The All Token Team – I Mean the All Tournament Team!

Richard Hunkler, PhD
Water Polo Planet

How many times after a regional or conference tournament have you seen players on the All Tournament Team who were the conference stars but who at this tournament were mediocre or actually stunk up the pool? This to me is an All Token Team and not the All Tournament Team. So at this tournament these players had a bad weekend, everyone has bad day’s even star players. But to reward this bad play by placing these players on the All Tournament Team is a mockery to not only the players chosen but also to the tournament and to the players and fans at this tournament. There are other teams where the player can be rewarded for his or her overall excellent play during the season and they are the All Conference Team and the All American or the All World Team!

The fault does not lie with the players chosen for the tournament team nor with the coaches who vote for these players but rather it lies with the administrative system of choosing the team. Many times these teams are to be chosen by a vote of the teams’ head coaches at the tournament. First the coach is asked to nominate players from his or her team before the tournament starts, and of course, the coach is going to nominate the players who have been playing the best up to this point in time which of course, this will usually include the team stars. Next the coach is asked to vote both for a fixed number of his or her players and then to vote for players from the other teams. Finally the coach is asked to turn in the ballot prior to the championship game – usually the game before the championship game.

How many times has a coach written on his or her ballot that if team A wins the championship my vote for the MVP is player X but if team B wins then my vote for the MVP is player Y? Moreover, how many times has a coach taken the easy way out by voting for the stars on the teams he or she didn’t play or see in this tournament? What I used to do was let my assistant coach do all the voting; that is, I did in those seasons in which I had the luxury of a volunteer assistant coach. Having an assistant coach was a godsend for me and it was similar to telling Sisyphus that he could roll the bolder up the mountain a thousand less times.

What coach has the time to watch every game in a very large or important tournament? Maybe, the coaches who were losing all their games could do that, and even those coaches at a large tournament are so busy feeding, resting, transporting, and pumping-up their teams that they only have time to see the games they need to scout. Also most good coaches I know are busy making changes to their game plans based upon how their team and their opponents’ teams are playing in the tournament. If the coach can’t do real time adaptations and corrections then possibly that coach should be watching all the games in the tournament?

To do the All Tournament Team justice then a coach needs not just watch all the games in the tournament but he or she needs to take some notes as well. Telling this to a coach would be like telling Prometheus one more time that giving fire to humans is going to be bad for his liver. As I implied in the above paragraph, only truly bad coaches have that much frivolous time on their hands – time that can be put to a much better use. A good coach is too busy acting and reacting to what is happening to his or her team and his or her opposing teams. At large or important tournaments, time is too much at a premium to waste on anything but helping your team play its’ best in such a crucial tournament.

You say, “Hey Doc, what can be done about such a system because you always have something in your mind when you write these petulant commentaries, so what is it?” I have something in mind which might possibly increase the cost of the tournament. Like my Daddy, old Herb Hunkler, used to say, “It is going to cost you a little bit more to go first class.” Pay three coaches, ex-coaches, ex-players or administrators to come to the tournament as a committee to pick the All Tournament Team.

One of the most important committee members’ jobs will be to watch every game and to make notes about who is playing well. These notes are to be made independently by each member of the committee during a game. After each game the members can discuss their notes and start piecing an All Tournament Team together. By the end of the tournament they should have a consensus of who should be on the team. If the members do not have a consensus then at least they will have a two thirds majority vote of each player selected.

What makes you think that this committee will do a better job of selecting an All Tournament Team than a majority vote by all the team coaches at the tournament? One reason is that the team will be selected by individuals who have watched all the games. A second reason is that they will have no other tournament duties to distract their attention from trying to determine who played the best in this tournament. A third reason is because there is almost always a few players who think they should have been on the All Tournament Team and who are not picked, and many times they usually get angry and/or  sulky with their own coach for not being picked - during the season coaches' really don't need that type of aggravation. A last reason is that some things such as choosing an All Tournament Team can better be accomplished by an independent board or dictatorship rather than an emotionally involved, disconnected, democracy of well intended but distracted coaches.

What if the Tournament Director places a couple of good old boys on the committee or, worse yet, places a couple of people on this committee who have political agendas or axes to grind for or against several players. Then it is the responsibility of the water polo community to let everyone know what a bad job a person or persons did in choosing the All Tournament Team, so that this person or persons can be black balled from serving on such a committee again. I know, I know; this would be as difficult as trying to tell Pandora not to bring evil and despair into the world. My Daddy used to say, “Fool me once smarty you; fool me twice dummy me!” Finally another large benefit to doing the selection this way is that the coaches at the tournament will have one less distraction and a bit more time to spend on the reason they came to the tournament in the first place – to help their team to do the very best they are capable of doing.

Email Coach Hunkler at [email protected]