The Future's So Bright... I Have to Wear Shades<
Guy Baker's Olympic Development Program

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

The mission of USA Water Polo’s Olympic Development Program is to mobilize the expansion of our sport and offer the incentive and motivation for USAWP athletes, coaches and referees to compete for inclusion at elite levels of training and competition.  Once in the Olympic Development Program select level athletes, coaches and referees will be taught the American System of Water Polo and are directly connected to the National Teams Pipeline, the Senior National Teams and Olympic Teams.   

The Olympic Development Program serves as the primary feeder system for the National Teams Pipeline. The foundation of the program is a systematic approach to athlete, coach and referee development through a year round training program that focuses on long term development.

Fewer than 4 months have passed since his appointment as USA Water Polos Director of ODP programs yet Guy Baker has produced what is certain to become the seminal work on creating a  Olympic Development Program. The comprehensive 2 phase plan aptly demonstrates how Guy’s talents as an outstanding administrator and strategic thinker will revolutionize the sport of waterpolo in the USA.

The first phase of the program began this past weekend at the ODP Summit where the basics of “The American Water Polo System” was unveiled to coaches, zone chairs, referees and administrators in Los Angeles. From the very basics of a common numbering system to terminology (eg ‘driver” becomes “attacker”, “hole set” becomes “center”) tactics and training, knowledge was shared with all participants, shattering the “secret society” that has hindered the growth of the waterpolo outside of a few select teams in Southern California. 

The objective of the ODP program has been updated to be consistent with the varying development times/ages of teenaged athletes. It changes from a short term focus on competition to a long term emphasis on improvement through year round training that will increase the development and performance of athletes, coaches and referees. This will allow the longest possible timeline for all athletes to become part of the system, even those with late(r) growth and strength.

From this perspective, age group team selections represent more of a snapshot of current development because it is expected that each athlete’s natural progress will vary from athlete to athlete. It will be a hallmark of the program that athletes will continue to train and compete with no secure roster spots from event to event, and rosters changing to reflect athlete development and commitment.

Guy’s program promises a bright future for the sport of water polo in the United States. In one articulate and well written document, accompanied by professionally printed brochures for parents, Guy outlines a comprehensive, nationwide program with superb organization, utilizing cutting edge technology to bring ODP participants into direct contact with the best National Team coaches, support staff and referee trainers in the country. This will, in turn, optimize the training and advancement of players, coaches, administrators and referees regardless of their geographic location.

Sharing the Wealth

Beginning last weekend, Zone coaches will be fully trained in the “American System” by the National Team Coaching staff to produce consistency throughout the country. Training materials are professional, well written and complete. The ODP summit presented all of the essentials to Zone head coaches including a very well written 150 page manual which includes drills, training goals, tactics, terminology and training videos. The ODP Program coaches will use the cutting edge communication/playbook/video program from Athleon Sport to present ODP players with video plays, video analysis, training regimens and a central calendar.

Unlike in the past, the ODP program will be a professionally driven system with coach and referee stipends, allowing the sport to get away from the lowest common denominator of volunteer support restrictions. This will allow the best and brightest of the National coach and referee pool to share their skills without being forced to sacrifice income from their “day jobs”.

Coaches and referees will receive first hand online training from National Team Trainers to ensure that each coach is consistent, current, supported and receives all possible theoretical and training knowledge.

In one short weekend, the geographic borders that have limited water polo in the past have been obliterated.

Zone/National Team Structure

Each Zone Team will be selected by the Zone coaches based on performance. 

Each of the 12 zones will have 4 teams (48 total teams):

Each Team is composed of;

1,000 boys and girls, 96 coaches, 12 administrators, 12 Head Referees and 48 Team referees now make up the Nationwide ODP system.

In the first phase of the ODP program, (January 5th - May 25th, 2009) each zone team will train for minimum of 20 hours and a maximum of 30 hours plus year round access to the direct National Team coaching/training on Athleon Sports plus a 3 day National Championship. In Phase 2, the ODP program will offer athletes 60-80 hours of training, a 3 day Training Camp/ODP National Championships plus year round access to the direct National Team coaching/training on Athleon Sports. 

From each zone, A travel team of fourteen (12 field players and 2 goalkeepers) is selected for the ODP National Championships in May.

National Championships and National Team Selection Camp

All the ODP Championships will have the same format with an emphasis in fourAreas; testing, technical and tactical training sessions, tactical knowledge and competition. The championship starts on Friday evening at 6:00 with testing, technical and tactical training sessions. Saturday through mid-day Monday is the ODP Championships competition. Each team will play five games. Interspersed throughout the competition is technical and tactical training sessions. Sunday evening will be the second session of technical and tactical training. Following the championship game and the awards ceremony each respective National Team Head Coach will announce the players who are selected for the National Training Camp.

After each ODP Championships, a National Training Team will be announced for a National Training Camp. A total of 44 players will be selected for the Youth National Team Training Camp with a minimum of two players per USAWP Zone selected for the camp. A total of 33 players will be selected for the Junior National Team Training Camp with a minimum of one player per USAWP Zone selected for the camp.

The Way Up Side

This is a magnificent program that will provide ODP coaches with every coaching tool needed to produce successful athletes from teaching the basic eggbeater to advanced drills and tactics. Successful zones will then utilize Zone coaches to share this knowledge with other USAWP coaches in their area for optimal information sharing which will enhance the overall performance of zone coaches and athletes.

 It will allow nearly seamless integration of athletes from diverse areas into a cohesive National team without burdening students and families with the time and expense costs of traveling to the national training center regularly. It will enable coaches and referees nationwide to join an advancement stream that promises skills improvement, mentoring and education from the best in the world.

The Down Side from the Far Side

As always, there have been questions and concerns posed about the program and I have taken the liberty of answering them myself.

All my athletes belong to AWP because it is cheaper. Can AWP Members join the ODP?

WPP: Only athletes who belong to USAWP are eligible to participate in the USAWP ODP program. AWP membership is cheaper because they do not offer access to a National Team program and are not a USOC sanctioned NGB.  ODP participants are welcome to belong to both organizations but players must realize that attendance at all Zone training camps is required to advance to the traveling Zone Championship squad. If there are time conflicts between the Zone program and AWP, players should choose which program best fits their needs.

I am a coach and have my own system that I want to work with instead of the ODP program

WPP: Sing 3 refrains of “I did it My Way” and stay with your own program. The ODP Program is designed to standardize what athletes are taught based on ONE SYSTEM.  Zone coaches who ignore the national standards are hurting the athletes in their ODP group by not preparing them properly for the National Team Training Camp and National Team Selection Process.

I am a Zone referee and prefer to stick with the NCAA training rather than the ODP training.

WPP: The ODP program is based on FINA rules and FINA interpretations ONLY and prepares aspiring referees for International competition and advancement. If you prefer to stick with the NCAA rules, video training and interpretations, the ODP program is not for you.

The ODP Program is too expensive

WPP: In Phase 2, the ODP program will offer athletes 60-80 hours of training, a 3 day Training Camp/ODP National Championships plus year round access to the direct National Team coaching/training on Athleon Sports.  The ODP program cost to athletes breaks down to less than $8.00 per hour. Before you complain, check with parents of kids in Baseball, Hockey, Skiing and Gymnastics to see what they would expect to pay per hour for direct coaching from National Team coaches in those sports (if it were, in fact, available).

What about Players who want to play but cannot pay?

WPP: The ODP Program includes a grant in aid program that provides scholarships to kids whose parents cannot afford the training fee. The application is simple and easy to complete and there is funding for multiple players.