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.


  1. I have often wondered why there are different models for men's and women's teams in water polo. The women have CSL, but no open training/tryout camp, so. The men have open camps, but no CSL. I understand that the men's and women's games are different, but the difference in political structure for the age groups defies logic. Perhaps there is a reason you know that makes sense, or maybe it is historical accident. Since parts of this appear to be working, why not go with working parts of a model?
    It also defies logic that at a time when water polo in Canada will be more visible because of the Olympic Games and Canadian success in international competition, there should be a decision to contract rather than expand operations. Federal cash may be better spent on expanding to Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George, Lethbridge, Brandon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, St. Catherines, Windsor, St. John's, Halifax, (tax paying cities all of them with good pools) instead of what appears to be this short-sighted centralization of talent pools (pun intended). Increased visibility leads eventually to increased revenues, but cash infusion from governments is always temporary, unstable, and somewhat at the whimsy of the elected.
    Which of course brings me to question this choice from a political position. Ontario and Quebec are both provinces which receive equalization payments. That means that the "have" provinces of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland are going to have to pay for the privilege of having water polo atrophy/die in those provinces, in some cases before it even got off to a good start, while "have not" provinces Ontario and Quebec benefit in yet another way from tax dollars. Last time I checked, we on the Prairies also pay taxes. We used to have a colourful expression for this when I was young and living in the periphery in a have province: "screw the hinterland." Am I missing something, or is such a plan myopic?

  2. "Screw the Hinterland" is part of Canadian culture and empire building - resources of all kinds are for those in the urban control centres. In that way we can say that Water Polo Canada is no different and might be better with the approach taken to include many, if not to fund them.

    This league is only funded the way it is because of how the national funding groups allocate resources. The money for the league can NOT be spent on developing new areas. Resources for that growth are currently provided through the I Love Water Polo program and introductions to the sport are happening in that way. The ILWP funding is nothing like a "league" for 16-18 of course, but the funds are given to the sport for specific things so we are not able to fault the PSO on how they are allocated in that way.

    We can comment on things like leagues, inclusion, fairness etc... and I do. That is how they end up on the internet in my blog.

    Team selection is always changing for both men and women. Camps have been used by both genders and are not the domain of just one. In fact even now they are not used to select but more to monitor those that have been identified and coaches do not want to overlook.

    The reason the men are having camps now is to do with the coaches wanting the players exposed to some specific skills in a similar setting to see who can move forward to the next level under the current system. The 16-18 league will end these camps as the identification will happen in games over many months.

    The reason the men have a 16-18 league and the women have a Senior CSL is based on development and maturation. A 16 year old girl can be physically developed enough to play with a 22 year old woman. Not equal, but competitive. A 16 year old boy would be a rare exception if he was developed to the point that he could physically compete with a 22 year old man. So, men have a development league for teems and women have a performance league for those a bit more physically developed. It all fits the LTAD when it is done.

  3. It sounds like one more concept that will divide the country even more. We already have national training centers for those regions and now games supported by National funds. Many national team athletes come out of the prairies. They do so without the resources that are given to the 4 big provinces. Now that the 4 big provinces will play regular games there seems to be no opportunity for the Prairie or Maritime players to get looked at or be apart of a national program. Since the implementation of the national centers I do not believe the players outside of the national centers are given the same opportunities. It's a shame to see such talented athletes left out.

  4. I'm sure many people, especially from the prairies, had comments about the league's structure and implementation.

    Was any of it actually heard and acted on? Or are they pretty dead set on their current plans?