Can We Have Fair Water Polo Tryouts?

Richard Hunkler, PhD.
Water Polo Planet
04/15/09

In the mangled lyrics of Tina Turner one might sing "What Does Fair Have to Do with It", but I am not that one because I believe that "fair " has a lot to do with an good tryout experience. Before answering this question in the title the term “fair” needs to be defined. Here are a dozen definitions provided by the WordWeb spell checker:

  1. Free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception; conforming with established standards or rules;

  2. Not excessive or extreme;

  3. Very pleasing to the eye;

  4. (of a baseball) hit between the foul lines;

  5. Lacking exceptional quality or ability;

  6. Attractively feminine;

  7. (of a manuscript) having few alterations or corrections;

  8. Gained or earned without cheating or stealing;

  9. Free of clouds or rain;

  10. (used of hair or skin) pale or light-colored;

  11. In conformity with the rules or laws and without fraud or cheating;

  12. Without favoring one party, in a fair evenhanded manner;

Of these twelve definitions we can dismiss six of them 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, and 10 out of hand. This doesn’t mean that at female tryouts the players are not “very pleasing to the eye”, “attractively feminine”, and on the east coast “pale or light colored”. Also the weather is not always “free from clouds and rain”. This leaves us with the following five definitions of “fair”: “free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception; conforming with established standards or rules”, “lacking exceptional quality or ability”, “Gained or earned without cheating or stealing”, “in conformity with the rules or laws and without fraud or cheating”, and “without favoring one party, in a fair evenhanded manner”.

Do you really think in the water polo community there are players actually “stealing” other players’ positions? Do you think there are coaches who are “cheating” and “defrauding” players and Teams of playing time? If players and coaches do these things, “steal”, “fraud”, and “cheat” then they will be found out in a nano second because they would have to do these things in a public fish bowl under the scrutiny of some of the most harden critics in all of sports – water polo aficionados, both real and imagined. Maybe there are a few players or coaches that would do this and let’s leave this task of counting them to those who would sit around counting the number of angels on a pin head. And we can let all those fans and parents that have never done anything wrong throw over-inflated water polo balls at them (why over-inflated water polo balls because they will hurt more).

Eliminating the definitions with the words “steal”, “fraud”, and “cheat” leaves us with three definitions of “fair”. Did you notice that one of these three definitions of “fair” uses the word “fair” in its definition of “fair”? As strange as it seems all lexicon definitions are cyclic. Look up the definition of any word in any dictionary. Pick a word in this definition and look up the definition of this word. If you continue to do this long enough one of the words you pick will be repeated. Thus lexicon definitions are cyclic; however, since “fair’ is used in the first go around of the definition of “fair” I would say it is safe to eliminate.

There are now two definitions of “fair” left and both of them bear repeating. The first definition is the first one listed namely “free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception; conforming with established standards or rules” and the other is one of the last ones listed namely “lacking exceptional quality or ability”. The second definition appears to be more of a reason why someone didn’t make the team in which they were trying out rather than a definition of “fair”.

Finally we are down to one definition, “free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception; conforming with established standards or rules”. Look very hard at the words in the first part of the definition, “favoritism”, “self-interest”, “bias” and “deception”. All four of these words are very subjective and can be interpreted by many people many different ways. Thus you are asking a few coaches at a tryout to be objective about some very subjective terms and skills when selecting an zone or national team. When subjectivity is a part of the human equation for choosing the best errors do happen. If you want absolute objectivity then have your children and/or friends try out for a zone and national team in swimming or track and field. All you have to do to determine who the best in these sports are pull out the old, trusty stop watch and the measuring tapes.

When my three sons were young and tried out for all number of sports many of which involved subjectivity on the coaches’ part, I don’t remember very many, if any, parents complaining that their child didn’t get a fair try out. Is the reason for this the times of the try outs? These were times when parents believed that teachers and coaches could do no wrong because they believe teachers and coaches had the best interest of their child at heart. Today in times when football, basketball, and baseball players and coaches are making mega bucks, congress people are making close to $200.000 a year plus mucho perks, and greedy CEO’s making 400 times what their employees are making there are still people willing to be public school teachers and water polo coaches who will receive low salaries and who will still have high academic and athletic expectations for your children. Why don’t we seek out these teachers and coaches and reward them monetarily and while we are at it why don’t we start trusting them the way they were trusted when my three sons were young. And why can’t we trust coaches during our water polo try outs when we trust them with our children 3 to 7 hours a week at practice.

Also most coaches that coach zone and/or national teams are SUPER competitive and do you really think they would pick someone that would cause their team to be less competitive? If you think that then you don’t understand what competition is at those levels and what’s more you probably never will. Thus I believe that choosing these teams is a very difficult task for the coach or coaches and they need all the help and encouragement that we can give them. Furthermore when players who do not make a team and parent’s whose child does not make a team complain about the tryout not being fair on the message board it makes it a 100 times harder to keep excellent coaches at those levels.

The last part of this definition “conforming with established standards” in my opinion can be used to both reduce complaints and increase transparency in such tryouts. This can be accomplished by creating a handout that explains directly to players and indirectly to the parents what skills and experiences the players trying out for this team should have. You say this is just more unnecessary work that the already over worked coach has to do. Not really because any coach who intends to be “free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception” must know in advance of the tryout what type of skills and experience he or she wants his or her players to have to play on this team. A coach might say that his or her written communication skills are not up to par and the players might not understand what he or she is trying to say in a written explanation. I would answer that coach by saying that "communication" is one of the many skills a coach is going to have to master if the coach expects to excell in coaching at the highest level. If you don't believe me then ask Terry Schroder, Adam Krikorian, Guy Baker, or any other national coach. If you do not have Goals how do you know you are there when you get there?

Can we have fair water polo tryouts? The answer to that question reverberates loudly and clearly in the words of President Obama, "YES WE CAN!"