Coaching Water Polo requires an entirely different skill compared to playing it. An effective coach must be proficient in teaching a player the skills they need to be successful while at practice and during competition. To accomplish this, a coach must have the expertise necessary to run practices effectively in the first place, but must also know how to employ proper game-time tactics. These are not skill sets someone is likely to pick up as a player, but are essential to success if they decide to transition into a coaching role. There is a plethora of coaching styles, training philosophies, tips and tricks available for use when working to guide athletes towards success. To expect a brand new coach to even be aware of all of the missteps they might take is unrealistic. In my first two years of coaching, I have made plenty of mistakes; ranging from slight miscalculations in practice to embarrassing and sometimes costly gaffes during tournaments. Some of the mistakes I have made in the past continue to be extremely common for newer coaches, like myself, to make either at practice or during games. It is my hope that I can pass on some of the wisdom I have gained from making these mistakes in the first years of my own coaching career to help keep another, newer coach from making the same ones.
These are some of the easiest to correct:
- Improper timeout usage– Timeouts serve as the only way for a coach to directly affect the flow of the game. They are an extremely useful tool when utilized in a proficient manner, but can be employed in counter productive ways by an unpracticed wielder. One of the worst mistakes one can make is to call a timeout when you have the advantage in the water. For example, it would be a poor decision to call a timeout is called to set up a particular play despite a wide open 2-on-1 counterattack. There are a few key ways to ideally utilize game stoppages, but that is a topic for another article.
- Substituting too often– Most players train for and attend tournaments to get as much water-time as possible. It is an easy trap for a coach to fall into, particularly for club teams, to simply pull players in and out of a game too often. Apart from being frustrating to the players, a policy of substituting too frequently and without regard for player ability is often ineffective at best.
- Making practice too complicated– When it comes to teaching the game, there is little debate that strong fundamentals are the key to success. It is extremely difficult to run even a basic power play in practice if some players are struggling to catch and throw the ball effectively. A common misstep is to try and impose upon newer players drills or plays that require a working knowledge they simply do not yet have. Skill sets are best learned when slowly built upon one another. For example, one must first be comfortable with how, when and why a power play occurs before they can be taught different methods of running one.
- Long-winded explanations or criticism– Most of us coach Water Polo because we’re passionate about the sport. Usually, it’s because we played it for a while and hope to pass on what we learned. People have very short attention spans, meaning our own train of thought can easily drift off-course shortly into any unrehearsed monologue. Explanations and critiques, especially when coaching from the sidelines, are best conveyed when kept extremely brief and to the point. There is a time and place to give speeches or in-depth explanations, but it is not while the audience is in the water. Anything more than a few choice, deliberately impactful words at a time is probably too much information to give someone in the middle of a scrimmage!
- Stopping scrimmages too often– Speaking of practice scrimmages, nothing is more frustrating to a player than when a coach constantly stops and resets the field of play. It is one thing to address an issue at the end of a play every so often or at the end of a set amount of time; it is another to interrupt the flow of the game every time there is a goal, counter attack, bad pass, etc. Instead, find other ways to highlight smaller errors without taking away from the flow and intensity of the exercise.