Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Playing Time; What is it Good For?

Another in a theme of LTAD influenced articles, this time using that framework to outline different phases of "playing time".

This is an aspect of sport that many struggle with. Young coaches want success, often like to win, and want to reward or display the ones they view as the "best" players (Ok, let's be honest, coaches at all levels usually want this). Parents want their children to play and if paying for a club sport then they expect that as part of a package of services or opportunities. Unfortunately early in sport is when playing time is most abused and it can be explained looking at LTAD and the first stages.

Young athletes should begin an activity in the Fundamentals Stage or where the focus is on Technical Foundations. This often takes them to the cusp of the PHV (max growth spurt) and the teen years of change. If kids are developing Fundamentals then they have to be given a chance to play as that is what they are working toward in game structure and in skill acquisition. Likewise with Technical Foundations, a skill can only be applied in a game setting ie timing, stress, external pressures when given a playing chance. Coaches who put winning ahead of player development at this stage do not understand the process and have the priorities wrong.

Does this mean all players should play equally? No, that is up to the program, the sport, the team, the organizational objectives. If a water polo player is learning to swim then asking them to do the same physical work as a player with aquatic physical literacy is misguided.
The next level of sport is where the big mistakes are made that turn off players with great future potential. In the Competitive Foundation stage an athlete is being asked to learn to apply skill under pressure as taught with a specific tactical objective. Players who do this can expect to get more reps in a game than those that fail, and fail again. The big mistake comes from parents who want their child to get lots of chances to play even when the failure of objectives has been demonstrated repeatedly in a game. Coaches have to find ways to let players try and succeed but the expectation is to do this with progress. Keeping a player in a game when they struggle can create problems of team rejection ie no passes or inclusion of that player in the team play by others. Coaches can manage this if they know the players and what they can do, where they can find success and how the team can have a focus that is not just "score" or "win" so any perceived error is not influencing the outcome as long as there is a progress made with that error/correction.

Usually in this stage the coach and the player have a very good idea of who plays and why, or why some don't. It's the parent, fan or outsider that might not know all of what is going on. Don't expect that a coach can talk to every parent, every game, every event to talk about every player. That is a huge burden when so much coaching or player management is already happening. However, coaches MUST be clear about how they approach playing time with teh team and make it clear to families as well if the sport is a club (or to school officials if it's an institution).

The last point to consider at this stage is that not all players have to have equal play time to be fair. A goalie might play a whole game if they are the only one, a centre forward might play less than others on the team due to the workload and constant corrections from coaches for what the 2M Guard is doing. Some will be better at coming off the bench when they have sen some play and relaxed a bit. Many things are being developed here and "fair" and "equal" are NOT the same thing.

There is one place that playing time does not have as much passion from outsiders and that is at the pro level or with the International game. Players can't play a whole match and be effective with water polo, coaches know that so player rotation is an art and if someone is in the water all game then it is a problem of team depth. The substitutions are for tactics, power, speed, recovery, defense, scoring - it's endless, so don't make the mistake of thinking that a coach is doing something right or wrong based on the subs if you don't know the team, the prep and the dynamic.

One thing to remember and that is "who is the most important person in this equation"? The athlete, they must know the playing time thought process - who plays and why, who doesn't and why. If they know their role and the team objective at each level then the dialogue with players and coach should be smooth and look to that to see if there is a misuse of this aspect of the game.

Monday, October 24, 2011

LTAD as the Understanding of Water Polo Matures

I am about to try and get back to regular blog writing after an intense summer of building a house. Sorry if you have been looking for ideas or research on water polo recently and had nothing new here.

One thing I have heard quite a bit about this fall is training aerobic capacity for water polo and how Canadians taught to coach in the 70's and 80's (and onward?) were expected to develop an "aerobic base" for their players. This aerobic base had many coaches developing yearly training plans that had Aerobic training as a physical priority for as much as 50-60% of the season. However, the game has never been 50% aerobic at the senior level so that approach to training was unwise at the outset.

If you are wondering how that developed, how we needed to create an "aerobic base" for a water polo player, it can be found in the LTAD framework for the sport. There are 2 things that confuse this issue. One is the aquatic environment where coaches often need to teach physical literacy and comfort in the water. You can't teach comfort if the players are not able to be active in deep water for 90 minutes so aerobic work often got kids to that point. The other difference is between how International players play with explosive anaerobic components and children play the game with less structure ie chasing the ball aerobically around the pool. Coaches in clubs would need to teach various levels and that began with teaching movement and swimming so patterns of training were established and intensity changed as players got older but structure remained.

So, what am I proposing here? Simply that coaches need to recognize that aerobic capacity is outlined as a physical development of all children clearly under LTAD and in water polo we need to look at this closely around PHV (peak growth periods for each player). Children need to develop aerobic capacity as they grow and this can be done well in a water polo setting if that is where their athletic interest lies. However, this does not have to be doing swim sets that a speed swimming club would do with back and forth freestyle!

One thing is very clear, we don't need older players to have 50% of their physical load in an aerobic setting. I am very aware that history can give us many examples of coaches that "ran teams in the mountains", or swam 4000m swim sets for days on end, while producing great teams. But let me suggest that if all teams were doing this similar training then it wasn't simply the workload that set the winners apart form the losers. It also has to be kept in context that some coaches only train part of the player and they may put volume of work as a measure of toughness while psychological training can be absent. Perhaps "excessive workload" is playing that role of psychological training in some macho settings.

One of the things that an LTAD framework can help water polo coaches deal with is developing whole athletes. There are specific windows of trainable development for all energy systems and strength gains with each athlete. Sharing these periods with complimentary sports as children develop takes some of the load off water polo coaches who want to accelerate skill development in the pool setting. Likewise, extending a water polo practice from 90 minutes to 120, or 120 to 150, by adding land work can also help this area. Both strength and aerobic capacity can be developed on land in ways that will benefit in the water. Let's hope coaches are now beginning to explore these avenues more as LTAD points them out and waves the concepts in our faces.

One thing is for sure, if a competitive team of water polo players over the age of 18 is swimming a set of "8 x 400 free" then the the coach is either uncreative, underachieving or not sure of what energy requirements the game has at that level. Sorry to all the NCAA coaches that learned a different approach but you must have way too much pool time if a set of 400 free is a priority!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Senior Women's National Championships

This week Bushido hosts the 2011 Senior Women's National Water Polo Championships at Pan Am Pool. There will be live webcasts of the games on Saturday and Sunday at the link included here.


Broadcast quality should be decent but won't likely keep up to the quality of play which will be very high.

There are only 5 teams involved but all are full of National Team, Junior National Team and NCAA players.

Results are also on the web at the second link here,



Monday, May 9, 2011

Old vs New

It's National Championship season in Canada so lots of games going on at various levels so hot topics are bubbling to the surface this month. Last weekend in Calgary I had the chance to hear our National Sr Men's coach (Dragan) present his ideas on a new Age Group Development League for boys 16-18. Great idea, just lots of politics and delivery issues that hang over it like a dark cloud.

Everyone loves the idea of standard competition, it's so close to what European Coaches who've come to Canada can relate to from home. It's a wild dream of Canadians who have never had such things as national leagues for age group or standard events. So, we are all excited to see how this will unfold as there is a significant chunk of Federal cash going into this project if we get enough clubs behind it at the outset. We are all happy about that influx of money to the men's side and how it will reach developing players and not just be the token funding that the Senior National Team used to travel in the past.

The few issues that exist as hurdles for this project to develop are geography and facility. Right now we have been presented with a draft format that has teams in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton for the West (cities that can be seen from the top of the Rocky Mountains that separate them) and Ottawa/Hull, Montreal and Toronto for the East (Lake Ontario/St Lawrence River). The costs are acceptable with the games and standard of events but there is no allowance for trips to the prairie cities of Winnipeg and Regina which have a long history of producing National Team players for the country. When those cities are included in the calculations the league costs will jump unless there is a new Central Division (ie Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg). Of course, a Central Division as a whole will have only the total population of places like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver so making the thing work with that dynamic is going to be a challenge that will test the sport.

This is a super project to take Water Polo toward fully implementing the national LTAD and as long as teams are easily incorporated in to the league as clubs grow then this will be great for the sport. If new teams do not have easy access then this league will serve only to kill existing local club events and force the sport to atrophy or die on the Prairies and in the East Coast.

But, what is the option if the league does not grow and thrive? It's not "same old, same old" as some would want you to think. That is because the country and the sport landscape have changed drastically in the past 10 years. To give an example of what I am talking about I'll mention a conversation I had on Sunday in Calgary. I was speaking with a referee who had played against me in my generation when we were in our teens and in university. He asked me about how players were identified and developed now, in the 21st century, to be competitive at the U18 level. I mentioned that we developed them from U12, or had them join at 13-15 years old from school programs with multi sport backgrounds. If not that process then it was almost impossible to develop competitive players at U18. This referee mentioned how vastly different that was from when we grew up and started playing at 15, in high school.

It was possible to start playing at 15 in the 70's or 80's because of 2 things; lack of high performance training and competition in the sport (ie the country wasn't that great internationally) and the influence of an active childhood that created physical literacy. Today we do not see many kids leading an "active lifestyle" and physical literacy is lower than ever before. That means kids have to play sports that are related directly to water polo before the teen years if they want success; "Call of Duty", "Facebook" and "Glee" are not what we consider sports related to water polo so they aren't helping develop any Olympians.

I'll help Manitoba Water Polo target the age group and year that they are best able to enter the new Age Group Premier League so that players here can look forward to that challenge. But, I will also keep vocal about the need to have realistic avenues to enter this league for developing clubs so that it does not shrink the sport to 5 cities in 4 provinces.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scrimmage, what is it good for?

There was a time, in the 70's and early 80's when water polo clubs in Canada had pretty dull and static practice routines. These involved a short swim set that looked a bit like a swim club, then some passing and a 30-45 minute game at the end of practice. That gave players a sense of the structure of the game but not much skill to execute it properly.

As practice frequency increased, sessions became longer and players started younger the skills naturally improved without too much of a format change. Then sport science became involved and clubs started to teach much more skill, different swim styles were trained and scrimmages were at a higher tempo. That was a standard formula even if some (most?) clubs did not change the swimming format enough.

About 5 years ago, after a long struggle with the city to improve our facility access, we were able to secure daily training space for our competitive players in Manitoba. That was great as a step in an LTAD direction with hours increasing in the water. But, there was a down side to the changes. To get the big blocks of time for water polo with other competitive sports (swim, dive, synchro) we needed to share the largest facility at the same time. That meant compromise.

Divers did not compromise diving boards, swimmers did not compromise walls or lines on the bottom and synchro did not compromise deep, open water. Water polo did compromise, no walls to set up a playing course and allow referees to walk alongside the "game". This meant daily "scrimmages" had to be confined in a half-court space during the week and only weekends were available to us to play a game with a water polo course set up.

A great deal can be done with a half court set up. But what can never be done properly is counter attack, transitional play, breakaways, restarts or extended game like swim set ups. This put increasing pressure on the weekend scrimmage as it was the only time that players played with a real view of tactical situations. We were promised that there would be additional space to make up for the weekly scrimmages when the prime time space was granted to us but that all materialized at the same time - Saturday afternoon - at all pools.

I've seen a big drop in tactical play with our teams the past 4 years, even if skills have improved in many cases with players. What was really interesting was the past 2 weeks during the Spring Break for school players (actually 1 week before and 1 week during). We had a scrimmage 6 days per week for 2 weeks. Not all players were there, some were on holiday, some just didn't bother. But those that were made measurable improvements as the days went by; counter attacks extended from 10m to 20m, advantages were recognized in transition rather just on an odd drive. Players started to create patterns on restarts that took advantage of progress from one attack to the next in a fluid game.

I guess I am writing this because I undervalued the scrimmage that we lost this fall with the PWPL games that took our pool time. I thought games could replace much of the scrimmage but these are not equal learning opportunities so they didn't. I counted, we had 7 scrimmages in the club for U16, U18 or Senior teams between the season start in September and the 2 weeks stretch of games in mid March. Seven scrimmages in 6.5 months and that is taking advantage of 100% of the pool space we had. Wow, no wonder the teams have taken some slow starts to games this winter.

We'll be sure that doesn't happen again, even if we have to create a Handball league to generate the game reps.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Referees Get Respect

In the past I have posted somewhat critical looks at local referees. I wanted to be sure to say something positive about that part of the sport when I saw it. This was made easy by our participation in the 2011 Alberta Open in Calgary in March.

Usually, with 7 divisions of play and 3 or 4 pools of games at one time, referee action can vary greatly. This was the first year where I felt the level of officiating exceeded the level of play from start to finish at the U12, U14 and even U16 levels. Sure, there were crazy situations in some games where parents, coaches and players saw things much differently than the referee. But, that is just sport and it can be expected at any time. Even at the U18 level the referees for the most part were totally in synch with the level of play.

There is a reason for that and I want to talk about it so people hear me say positive things about referees and so anyone looking for ideas can maybe see a way to make progress. First of all you need to understand that Calgary in particular has many regular league water polo games during the year. This is supported by league games in Alberta with other cities and clubs. These league games force a need for referee development and it is made possible by strong leadership.

Leadership comes in different ways in Alberta, probably most clearly the referee support comes from Mike Dykman. He is a referee leader that shows authority, fairness and civility while still being totally relaxed and approachable. This is modeled for all young referees emerging from the playing ranks. Even if Mike is not in charge, which he seems always to be, all the referees know who he is and how he conducts himself. That is the solid footing to begin a training program of mentorship.

With a role model it is possible to set expectations for young referees and they will see the desired outcome. This also allows coaches to see where the referees are going and to know that there is a model being pursued. It prevents the common problem of referees being developed 1 or 2 at a time and toward different ends ie a competitive stream, a community stream, a youth stream, a masters stream. These new referees all acted a similar way and what really stood out was how they smiled and interacted with others. In 2011 referees were relaxed and professional.

That may seem like a small thing, them being relaxed and professional, but it is not. I was so impressed with how they acted that a "bad" call I didn't agree with was never considered an attempt to "screw" my team so it kept me from showing players I was upset, because I wasn't (at least not at officials). For a coach to go a whole tournament with that view of referees is really nice.

It is interesting that we went 2 years between the 2009 Alberta Open and the 2011 event and with that gap there was a quiet evolution of referees in Alberta. I say "quiet" because we didn't see it outside as it was in their leagues. That is the key thing in consistent officiating - REGULAR GAMES at a set standard where performance is standardized. That simply can never be done with a stand alone tournament in a community 2 or 3 times per season.

Once again we see Leadership, Regular Games and Mentorship as keys to sport success. Surprisingly it is not in a discussion about athlete development but it does impact that part of sport in a very direct way.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Referees get respect when .....

There is another topic about referees and rules that came up on a competition weekend, and is ripe for discussion as it is a pet peeve of mine. I was asked by a young coach, that also plays and has begun to referee, "why can they be on deck refereeing all weekend - and kicking players out for talking back or swearing and then hop in the water and do the same thing themselves as players?".

A great question from a 17 year old who wants to develop as a leader and follow the right role models. My answer to him was complicated. He is right, it is hypocritical for a guy to remove young players from a game in a tournament in a 14U division and then get in the water as a senior player and talk back to referees and question their calls. Why does this happen?

First, because it is allowed to and that is cultural. When I say I want referees to be specialists and not take part as athletes or coaches in the same gender as they ref, that is part of it. When the referees, coaches and players are the same people they are unable to effectively manage or govern themselves. Who will decide discipline if a referee gets into a game as a player and swears at a game referee? Will there ever be confidence in that system and people under the impression that athletes and sport integrity come first?

Another reason it happens is that the people who have these multiple roles do not fully engage with any single one and only take it part way. That means they are not mentored as referees to the point of being available for all games and events, being able to take courses and grow in the area as specialists. And, if many players are also referees they do not push the point of wanting to have, or to expect, specialist referees as that, one day, may exclude them from something.

The third reason is not as nice; it is the people who take on these roles and can't control themselves emotionally as players. They are the ones who are the most hypocritical as they do not admit or accept that they behave a way they oppose as officials.

I'll end the discussion with a firm statement of what is NOT the cause of this "multiple role" problem. That is, popularity of the sport or size of the community. The only reason there would be no specialist referees is if they were not valued and pursued. I spent some time the past decade encouraging parents with sport backgrounds to get involved as water polo referees to be associated with their child's sport. That was possible and we had some great dad's who worked many hours for water polo and made very good officials. The only reason for them to not stay involved would be if they were disrespected or abused. That is not the same as "we are too small" so it is an argument I don't like to hear with water polo.

Ball Under?

It seems that whenever we take part in competitions there are rules or questions that emerge as talking points for players and coaches. This past weekend there was such a thing happening at the Bushido Invitational with many frustrated over ordinary foul rule WP 20.6: "To take or hold the entire ball under the water when tackled".

This is a rule that is intended to keep the ball in play, available to defenders and visible to those trying to touch it within reach. It is not intended to penalize a player who grabs the ball from the top and raises it to take a shot when there is not a player tackling them. Coaches get very frustrated to see this call happen so often in games when it goes against the flow of play.

Even when players grab the ball from the side and do a roll, away from a defender, in a full layout ie not tackled at all, they can push lots of water with the ball movement and have a wave rush over the ball. That is not "holding the entire ball under the water" but it is often called that way by young referees.

However the time I see this called incorrectly the most is when a referee sees a defender at 2m reach over an offensive players shoulder while they wrestle for position and then when the ball goes out of sight the offense is assumed to have "had possession" so is called for taking it under. Then, as the offense raise their hands and there is still no ball, the referee does not adjust his call when he sees the defender bring it up and pass it to the goalie. That really confuses players, and referees need more support to either not whistle what the don't see clearly or to correct the call if they are able to see it was the other team that actually had the ball.

This didn't happen in any specific game or cost any one team a key possession. I am talking about something I saw at 12U, 14U, 16U and 18U play. All weekend, without players changing behaviour or referees changing calls. I know the play didn't change because it so often is not a player taking the ball under so they can't "correct" what they are not doing.

That's a coaches beef about a vague call that changes the tempo of a possession in a completely unjustified way.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What Comes First, Rules or Program Ideas?

In the fall of 2010Manitoba Water Polo held an organizational planning meeting to discuss, priorities, common goals, obstacles to growth and things that make our organization work. It's great how these meetings can have the potential to change the direction of an organization and quickly accelerate the growth or modifications people seek.

I mention that now because we are into the Competitive Season for an organization that set the #1 priority in the fall as "Following the Water Polo Canada LTAD". Of course, that is terrific and it would have a big impact on player development, program design and Competition Focus. These are all things Bushido has been modifying for age group programs for the past decade, and with some success too, so getting the PSO on the same page was a really positive organizational shift.

It is not without bumps though, since we still have not seen any changes provincially to try and modify programs so the competition is not just "kids being treated as mini adults". Our Bushido Invitational is a 5 vs 5 format for 12U and 14U, modified games for all ages ie 18U teams playing exhibition games with Senior teams if they are a competitive stream etc. We are also using many young referees (who are also age group players), and asking them to whistle the games differently for 12U than 14U and differently for 14U than 16U. We are asking them to see how the players are different in their focus and development and they get it too.

This is why I am frustrated when I hear some older volunteers from clubs not following LTAD who comment on how FINA rules, and adult discipline, from the Olympics should apply to the 12U and 14U kids. It's just insane, but there is no changing this perspective if people don't see how players are developed as children and where rules must be different. Referees must see discipline as part of the growth of a child and work with them on control of physical play rather than against them as disciples of adult punishment.

We'd like to see referees work with clubs and coaches to develop the sport the way the 21st century demands it. I can say for certain that using PSO policies from the 1980's, or FINA rules from the Olympics, is not the way to do that. Starting with existing rules having no relation to the program ideals will fail, every time, when designing new ways to develop athletes following the principles that went into the LTAD vision.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Do Goalies Make the Best Coaches?

There is an interesting question. It is put out there to get people thinking and I have a few things to offer since I know this question has been asked before.

The reason I ask is because we have some very good goalies in our club, always have had. There are two on National Teams now, including the one who plays at Hawaii in the NCAA, and the ones here at home are super. It's also a popular position I always show passion and support for and am willing to train specifically. Goalies sometimes make up a large percentage of our training group and I sometimes let them play in the field to get different perspective in drills. With Carson this also gives him an outlet for his competitive abilities as he shows field players every day what they are doing wrong or what mistakes they make when playing opposite him.

Today, in a team counter attack drill, Carson played in the field and was the guy who took coach instruction and adapted it during execution. This meant 1) he was listening, 2) he understood the principles on Offence and Defence and 3) he was competitive enough to care about success. That made him stand out even if others did similar things, because he did it EVERY time.

Why was it easy for a goalie to outplay some field players? Strength, of course, in his case. Knowledge, after watching drills and games from net for 8 years now he has seen lots of breakdowns and heard coaches reinforce the corrections he wanted all along from the team. He has also watched every play develop, offense and defense, without the stress of having to cover an opponent or be breaking free of one. That is a huge difference in the learning pattern in the head, no conflict with the personal challenge that field players are stressing over.

That is why a person with coaching or teaching tendencies will benefit greatly from learning the game from the net. But notice I said a "person with teaching tendencies" because just being a goalie is not enough. All that position ensures is that you are a bit special and that you march to your own drummer. Having spent some of my formative years in net I am comfortable saying that and having that label too.

If you think that goalies are poor coaches then please let me know, I'd be curious to hear why.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Competition Season

Just as the NCAA water polo is now in full swing for women (last post) so, too, is the regional competition cycle for age group teams in Canada. This week we host the 2011 Bushido Invitational at Pan Am Pool. It's a bit smaller than previous years and that, oddly, reflects some growth on the prairies.

Teams from Edmonton are not traveling here this year, unlike the past few seasons, since they have so many provincial games with emerging regional clubs in Alberta. Great for them, reduced travel interest for us. Same for Saskatchewan, Cyril has energized the 12U and 14U competitions in that province so there are leagues each winter and the younger players who used to migrate here for their only winter event are now playing much more and closer to home. Again, a good thing for growth in the region but not so good for our event even though it is a unique 5 on 5 format.

This 5 on 5 play is one of the most interesting to me as a coach and it gives young players way more opportunity to touch the ball and to learn individual skills. We've seen lots of great players develop through this structure, including a dozen national team athletes from Bushido the past decade. This year the event will see National Team participants from Regina, Weyburn and Bushido.

One of the things I am most interested in is the chance for young, often overlooked, referees to whistle lots of games. Brendan Domoney is the Referee in Chief and he has a list of 5 or 6 referees that we don't see enough of each winter so that is very positive in this organization.

NCAA Water Polo

I never set out to coach players toward an NCAA goal, that was a foreign idea when I began coaching. It was when Michel Roy went to Hawaii to coach that I changed my perception of the league and paid attention. But, it was Serena Bredin that made me understand the value of the league to Canadians.

Helping an athlete play in the NCAA, as I have now a few times, required a change in perspective and Serena gave me that. I spent my early coaching life building programs passionately and looking for solutions to domestic issues with events and teams. I was very caught up in coaching theory, never following what others did but always reading and learning so I could push training along scientific lines. I've written about that a bit but it is not the focus here.

While I was carving a path in terms of coaching patterns and event structure I was looking at building for teams, clubs and provinces. Serena helped me see that at the end of her highschool cycle she really had no credible competition options in Canada. She could move to Montreal and train with the national team but that was not interesting to her. The barriers to living in Montreal at that age with an unsure focus toward the future were not going to work. Staying here in Winnipeg with only a couple of university aged athletes was also not going to give her what she needed to keep pushing forward with training.

So, the solution was NCAA play on a scholarship and that is why I supported it. Now, of course, we have a few others that followed her footsteps and they are better for it. Better because there is no domestic equivalent right now and for them to sit here waiting for one to evolve would be a waste of their skill. One day we may have national playing options for this age that rival the NCAA but not yet. I will be happy to support any initiatives in that direction and applaud George Gross for his current efforts with the University of Toronto programs.

This winter, though, I will be sitting by the computer on the weekends watching the twitter updates as Breda leads her Cal team in scoring, Shae leads her Indiana team in steals and assists and Serena anchors a great Hawaii team in the nets. Hopefully a few 14-16 year old girls here will understand the confidence and focus those women are displaying for them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The League as a Virus

It's a funny title that defies logic. How can a water polo league be like a virus? Well, I will elaborate as this is a lesson in dysfunction that is good to take note of for anyone involved with sport.

During the 2009-10 season I worked with the Provincial Coach in Saskatchewan to develop a Senior water polo league on the prairies. We hoped this would be a way to energize our sport and challenge the competitive 18U players that we had in our clubs. There are several strong National Team athletes, of both genders, in our groups and having them play older players is very valuable.

This league was going to be regional so we made sure to involve all the clubs in our provinces, even if we had experienced difficulty working together in each province in the past. This was done and we created a 6 team league for both men and women. Wow, what an exciting way to start the season, with a 20 game league schedule!

What is the problem we encountered? There are several, but the main issue is a lack of organizational leadership. While there is a Provincial organization that governs Manitoba it has terrible, conflicting, grossly outdated policies. Add to that a lack of willingness to follow LTAD and, specifically, what is competitive water polo, and you get a recipe for disaster. When an organization does not function well in leadership it is wrong to give it a new league to manage. That is like giving matches to a pyromaniac!

Boy, did we see some nice fires this winter.

In our club we surrendered all of our fall Saturdays in 2010 to play league games with local opponents; that meant no scrimmage for over 2 months. I was expecting that could be positive and give weekly training a focus. The games ended up generating letters (from Sr Men) with complaints about rough play (by 18U boys). This is nuts, referees decide these things and when men don't get calls they want from other men it never makes sense to take it out on children.

That is the type of fire we are talking about and the league gave fuel to people looking for a fight. That is what I meant by the title; the jealousy and ill will was always there it just had a new flash point. Without a strong organization to handle governance and officiating there is no sense trying to bring diverse partners together in a competitive setting with egos on the line. I can spin the league any way I want, be a super cheerleader and supporter, but when the guys show up to a game and the referee is a player from the other team, or they hear about letters after the games complaining about what didn't get called; well, that is when people lose interest and enthusiasm.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Everything Is An Evaluation!

I coach a club that follows the Canadian LTAD format in sport development, in every way possible. In fact, I help lead this transition whenever asked and love the collegial approach to athlete development that is slowly emerging. One aspect of LTAD that is worth talking about is athletes that train in multi-sport environments, as is recommended for players 14 or younger.

A multi-sport foundation tends to develop better physical literacy, a more well rounded sport perspective and helps to delay burn-out from observations made to date on this topic. This week I heard a parent talk about a training benefit from another sport that was not in any way physical and I want to write about that so other coaches see the possible benefit of sharing athlete development in this way. Perhaps there are also some athletes or young coaches reading this who will benefit from the perspective as well.

This parent has a child who trains with me 10 months per year in a Canadian "winter sport" of water polo. The summer is taken over by a second sport and this is maintained on a complimentary scale while playing water polo too. This is common in our club with young athletes in participating in football, soccer, rowing and triathlon. It was in one of these sports that a young athlete learning about Competitive Sport got to hear a presentation from a national team athlete in that sport. It is the main message that was communicated that I want to share.

This national team member made all the young athletes in her presence know that in competitive sport EVERYTHING is an EVALUATION. She was talking about how coaches form opinions and the things that go into a coach impression of an athletes abilities and character. I loved hearing about that because this is one thing I have trouble helping 13-16 year old players grasp. Doing a drill perfectly is great, being the fastest or strongest is wonderful, but I look for so much more. I want to know how players interact, who supports a team member, who listens to a coach and helps implement team strategy. Is there someone who brings the team together with their presence, someone who divides them? Who leads the drills, works the hardest, puts their best effort into EVERY part of practice? This is what I am looking at each day.

Why is that important? Let me explain from a National Coach perspective. One of the first things a coach learns when selecting representative teams, from all over the country, is that the players you select are all going to be talented so you better pick ones that work together. How can you beat an opponent that is 13 players all doing the same great things at the same high intensity, for a whole game, if you don't also have 13 doing the same? You can't. Selection has to ensure the team dynamic is focused on the same goal and that starts each day at practice.

Professional coaches, particularly hockey, use this expression often "he is great in the room". "The Room" is the dressing room and "he" is considered great if he unifies the team, speaks to them with motivation when needed, with anger when appropriate; and people follow. A veteran that is good in "the room" will extend his career for several years and will often be sought after by coaches looking for a championship in a pro sport.

How does that impact teen water polo players? Well, if you want to play on a National Team, or in the NCAA on a schools tab, then you better want the coaches to seek you out rather than avoid you. If you play on a club team and it is small, your work habits will influence what people think of the group and influence who joins. If you think of coaching, or being a referee, the place to show the qualities desired will be when developing as a player.

So, there is a benefit of multi-sport training that has nothing to do with physical literacy or sport technical skills. Too many athletes learn this lesson after they have stopped playing, hopefully I can help a few learn it a bit earlier and pass this on to another generation.