Written By: Coach Seri . For more info on Coach Seri visit www.coachseri.com
I have been very privileged to have played in many teams in my water polo career and under many coaches. As a young South African player I was coached by dozens of different coaches, I then went over to the USA and had two different college coaches. By the time I got to Australia, I realised how each coach contributes in different ways and was once again lucky enough to play in three different National League Teams, be a part of NSWIS and the National Team Programme. This all meant being exposed to more coaches. For my first blog post, I wanted to touch on how important the role of the coach plays in the sport of water polo and what I believe constitutes a brilliant coach.
I struggle to find a sport where a coach plays as big a role as water polo. In rugby, cricket, soccer etc. you see the coaches up in a box or on the sidelines watching and pacing. In water polo, the coach is on the side of the pool, yelling directions, yanking players in and out of the water and freely hurling criticism or praise your way. The way that the coach behaves on the side of the pool deck has a direct influence on the team’s performance and this is why:
1. A coach who leads through harsh criticism or constant abuse, will spit out a team who plays under constant fear.
I have played under a coach like this before and the entire time that I was playing, I was constantly afraid of messing up. I was unable to get into the game properly because all I could think about was the repercussions if I made a mistake. This type of coach pitted players against each other and instead of a healthy team environment, he created a culture of hierarchy and fear. This team never reached its potential and had many disappointing results, not because of its lack of talent but through it’s undercurrent of fear. I am also sad to report that in my early stages as a young coach, I believed that in order to gain respect and get the most out of my players, I had to be hard, harsh and yell a lot. I went to a tournament with one of the best teams and when we got to crucial knock out stages of the semi-finals, my team buckled. I believe that this was in direct relation to my coaching, being too harsh and in turn the players were afraid of failure and afraid of me.
2. A coach who is too familiar and friendly breeds a team who will offer very little respect to both the coach and their team mates.
I have played under a coach who was too friendly with our team and it was extremely detrimental to our culture and environment. As a player, you want a leader but when you get a friend, lines and boundaries are blurred. With blurred boundaries comes a problem with respect. A coach who is too soft or too familiar leads to an abuse in power through team mates not respecting the coach or each other. Just as in point 1, a coach being too hard can be detrimental, so can a coach that is too soft. A great leader needs to actually lead – take responsibility and be the bad guy sometimes. I have been in a culture where my coach was too friendly and I am sad to say that I was one of the players that lost respect for my coach and in turn my team mates and I could not work together as a cohesive unit, as there was no leadership.
3. A coach who leads with kindness, authority and understanding will churn out a team of leaders who respect and honour their coach and team mates.
I have played under a coach who has cared more for me as an individual than about what I can do for them in the pool. A coach who has been hard and given out criticism when necessary, but then been kind and given compliments when deserved. A coach who respects his/her team mates and in turn earns their respect. In the early stages of my coaching career, I believed I needed to be a harsh coach who got respect through fear. I learnt very quickly that this spat out fearful players. When I played under a coach who was hard yet fair, gave both criticism and compliment, and demanded respect yet gave it, I realised that I played more freely, reached my potential and our team culture was healthy.
When I look at the best women’s water polo team in the world, in the USA team, I like to look at why they have been the most dominant team for the past 10 years. I like to call it “The Adam Krikorian Effect”. Adam is the USA women’s National Team Coach and has been for the last two Olympic Games. While I have never been coaches by Adam, I have watched his team and played against them. There are a few key points that I have noticed about his coaching style and team:
At an Olympic Games only the players receive a medal, not the coaching staff. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, when team USA won gold, each girl after receiving her medal, went and draped it over Adam’s neck. It was evident to anyone watching that this team of woman had so much respect, love and admiration for their leader and in a moment that should have been all about them, they made it all about him. What an honour for a coach. At an Olympic Games, each team has prepared as best they can, put in hours of effort and time, so what is the determining factor? In my opinion, it is the coach. The coach is the make or break for a water polo team and I have seen first hand how a mean coach breeds fear through a team and a kind and fair coach breeds freedom and respect through a team.
As I have embarked on my own journey as a coach, I have made many errors. I started as that first coach and have seen first hand how it doesn’t work. I am constantly inspired by the “Adam Krikorian Effect” and am witnessing first hand how it is shaping and moulding the teams and young woman that I coach.
Top USA Universities receive close to 100,000 applications each year, and they only accept about 3% of them. How do they choose? They look at your extracurricular activities to differentiate between the best applicants. Students who only focus on their studies are one dimensional, but those students who get good marks, play sports and love their cultural activities stand out and are much more likely to get in.
You do not need to invent the next billion dollar app or attend the Olympic Games to study in the USA. These universities are looking for well-rounded individuals who will one day become captains of industry and change the world for the better. The Stanford University Regional Admissions Officer for Africa, Femi Ogundele, describes these students as "Game Changers." Stanford and similar institutions look for students who are incredibly passionate about something (it literally can be anything), and they work every day to be great at it.
Say for example, that you are passionate about music. People who take extra lessons are great, but do you volunteer at your local theatre, do you write or direct your school plays, have you started your own non-profit? This sounds scary, right? Not so fast! You don't have to go running off to lawyers and register companies to start a non-profit. Simply chat with your school teachers and see if you can set up a programme where you give free lessons once a week to community kids. Teach these kids, and instil why you are so passionate about what you do. You should even consider joining the local orchestra and work your way up the ranks as you gain more experience.
It's important to understand that the USA education system is unique. Unlike most countries where academics are everything, in the USA you increase your chances of getting accepted by having many extracurricular activities, good marks and an incredible passion for something that you can demonstrate.
In conclusion, you don’t need to be Elon Musk to get in; but you do need to demonstrate that you have the potential to one day change the world. In all seriousness, be the best version of yourself that you can be and the rest will fall into place. Remember there is no secret formula to get into elite universities, but there is no harm in applying. Remember that you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
All blogs are written by former student-athletes. If you would like to learn more, please leave a comment below and the author will respond to your questions.