Monday, May 18, 2009

Referee and Me

This past weekend we hosted the largest national championship in the 103 year history of Canadian water polo finals. It was 2 categories, 18&U men and 18&U women, held at Pan Am pool, using 2 tanks 25m x 20m.

The event was amazing, no issues of protest or violence, no minor official shortages or problems, no coaches yelling at the bench, none of the usual stumbling blocks at these sorts of events. This was a long weekend in Winnipeg, a traditional date to go and open cottages, so it was really huge that this was pulled off so easily.

There was one referee issue that really annoyed me though. There was a ref who really should not have been there, a guy that NO team wants at any event, ever. He has a strong negative history with our club and it shows up every time he referees us. Above is a picture of the kick-out board the first time he refereed our girls team. It shows 15 major fouls for us against 8 for the other team. That can happen, sure, but what tells the story is the game by game stats. He refereed a second game and it happened again, we were excluded twice for every opponent exclusion. That stands out since the 3 games he did not referee had us with the same number of fouls, or close, to our opponent.

That bias should never exist at this level. I am going to make some effort to ensure that he stops being sent to events outside his province as he gets too many people upset and plays too great a role in influencing game outcomes over the players themselves. I won't use his name as that is not what this blog is about. But I will say that everyone involved knows exactly who the ref is. The majority of refs, who did a great job all weekend, are not the issue!

The dialogue about referees and bias can go on forever. I don't want to do that here as it is best done with data, hard data, from game stats and I will let the referees do that themselves. Peer review is the best method to process this but once in awhile coaches have to vent so I touch on that here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ignorance is not bliss

What is the weakness that exists in people to allow them to feel better about themselves when they belittle others, is it insecurity? This practice has always been something that annoyed me and it was one of the things that Darko and I realized we shared as a common viewpoint soon after we met. These people have no place in sport. If you want to feel good about yourself then do something that can be appreciated and measured as a contribution; don't just put down others. This is important for my blog because Manitoba Water Polo is full of people who do nothing but never stop undermining those of us who are producing national team players, pro's and NCAA scholarship athletes.

I mention this now because of something I heard the other day about me, as a coach. It was a comment that a stranger made to someone that knows me pretty well. The basic statement I am referring to was that I was a coach she wanted to avoid since I had a "win at all costs" attitude. When I was younger this would have made me quite angry since I would have wanted to know what I did to earn that reputation from someone I had never met. Now it makes me smile before I get upset as I know it is based on ignorance and gossip by others who are insecure.

In this instance it was funny because it came from a parent with a child in another club that is recreational. When we were supposed to play a Provincial Championship with that club at the 14&U level this spring they refused to play girl vs girl and boy vs boy with their teams because they could not compete. Since we train all year as separate genders I was not prepared to combine my 2 teams into 1 co-ed group even though I knew it would result in a huge lopsided win, just like all our other teams. Instead of playing a championship I offered a series of "friendly" games with their co-ed team playing our girls and then our boys. I had a couple dozen players playing, all different levels and experience; they had 9 or 10 players, mostly veterans, they wouldn't let new, inexperienced, players play.

The games were all close, a tie for the boys and a 1 goal loss for our girls vs a team with the strongest 3 or 4 of each gender from the other club. They stacked their team to win, I kept mixed abilities together to develop 2 teams and 2 genders on a plan toward future growth and development. A player on that co-ed team was the child of the parent who said I have a "win at all cost" attitude. I guess people see what they want or, in this case, don't see what is there before them.

If this person had taken the time to meet me and talk to me they would learn what I am about, what I value. They'd learn things like I coach a young woman with Cystic Fibrosis, a 16 year old that I have coached for many, many years. And she is a starter on my teams at every stage, and will remain so as long as she keeps playing. She's a good water polo player but she will never be world class, her lungs will not allow it. However I value her contribution to our team so she will keep being a major part of it even if she sometimes "runs out of gas" in the middle of a counter attack. Certainly that is not something that is in any way related to "winning at all costs" and it does nobody any good to ignore reality in order to create fiction about what I value or teach.

If you are a person who likes to judge others but not to meet them or talk to them then you are not doing anyone any favours. Take time to understand what you believe and where the beliefs come from. Consider the bias of the people who tell you things to prevent you from forming your own opinion. If you are a parent of a child in sport you are not only hurting your own kid by being uninformed about coaches, philosophies and values - you are also damaging sport with uninformed opinions.

PS I don't know any athlete that has ever thrown a water polo ball at a net and thought "I hope I miss" or started a game thinking "I hope we lose this game". No, everyone loves to win, it is more fun than the alternative. I love to win too, it's just not why I coach, it's a product of a successful program. Usually the ones who focus on the winning of others are the people who never win themselves.