Well Excuse Me!

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University
09/01/05

You have heard excuses and if you are human you have even made excuses. Here are some excuses that I bet you have heard after a water polo game:

"We lost because a couple of starters were not here."

"We lost because the referee was biased against us."

"We lost because we didn't have enough time to warm up properly"

"It doesn't matter this team is not in our conference"

"Last time we played this team we won and we didn't want to show them up again."

"We lost because the other team cheated."

"We lost because our starters played badly today."

"We lost because the sun was in our goalie's eyes in the last quarter."

"We lost because they got more exclusion fouls than we did."

"We lost because the referee swallowed his whistle in the last quarter."

Why do we make excuses in water polo anyway? One of the reasons is because we have been taught all our life that winning is good and losing is bad, and we don't want to be on the side of bad. Read what the the Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, has to say about winning:

"Arguably the most famous quote in sport, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing" came to exemplify a form of unfettered competitiveness that has permeated American sport and carried over into the general culture. Its assertion about the importance of winning has been touted as a basic tenet of the American sports creed and, at the same time, singled out as encapsulating what is wrong with competitive sport.

This credo has served as counterpoint to the well known sentiment by sports journalist Grantland Rice that, it's 'not that you won or lost but how you played the game', and to the Modern Olympic creed expressed by its founder Pierre de Coubertin: 'The most important thing . . . is not winning but taking part (in the Games).'"

Wouldn't it be swell if we could de-emphasize winning some, and begin to emphasize participation alot more. I used to love to tell my teams when they would lose a close game to a tough opponent, "You were not beaten; you were just out scored!" Now, really is the world going to come to an end if you don't win a championship water polo game. Is the sun going to refuse to rise in the morning or is the moon never going to shine again or is a person going to lose his or her Constutional freedoms or is a person going to lose his or her job if they don't win the game? No, these things are not going to happen.Well maybe, if you're the US Men's National Water Polo coach then there are a lot of, what I call, misguided people on the Message Board that really hope the last of my examples will come true, but more about that later in the article.

In any defensive war your country fights, you have to really worry about winning or losing because many times you are defending your very way of life. Now, offensive wars are another story, and I will let philosopers and politicians argue over the merits and/or demerits of fighting them. Getting back to my point and that is in this country winning or losing in amatuer sports is not really a life and death matter such as participating in a war, any kind of war.

Think about the most recent US Men's National Senior Championships. There were 16 teams entered and only one champion. Does this really mean that the other 15 teams are losers? Maybe at the award ceremonies we should have had all the fans create a gauntlet for the members of the other 15 teams to run through. Only, instead of beating them with sticks we could have formed an L with one of our hands and held it to our foreheads and chanted "Losers! Losers! Losers!" Or maybe we should have stripped from each player's suit its draw string and banned each player from ever playing in the tournament's swimming pool again ( not playing in any pool would be a little too harsh). Suppose it is the 16th placed team's first National Champioships and suppose they had to beat teams they have never beat before to qualify for the National Championships, is this team really a loser?

I can hear people saying "Hey, some of the above remarks don't sound like the 'Doc' I knew, because the 'Doc' I knew wanted to win more than he wanted to eat, and he had a ferocious appetite when he was young." Your absolutely correct when I was young I had a large appetite for winning, and as a result I placed way too much emphasis on winning. Now that I am older, and let's hope wiser, I think maybe I did a disservice to many of my players by doing this. I hope other young coaches can learn from my mistakes.

When I was very young my old Daddy would sit me on his bed and give me the win-win speech, "Dicky I don't care what you become in this life, a baker, candle stick maker, a lawyer, a doctor, a ditch digger, or a garbage man or what ever it is, you be the best!" To this day I think, or maybe I hope, my old Daddy meant that he wanted me not necessarily to be the best, but rather be the best that I can within the limits of my physical and mental powers.Thus, in my opinion you are not a loser if you don't win, but you are a loser when you don't give your best to try to win.

Very akin to "making excuses" is "giving blame" because if we can't excuse it then we look for someone who can take the blame for it. Let me give a metaphor for what I am saying. Suppose in the corporate world an elected Executive Board goes through what they consider is a difficult and serious recruitment process to hire an executive for the company. Three to six months after they hire the person they think is the most qualified to do the job, some stock holders begin to blame the Exective for not making a profit or turning the company around. Is that reasonable? What Executive do you know that has turned a large venture around in from three to six months - even the Polo God Ratko couldn't do that. Nobody can do it!

As they say, "Rome wasn't built in a day", but in those times if there was an internet and a Message Board, there would be people making posts on the Message Board yelling," ROME SURE AS HELL SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUILT IN A DAY". (All upper case letters is yelling in a post on the internet.) I know nobody told me that life was going to be fair, but that doesn't mean I can't be fair. That's exactly what I want to be is fair to the new US Men's National Coach. I want to give him some time to show us what he can or cannot do with the men's program. No matter how much you dislike the man. It is a fact that he helped the women's team win two medals in the Olympics and that's exactly what the US Water Polo Executive Board wants for the men's team. Give the man a chance to prove or disprove himself with the men's program because he has been a winner most places he has ever coached.

If you just have to blame someone for the US Men's Water PoloTeam doing what you think is a poor performance in the World Champioships, then blame the Executive Board because they hired him for one purpose and one purpose only - to win medals in future Olympics. Besides I don't think they performed that poorly. From what I have heard the biggest complaint is that on the several ocasions when a player was in a position to score the player couldn't put the ball away. Is that the coach's fault?

I have also been told the young players showed both promise and lots of guts, and the veterans made most of their opposing teams fight tooth and nail for everything they got. Thank the polo gods, that some of the Executive Board members understand that Rome was not built in a day, and, more importantly, that the men's team can't win a World or Olympic medal right out of the starting gate with a new coach. Do you really think there is a coach in this country or for that matter in the world that can turn around a men's national program in three to six months?

Harry Truman said "If you can't take the heat then get out of the kitchen." Before you tell the US Men's National coach to get out of the kitchen at least give him time to turn on the stove. Dad gum, I bet some of you negative posters would give a raw cinnamon bun more time in an oven to get done or burnt than you have given the Men's National coach to show what he can do with the Men's National Team. After a reasonable length of time if he has not improved the men's team, I will be like the Queen of Hearts in Alice and Wonderland and shout, "Off with his head". But until that time comes I will have the patiences of Job and I hope the wisdom of Yogi Berra when he said, "You can observe a lot just by watchin'." If some of the negative posters don't like what I have to say about giving the US Men's National Team coach a fair shake then I leave them with the words of Steve Martin, "Excuuuuse meee!"

Email Coach Hunkler at rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com