Mastering Some Mental Aspects of Water Polo

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University
04/30/04

1. Problem solving skills - In addition to being well conditioned and strong, a very good water polo player must learn to improvise, modify, adapt, innovate and create. These are the same mental skills needed to do well in English, math and science. It is said that a lawyer needs to learn how to think on his or her feet. A water polo player needs to learn how to think on his or her stomach, back, and even under water.

2. Self confidence or self esteem - It has been said that if you do not believe in yourself then how can you expect your teammates or your coach to believe in you. Internally you are going to have to be your own best cheerleader. Remember, however, self confidence does not mean over confidence. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, and then work on your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths.

3. Motivation - How many of your teammates play water polo to please their parents or to impress someone they really like, or because their friends think it is cool? Is one of these explanations the reason you are playing water polo? If so then there is a large chance that you will never be as good as you could be. You should be playing water polo because you enjoy playing, or because you love the physical and mental challenges of playing, or because you enjoy learning and mastering something new and interesting, or . The key is that you are playing because you really want to play and not because someone else wants you to play. Then similar to being in the Marine Corps you too can become all you can be.

4. Attitude - Are you one of those players that yells at questionable referee calls or yells at your own teammates when they make a mistake. Then you must be that unique individual that has never made a mistake in his or her life. A positive attitude, you say, has never won a water polo game. That statement is debatable, but what is not debatable is that it has won good friends for a lifetime, and a lifetime of good water polo memories. Remember the negative player that yells is more than likely the player who does not take the responsibility for his or her actions - when something goes wrong it is always someone else's fault.

5. Knowing not only how to do a skill but also when to use it - Learning how to do a skill takes both physical and mental attributes whereas learning when to use the skill takes only a mental attribute. How many players have you known whose skills were superior to others in drills but who could never use his or her superior skills properly in a game or when they did use them, they use them at the wrong time or place? Thus, knowing when to use a skill is just as important as knowing how to do it. Master this mental aspect of the game if you desire to play a level up from where you are now.

6. Playing the game in the present and future not the past - Playing the game in the past is when a player thinks or worries so much about a past mistake that she or he makes a second mistake that makes the first mistake look pale in comparison. When you make a mistake you have to do two things 1) learn from it, and 2) forget it. Everyone in water polo, players, referees, and, believe it or not, coaches, make mistakes. Anticipation of your team's moves or of the opposing team's moves is also playing in the future. Anticipation is probably one of the most important skills in water polo. The fastest swimming water polo player in the world who can not anticipate is similar to a water polo ball without air -- it's flashy looking and it's there but it is not much use to anyone.

Email Coach Hunkler at rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com