Coaching Association of Canada

Andrew Muir, ChPC - Men's National Water Polo Team Assistant Coach

Game-inspired Practice and Innovation

Andrew Muir and the men’s Canadian water polo team have one objective in Toronto: win. Not only is the prospect of winning gold on home soil appealing, it also guarantees them a berth at the Olympic Games next summer in Rio. To put together a successful squad for Toronto and Rio, Andrew points out the importance of national depth, a strong development system, and good coaching. He hopes this week’s coach tip and his words of wisdom will contribute to the latter.

Coaching isn’t easy, and coaches don’t make it any easier for themselves by trying to create complicated drills and scenarios for their practices. “Water polo is such a technical sport; things happen underwater just as much as they happen above it,” says Muir. Having the intricacies of the game reflected in practice isn’t easy. Muir suggests a simple, effective solution: “Create practice drills from what you observe in actual game situations. The possibilities are endless and it makes training more interesting for the athletes.”

Coaches get in the habit of running the drills they did as athletes and coaching as their coaches did. As the game evolves, this keeps the athletes from developing at the same pace as the game because they’re working through dated progressions. That’s why game-inspired drills are great – they keep your practices relevant.

On the technical side of things, one of the drills that mimics a game situation is what’s called a 1-2 or 4-5 cycle. The ball is held on the opposite side waiting for play to develop. Position 2 or 4 drives to the net to create inside water and a scoring opportunity while position 1 or 5 receives a pass and stays at the 2m line with the ball. From there, the player can decide to take a shot or drive up based on the defender’s actions. When you’ve got one cycle on the right of the net, and another on the left, lots of variety and play development exists and you’re also training a multitude of energy systems.

“The coach’s ability to have an open mind and challenge old ideas is also essential,” suggests Muir. “Finding transferable elements from other sports is key. In water polo, we’re inspired by wrestling, aikido, and volleyball. Using transferable skills from those sports, like a volleyball serve for instance, gives you an edge in your mechanics, in duels, and makes it easier to explain things as a coach.”

Finally, after technique has been discussed, and video has been reviewed, it’s important for coaches to know, as Muir puts it, “that the iron fist isn’t always the answer to getting things done. Having the ability to assert authority is important but open lines of communication can accomplish way more as everyone feels on the same pathway.” Young coaches may feel it’s their way or the highway, but this approach can create unnecessary conflict. “When you engage and empower athletes, they will work hard without you having to get agitated.”

Water polo at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games kicks off on July 7th with a match between Canada and Brazil.