Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fructose = Poison?

This blog will be a reference to the work of someone else that I think is important. I always talk to my athletes about nutrition as part of their development, learning and growth. Recently I have been talking to some of the teams about fructose and why it is something they should be looking for on labels.

Fortunately someone with a background in science and medicine has provided me a teaching aid for this topic. The University of California, San Fransisco's Robert H. Lustig, M.D. did a presentation as part of the Mini Medical School for the Public offered through the UCSF Osher Center for Integrated Medicine. His lecture is available online at the Youtube link I have provided with this blog.

It's a long lecture but the video is in short, 10 minute, clips so it is easy to view in parts. There is something for everyone in this piece, politics, business, history, biochemistry, all sorts of angles you can consider as the story is told.

I am not telling athletes that fructose has to be completely eliminated, they are kids and need some space to live. However, I want them to see it as a poison, as does Dr. Lustig. I am comparing it to alcohol for them as they know that can be part of a meal (glass of wine) or the root of major disease. This helps them understand moderation and reflect on the impact of different foods.

(I still don't know how to embed these links so cut and paste the address in your browser address window)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why Do People Train, Part 2

Previously I wrote about the difference between players in an competitive club training "to develop" vs "to compete". This was not an attempt to exhaust the reasons or motivations for training but, rather, to highlight a fundamental difference in program model. Amateur sport is never a simple topic so I wanted to revisit this discussion and cover a broader ground to show how different program structures cater to different athlete motivations.

I will start with an example that is not water polo but gives a good indication of what I am dealing with through a sport structure that is well known. Think of the swim clubs that you know or that you see at local pools. How many Masters groups swim with a competitive age group club? Does Manta in Winnipeg have a Masters program or do they let the many Masters clubs take the adult swimmers? How about in Regina or Calgary or Toronto, how many Masters groups swim in an age group club? You get the point, not many if any. That is not because they are swimming different strokes but because their motivation to train is from a different place.

Am I saying that older athletes, Masters or 19+, are not competitive or that they should stay away from kids? No, not at all. You just will not have success offering a program to adults and their needs if your focus is on skill development, competitive team structure and the fundraising and fees that go with that. Likewise, if you are focused on lifestyle training and social physical activity you will not win many places on national teams or enable too many players to earn post secondary scholarships, or achieve too much team success at an elite level.

In order to have success with a program you have to be able to market it to a specific audience. If the message you send is vague, or conflicts with what you do at the pool, then people will feel a lack of satisfaction in what they have become associated with. There is a way to solve this problem with a water polo club structure but before getting to that I will talk a bit about the things that bring players to the pool in each type of program.

Adult programs can attract players that are primarily looking for a social outlet that involves physical activity. That may mean they want to go for a beer and wings after practice or to extend their social group with people having a common interest. It might include people looking for a mate, a drinking buddy, someone to watch weekend football games with or any other social aspect of group interaction. It could also include people who need a physical outlet to deal with stress or who have to stay active to control their weight or their health (as does everyone!)

The other side of an adult program is one that gives a competitive outlet to people who must compete in a physical game. This usually means people who know the sport and don't want to deal with the teaching of basic skills to young kids when they are at the pool during the few available hours of recreational time they have in a week. These people may also be concerned with their weight, strength and over-all health but they are looking to deal with those in a specific sport setting rather than a primarily social one.

Usually an age group club feeds adult players into one or the other streams of Masters play (competitive or social). Both streams include aspects of the other but people will be "lifers" in a program if it offers an identifiable stream to members. When a program does not choose one mandate or the other it will have players fade in and out of participation on an ongoing basis and this will make it hard to grow as there will not be a direction on which to base a club mission.

It would be possible to offer age group and adult programs in a single club if there was a leader who recognized and valued the role of each and did not see them as conflicting when assigning resources. I am pretty sure we could have a reasonably large group of adult players in our club if we had access to the pool time required to play regular games and have appropriate practices. I know of excellent leaders who could coach such a group within a larger club and I would be happy to use the seasoned players in a variety of mentor roles if they were interested.

Right now we do not have the pool space we need to do this and it is partially due to how the city allocates space. The other obstacle is that I have tried to get another local club to embrace their strengths at adult, social water polo over the years and have not wanted to conflict with that. However, I have failed to convince them to make this a goal so I am now modifying our program to grow into a broader mandate.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why do People Train?

Tonight I had an interesting assortment of 22 players attend our "18U" practice that usually has closer to 16 people. This was due to a couple of developments the past month that allowed for a jump in participation and I want to talk about those briefly as they are cornerstones of sport participation.

The first reason we had more bodies had to do with the return of a few teen aged players who had quit club water polo in the fall and then decided they missed it and wanted to return to regular activity. They were welcomed back for the same reason we invited the second group of practice newcomers, the "over 18" crowd. Both these groups are interested in playing water polo as opposed to "training" for water polo. That is what I want to talk about, the difference and how it impacts sport development.

Normally we only offer age group sport in our club 12U, 14U, 16U, 18U and then individual training for older carded or national team players who need structured practice. This is an athlete group that trains as part of a routine, usually a family routine, and it is part of growing up - character, personality and physical development. Most often it is a parent that starts kids in a sport activity but then it is usually a child that decides that they want to be competitive and push themselves. This cycle involves discipline and the routine of daily (or very regular) training.

Competition is crucial to this competitive development but it can take the form of drills, scrimmages and structured games or tests that have athletes in competition with themselves or others. Game play is part of the equation but not the only part, or even the main part.

The reason we had many older players at the pool tonight is that we have allowed them to join our "Open" entry in this weeks Bushido Invitational. That is the reason why older, casual players practice, to play GAMES against other teams. They are not satisfied with training for development of strength, skill or character, they want to use the tools they already have. This means practice enough to play a game without having their body betray their mind and it's water polo knowledge.

I wanted the older or returning players to join us for 2 reasons. One was to push the existing players, offer them alternative challenges at some practices and scrimmages. The other was that I am planting the seed for a competitive league next season 2010-11. I am working with Saskatchewan to develop a Prairie League for next season that has a Men's and Women's division with regular games against a variety of components. This will allow our competitive 18U players to play knowledgable opponents that they do not practice with each day or play each tournament. Having such a league will allow me to keep older players active on a big team while the younger players are never without a regular match during the season.

Without a league or a regular set of games the casual players would never play. They don't mind some training but it has to have a purpose that includes tough matches. This is why so many players drop out of the sport in Canada by the age of 18, events are all focused on youth unless you play for a National Team. We have seen that Water Polo Canada has little interest in domestic water polo competition beyond hosting a national championship so we know that provinces must do all the planning themselves.

I will go into much more detail about these leagues when they have a bit more structure but Cyril, in Regina, and I are on exactly the same page with this project. We know that our 18U teams can play with Senior teams and that we instantly have 4 men's teams and 4 women's teams with our programs working together. If we can count on participation from Neptunes and Saskatoon clubs we could have 6 or 7 teams in each gender the first year. We have found that we can not have viable senior leagues in our own provinces so the logical step is to work together and that is always easy if you have a partner with similar goals and perspective.