Hey Pogo Why Is There Blood on the Water?

Richard Hunkler, PhD.
Water Polo Planet

I Go PogoNo I am not talking about watching a bull fight in the shallow end of a swimming pool nor am I talking about playing video games involving Samurai ships. I am talking about blood in the water in our beloved sport of water polo. Yes, the number of injuries has increased. In fact it has increased enough to cause the WPP message board pundits and experts to spend considerable time and effort posting about it. It appears that many posters are writing about who is at fault for the increase in violence and injuries in our sport.

Some believe it is the players themselves who are to be blamed for the increase in injuries. I have even read that the reason the players are at fault is because the new generation of our youth have not been taught right from wrong. I doubt very seriously if that is even true much less the reason for the increase in the number of injuries but I wouldn’t doubt that one of the reasons is the players that our youth are picking to be their role models. Others write that it is not the majority of players who are causing the injuries but it is only a small minority of national and international players playing on collegiate teams who are the real culprits. How can this be true since there have been national and international players on collegiate teams for the past 15 to 20 years?

Some think it is the coaches who are to be blamed for the increased number of injuries because they are not teaching fairness and good sportsmanship along with the X’s and O’s. Even Jesus Christ couldn’t convince all the people he taught to be Christians so how can any coach be expected to teach all his or her players to do the right thing, all the time, during every game. This also goes to the heart of the argument that coaches are not disciplining their players enough. Discipline on the part of the coach is reactive behavior not proactive behavior. If many times the coach’s pre or proactive talks don’t work then how can you possibly expect reactive action to work. I hate to tell you but sometimes good people do bad things. This isn’t to say that a player shouldn’t be punished for his or her bad deeds. It is a simple reminder that coaches are working with young people and young people don’t always do what you ask them to do.

Some believe it is the referees who are to be blamed for the increase in violence. Is that similar to saying that policemen are to blame for the increase in crime? The referee is always between a rock and a hard place because there are always people who want him or her to do something other than what he or she is doing. If Abraham Lincoln were a water polo referee he might of said “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Finally, how can you expect a referee to do what players, coaches, and fans are not willing to do?

Some think it is the fans that are to be blamed for the increased number of injuries. Some people truly believe fans at a water polo game are becoming the new generation of NASCAR fans – those that go to a venue not to see the sporting event but to see someone get wrecked. How can that be, you say, because many of the fans are at the game to see a relative play? I didn’t say it but I do believe the fans' yelling and taunts can exacerbate a player’s behavior and violent tendencies to the point where the player believes causing injuries is acceptable behavior.

PogoSome people say that the increase in violence is the fault of the NCAA and its humongous interpretation of the rules manual – not the rules book but the manual of rule interpretations. The written manual is 200 pages; however, I would prefer a 1000 page written interpretation of the rules rather than a two paragraph verbal interpretation that FINA’s TWPC use to provide elite referees. A written interpretation of the rules provides everyone in the water polo community a concrete document to which they can agree, disagree and/or discuss. In my opinion the TWPC at FINA didn't have a written interpretation of the rules because they wanted absolute control over the rules. At least a written manual allows transparency and a verbal explanation does not! One of the reasons for violence, to me, was caused by TWPC’s non-transparency. It is what helped open the door for the tail spin of violence in our sport (more on this later).

There are three causes that hardly anyone has talked about on the message board: USAWP, FINA, and LEN. First, let us discuss the possible role that the USAWP has played in the escalation of violence. Have you seen their water polo advertisements? Read these sayings from the USAWP web site and see what you think:”The benefit of getting wounded in the pool is that at least chlorine is a disinfectant”; “The most intense sport in Beijing and you only see half of it and “Finding yourself holding your breath more than they.” Let us not forget the tooth advertisement fiasco. I am not talking about the tooth fairy either. I am talking about the advertisement that essentially says if you want to get a tooth knocked out then play water polo. Didn’t the USAWP realize that the young players were going to see and read this material as well as adult players?

In my opinion FINA is one of the factors that caused violence to accelerate in our sport in the first place. FINA caused violence to increase by changing the rules and their interpretations years ago to pacify LEN and the professional leagues. Did they really think violence was going to make our sport more popular and, more importantly,did they really think that violence was going to create greater gate revenues at professional games? This action by FINA is the root of our water polo problem with violence and one of the primary causes as to why violence has permeated into the NCAA water polo games. Also there has been all this talk about how much better the Eastern European teams are than the US teams and since the Eastern European teams play very physical we must play as or more physical than they do to beat them. My old Daddy told me long time ago that you better be careful about what you wish because you might just get it!

Also there was a push in this country to have the one set of rules - the FINA rules which at that time were much more physical than the NCAA rules. But that was the US water polo community’s folly because at that time the NCAA and FINA rules could never be the same. The reason they couldn’t be the same is because the interpretation of the FINA rules were made verbally and the interpretation of the NCAA rules were written
The TWPC chose to explain the rules verbally to a few elite referees who were in turn to explain the interpretation of the rules verbally to other referees ad infinitum. Also the elite referees that herd these interpretations were usually not our NCAA referees. As I said I would prefer a 1000 page written interpretation of the rules rather than a two paragraph verbal interpretation of the rules because written interpretations provide the water polo community with a document which will allow people to agree, disagree, and/or discuss and, more importantly, a written document that can be shared not by just the TWPC Committee but by everyone in the water polo community.

PogoMany people think that the FINA 30 second rule is the Holy Grail and that it is the primary reason for the reduced amount of physicality in 2008 Olympic Games. In my opinion the 30 second rule didn't stop the wrestling at the Olympics. It was the referees’ willingness to call both defensive and offensive fouls at the 2 meter position and to call holding on the perimeter that reduced the amount of physicality in our sport. What is so ironic about today’s rules is that it took over 20 years for the FINA rules to get some of the physicality out of the game and there are people in the water polo community who are clamoring for the NCAA rules to reduce the physicality in the game in one season. The Roman aqueducts were not built in a day nor could they be torn down in a day.

In order to get violence out of our game, we must first realize that there is no one faction in the water polo community that we can blame for creating this mess. We are all at fault and if we don’t hang together then we will all hang separately or if you prefer “United we swim and divided we sink”.  Also one of the major things we are going to have to do is change the mind set of many of our young players who have been brain washed into believing that being physical is the only way to win games in water polo and, in addition, the only way to be selected to a US National Team.

FINA and LEN used the "trickle down" method to infuse violence in the game we love so much and we are going to have to use the "bottom up" method to eradicate it. We ALL are going to have to convince the younger players that water polo is not all about physicality but rather it is about smarts and skills, and even more importantly, it is about having fun.