The Interpreters

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University

No this is not a review of the movie staring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn because that movie was named, "The Interpreter". This article is about who should interpret new rules. Many coaches think because of manifest destiny they should be the ones to do the interpretations of the rules. While at the same time referees believe they are the ones chosen by the polo gods to make the interpretations. In sport's organizations, such as the NCAA and FINA, they believe that the committee who creates the rules is ordained to interpret them. Maybe we are going about this task of interpreting rules somewhat backwards by using power politics rather than sound reasoning?

A Software Testing Model

It is just possible that the software industry could give us a clue how to do this job correctly? In the beginning the software companies allowed the programmer or programmers who created the software to test it. The software companies learned very quickly that this wasn't such a good idea, and it wasn't such a good idea because the people who created the software were emotionally attached to it. It was there baby, their Killer App, which would set the software world on a beaten path to their secure monetary future. Who in their right mind would want to try and make such a wonderfully written piece of software crash? As a result of software creators doing such a bad job of testing their own programs companies were releasing software that was even more error prone than today's software.

As an aside, what other profession releases work that they know has bugs in it, but not to worry, because when the bugs show up the software company will fix them? (Several companies including Microsoft used to charge users for fixing the companies own bugs - go figure?.) This would be similar to a civil engineer who is building a bridge over a thousand feet deep canyon telling people that after a few months one of the lanes will fall off, but not to worry, because when it does he or she will come and fix it. And our President wants to spend billions of dollars on just such a software program, containing over a million lines of code, to try and stop every conceivable nuclear attack on our country?

In order to reduce the number of errors in released software, companies came up with much better ideas on how to test pre-released software. The first order of business was to no longer have the programmers who created the software be the primary testers. The creators of a program would still do testing but their tests would not be the final say. They created a separate group of programmers that had absolutely nothing to do with creating the software to be the ones doing the real testing. These programmers were given incentives such as monetary raises and promotions to find errors in the software, and they tested with the kill, kill, kill, attitude and approach to the testing of the software. This is called the Alpha phase of testing, and after this phase the software is sent to a slew of experienced users to use and test the software. This is called the Beta phase of testing.

Note I didn't say they gave the software to youthful and novice users for Beta testing, but to very savvy and experienced users. If one of these software companies were FINA the first major test of the new rules would not have been in the Junior World Championship but rather it would have been with senior players in an International Tournament. After these three phases of testing and repairing, the production software is released to the software buying public. Are there still errors in the released software? More than just probably, but there are a lot fewer errors today using Alpha and Beta testing than there was yesterday when people who created the software were allowed to do the testing.

Applying the Software Testing Model to Rule Interpretations

What the sport federations in the water polo community could do is use their existing committee to create the new rules, TWPC in FINA and the Rules Committee in the NCAA, but then form a different committee to interpret the rules. The new committee would have as its members, players, coaches, referees, and administrators. Their mission would be two fold: 1) To discuss with the rules committee whether or not they thought the rules were viable and to discuss if they thought the rules could be enforced and reasonably interpreted and 2) To write the interpretation of the rules in a clear and concise language. Thus, this would be your Alpha testing and interpretation of the rules.

Remember the people on the rules committee can also become ego involved in their own handy work as well as computer programmers, so there should be an independent review of the proposed rules. The barter and exchange of ideas between these two committees could save the water polo community a lot of time and energy that would be spent trying out rules that they both know can't be sold to the water polo community. After the rules and their interpretations have been ironed out by these two committees and placed in writing, then use these rules in several senior tournaments to determine if they are really viable. The keywords in the preceding sentence are "several" and "senior players" Moreover, this would be your Beta testing and interpretation of the rules.

After garnering as much information as possible about the viability and effectiveness of the proposed new rule, then and only then, can the rules committee make an informed and intelligent decision about whether the proposed rules should be adopted. It would be great if the vote on the proposed rules could be void of politics and self interest. By "void of self interest" it is meant that a vote "yes" to a new rule is not based on how the new rules make the play of your team better but rather how the new rules make the game of water polo better! I realize full well that this is an "out of the box" approach to introducing and adopting new rule changes, but sometimes "out of the box" ideas, no matter how far out they are, can create a spark to cause others to improve and revitalize the way of doing things from inside the box.

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