty clear but too often they are referenced improperly. For example the Master LTAD document we use nationally says "Combining male and female competition and training is not optimal after approximately 10 years of age..." But, in Manitoba I hear people say that LTAD suggests that genders play together at the 14&U level and, this is how the Neptunes want to play 12&U and 14&U Provincial Championships. That is just a simple contradiction of the sport science and all developmental research. So, we don't have common ground for teams to play and people tend to look at that as lack of cooperation. But, we can't cooperate when comparing apples to oranges.

Ontario deals with this in a way that we can't without considerable growth here. They tier events and allow Active for Life stream players to play a AA tier co-ed level with special rules. Their AAA play is still gender specific, for sure, and the top level of championship in that province for 14&U is boy and girl playing apart. Their AA rules limit players to be able to play only half a game in net (no specialized goalie), to not allow zone defenses, to prevent any holding away from the ball etc. This, clearly, is not a level for the 6 Bantam aged athletes that Bushido has invited to attend 16&U national championships. It sounds much more like our co-ed Middle Years school league.

Ideally we would ask 14&U players who train in a Competitive stream to play up on 16&U teams and not be part of 14&U programs. But, we can't grow programs without games so removing the 14&U players from those age specific teams would cut their game opportunities regionally by 50%. It might also mean there are no 14&U programs here as the numbers are so low in total registration as to not support 2 tiers. I'd like to introduce these concepts (tiered leagues) to this province but my plans have been shut down by our "partner" every time I propose them so we never grow in that direction together.

We are still trying to figure out how to have a 14&U championship between 2 clubs who train in the same city and have 14&U programs but only 1 of us can field teams for both boys and girls. Of course, if we were to combine into 1 co-ed group we would field a team that was unchallenged so there is no point in doing that. If we took the strongest players out and just had the beginners or 2x week kids play then the Neptunes wouldn't have a team. They only play if they can wrap a team around the 14&U female goalie who is an early maturer and has played for 3 or 4 years and trains every day of the week with women. We can't come up with a format that gives a meaningful game but has rules on age or experience.

Maybe if the Neptunes had agreed to a fall league with us it would have created a 5 vs 5 14&U division for both boys and girls or a coed tiered division in 2008-09 that was designed to grow into a gender specific league in 2009-2010. If we had a plan it would be possible to overcome many obstacles but as long as we are not talking the same language we won't make progress. Too bad.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kellogg's, take a little heat yourself

Last week I had some fun on Facebook poking at the Michael Phelps bong story. This tale has now spun a few tantalizing sidebars that I want to use to breach the subject of nutrition and athlete health.

Today I read that Kellogg's dropped Phelps as a spokesperson because his actions were "inconsistent" with their corporate image. That made me wonder, "what is the corporate image"?

Should we immediately think of salmonella and tainted cookies when we hear Kellogg? Because they have done massive food recalls at least twice already this year. One was today when it acknowledged the link between salmonella and "Keebler Soft Batch Homestyle Chocolate Chunk Cookies". Talk about "making a mistake" and "letting down their fans". Phelps seems consistent with corporate image here because he gets roasted for a DUI after one Olympics (2004) then roasted for pot after the next (2008). What part of that is unlike Kellogg's repeated circulation of food that will kill?

Truth be told, when I think of Kellogg's I think of childhood obesity first. I fully understand kids eat the worst kind of sugar laced breakfast every day because it is marketed by companies like Kellogg's. Not just a subtle kind of marketing but full-on, multi-million dollar mind freeze marketing. It's marketing presented with a slick message that has the illusion of so much authority that you would be insane to question it. The kind that makes families think that not having sugar cereal on the table is "weird" or wrong in some way.

When I talk of sugar cereal I am not just referring to Frosted Flakes either. Here is the product ingredient list for "Special K" that supposed diet and lifestyle cereal (check out the 3rd & 6th most prominent ingredients);

Ingredients: Contains rice, wheat gluten, sugar, defatted wheat germ, salt, high fructose corn syrup, dried whey, malt flavoring, calcium caseinate, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha tocopherol acetate (vitamin E), reduced iron, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid and vitamin B12. To maintain quality, BHT has been added to the packaging.

As nutrition expert Mike Reid says "if you can't pronounce it, don't eat it".

But, if you don't buy the link to childhood obesity with Kellogg's processed foods because you just think kids are not "active enough" then maybe it's time to do some research into childhood diabetes as well. What role does processed food-in-a-box have to do with the amazing jump in childhood diabetes in North America in this generation? That is too much food science and nutrition detail for me to go into with a water polo coach blog.

So, ya, you can say that an Olympian like Phelps is not anywhere close to the image of Kellogg's as a company, but it has nothing to do with his apparent use of cannabis.

Sorry if you were looking for technical information on water polo today. I decided to deal with the "athlete machine" side of the sport instead.

Friday, February 6, 2009

California Dreamin

This is an odd weekend for me as a coach. Here I am in Winnipeg, running regular weekly activities, preparing teams for their upcoming club events. But my focus is split as I also follow the play of Serena as she begins a tough weekend of games at Stanford with her Hawaii team in the NCAA. Then, just down the interstate from Stanford I have 2 boys playing in the Winterfest tournament in LA. Brendan and Carson are both playing with their CA buddies in the SET club. Carson will be a goalie on the team in the 18&u A division and Brendan will exchange bumps and bruises with the teams in the 18&U AA division.

It's hard to explain exactly why Bushido has 3 players/former players active in California this weekend. To help put it in perspective there are 4 categories of play in the boys 18&U age at Winterfest. 78 teams in total in that one age group (24 AA, 24 A, 19 BB and 11B), that is the attraction for the boys. Soooo many games, sooo much variety in skill and style. If every 18&U boys team in Canada played at 1 event it would not even be as big as 1 of the 18&U Categories at Winterfest.

Serena plays in the NCAA because she can play 40 high quality games in a 3 month season, while getting a free education. She plays at Hawaii because, well, it's Hawaii (and they have a great Canadian coach). It is hard to explain the feeling an athlete gets when they are surrounded by 100's of players with similar goals and ambitions in the sport they love. That is quite different than a practice at Pan Am with 6 or 7 players of your age.

That issue of teams, games and sport growth is not one I want to deal with here. I just want to promote a few players who are busy at a high level this week.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Specific Training, Part #2

A little while ago I wrote about specific training, how it is related to goal based work. This was primarily directed at training gains - fitness, strength and skill development. But, there is another aspect of specific training that is also very often overlooked - that is tactical effort ie knowledge of scrimmage or game play.

In our club we play games, or use full court tactics, 1x per week for each age and gender. The balance of our training is directed to building the parts that are applied in a competitive team effort ie increase pass accuracy or shooting power and apply it in the weekly game. This means that the game day is completely focused on a competition. That is important as it puts a key emphasis on proper warm up and then on specific tactics. Every game we ask the teams to work on something specific to the opponent and teams for scrimmages are mixed in ways that allow tactical experimentation.

A funny thing happened last Saturday during our boys game (not HaHa funny, awkward funny). Our 16U boys were scrimmaging our 18U boys (with a few 14U add-ons) and the 16U boys were shutting down the older team pretty well. That is, until they stopped following coach instructions and started following the direction of the dominant 18U player. We had discussed specifically how to eliminate this dominant player (Brendan) and keep him out of the 18U offense. After he got too frustrated with his team he changed their tactics and that was a cue for the 16U boys to switch defense in response. When they did try to switch they were told to "play the same defense" by Brendan. Sure enough, they abandoned team objectives and blindly followed an opponent in their leadership.

That was a big turning point, not just because the team had abandoned what they were working on during their 1 weekly game. More importantly because when challenged on that departure from game plan they tried to justify their lack of team learning by saying they wanted to help Brendan show his team how to beat their defense. So, they were not focused on applying a team tactic according to an opponent but instead were focused on following an older team member when it hurt their game performance. When I explained how wrong that was the response was just "it's only a scrimmage, jeez what's the big deal?". Of course, the big deal was that they were working on tactics to eliminate Brendan from the 18U offense, not helping him beat their own team. Oddly enough, the 18U team has been working all season on not letting Brendan be the only one to lead the 18U team in the water so the 16U boys had ignored what we have been working on for months.

When the 18U team changed tactics, as we knew they would, the 16U team had a plan to counter it. They didn't follow the plan and further frustrate the older team, they gave up their united effort. Instead of the 18U going to the quarter break and getting instruction from Heather on what they had missed or done wrong, they went to the side feeling that they had figured out how to beat the 16U defense. In a real game the 18U team would never face an opponent that played the same defense no matter what they did on offense so the 18U had just taught themselves a false lesson, they created a situation in a practice game that they would never face in a real game.

That was a lesson in how NOT to train. Never create a practice that does not mirror a game. If you teach basic skill you do it away from a stressful, competitive setting. If you teach a skill under competitive pressure you do it in a training setting that isolates the pressure. Then, after that, you apply the skill in a game. The first game application is in a meaningless one, like a scrimmage, then a real one with a result that matters. That is what we are after, it is why we play games vs Team Sask every month pretty much all year. We are building on a foundation that the athletes are struggling to accept.

I hope that Saturday was a lesson learned, I know it was for some as they have already talked about the process. Others, we will have to see.