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.