Interview with Gavin Arroyo Coach of CSU Long Beach Men's and Women's Teams

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet
02/01/07

Gavin ArroyoEvery sport is faced with periodic challenges as it changes direction, faces external stresses or goes through rapid growth.  Water Polo finds itself at this point as many competing factors have recently converged; the California economy has tanked putting many of the California State schools in danger of being cut, tax money has dried up forcing delay in pool renovations and/or new pool construction, and the available pool of money used for families discretionary spending dries up. Add to that the uneasy relationships between high school, club, USAWP and NCAA programs and you have a recipe for mayhem.

Few people understand those pressures better than Gavin Arroyo and his small staff at CSULB in the midst of a riotous first half of 2010. Caught between salary freezes, a crumbling physical plant, pressure to fund raise and declining programs on the men’s side of water polo nationally, the Water Polo Head Coaching position at CSULB has become a juggling act to keep myriad demands all in the air at once without letting anything fall.

Gavin Arroyo has become the lead juggler in the act to keep water polo alive at CSULB.   Faced with competing priorities, NCAA Women’s season and the demands needed to start a new club, the last thing Gavin probably needed was a request from WPP for an interview.

It is easy for us to forget that Gavin is both a former Olympian as well as one of the top players in the world, having been voted the Top 2 Meter Defender in the World several years running.  Coached by the renowned Yugoslavian Nikola Stemanic, Gavin brings to the table a wealth of understanding of what it takes to create and nurture champions.

I presented Gavin with a list of tough questions…and he stepped up to the plate with candid answers as well as very insightful look at the development of water polo in the USA.

The situation at UC Davis with 9 sports on the chopping block is troublesome to many of us as water polo. How much pressure is being put on schools within the UC’s to increase external funding for third tier athletics?

Our athletic director has strongly stated that Long Beach has no plans on cutting any sports.  I believe every institution will deal with the economic crisis differently.  At Long Beach State there are 18 sports.  That is the minimum number of sports to compete at the Division I level.  The president of the school has also vowed not to cut any sports while he is at Long Beach State.

Are you feeling increased pressure to begin raising an endowment to fund future LBSU teams? One of the biggest problems we face in water polo is expecting our coaches to wear a multitude of hats…How practical is it to expect a water polo coach to effectively raise and administer a multi million dollar endowment while coaching 2 NCAA D1 teams?

Sure, there is an ongoing battle to try and raise money.  We do have an endowment fund that was started by Ken Lindgren.  This helps us cover extra or unforeseen costs.  It is nothing new to the collegiate programs.  There are people and alumni who care about the program and care about its success.  Leadership is important within the alumni and getting someone to be proactive can alleviate some of the pressure on the college coaches.

You successfully recruited the most fascinating and sought after male recruit of 2010, 7’ lefty Dan Matulis of Cincinnati Ohio.  Dan hopes to earn the chance to compete for a place on the 2016 USA National Olympic Team and feels you are the best coach to help him achieve that.  Every high school water polo player in the country now wants to know…is it possible to take a 17 year old swimmer and give him or her enough water polo skill to become an effective international player in 4-6 years?

I believe the structure and the journey that the athlete commits to is important.  We all have our potential as people in whatever skill or craft we choose. I think our society is so caught up with labels and accomplishments that the process goes unchecked at times.  Heather Moody is a perfect example of someone who was able to achieve success coming from outside the box.  Her work ethic in combination with the proper structure resulted in her success as an athlete.  Our goal is to put Dan and our athletes into a structure that will help them reach their potential as student-athletes and as people.

Dan Matulis has been playing center in high school but tells me he would like to switch to 2 meter defense in college.  Should we expect to see him playing the 2010 season or will he red shirt as he learns a new position and adjusts to the move from Ohio high school to MPSF?

I think we will make those assessments when Dan gets out to California. With Dan’s size, he has options.  Usually high school players are behind defensively.  The first priority with Dan and any incoming athlete is to get them stable on defense.   Our plan is to get a feel for the position that Dan can embrace and find a role suits his strengths.

LBSU has one of the top male recruiting classes of 2010. How do you like your chances in MPSF competition for 2010?

This recruiting class is the best we have had at Long Beach thus far.  One of my colleagues told me “Now you have talent, let us see if you can coach”.  I look forward to accepting that challenge. I think it is a very competitive field in division I and there is more parity than ever.  It will be a close race in the upcoming season with many games decided by one goal. This recruiting class provides our program with great hope and an opportunity for us to compete next season as well as giving us stability for the future.  I look forward to mentoring this group and watching them develop into great student-athletes.

There are many areas of the country that do not have year round water polo programs with players who dream of playing NCAA water polo one day. What advice and training tips would you give to those kids to help them develop into players who can compete at the NCAA level?  Are summer water polo camps a good idea for these players?

They must gather information.  It is out there.  The challenge for young athletes in some areas of the country is finding avenues for knowledge.  The kids need to get involved with ODP.  Dan Matulis would drive several hours on a weekly basis to get to Chicago for ODP trainings.  Find a place to play.  If there are limited places to train, the kids need to swim.  There are swim clubs in every town in this country.  There is not a college coach that would not pursue an athlete that goes 20.9 in the fifty or 44.9 in the hundred.   My club swimming coach at Socal, Everrett Uchiyama would have Saturday scrimmages after morning swim practice.  I think there are so many opportunities to play water polo at a young age that the focus on swimming has diminished.  When I was playing in Europe, one of American teammates was anxious about getting more training because he felt there was insufficient pool time.  Nikola Stamenic told him that he only needs a three by three meter area of water to improve his skills and provided him step one of a technique he could improve on. 

Summer camps are a great way to gather information.  It is important that the athletes retain as much knowledge from their experiences and find a three by three meter area of water to improve on their water polo skills and swim, swim, swim.

Gavin ArroyoYou won multiple titles as the “Best 2 Meter Defender in the World” while playing professionally in Europe. How does the European club system differ from the NCAA as the water polo development path for 18 and over athletes? 

The two major advantages that the European club structure has are an embedded farming system for younger athletes and the exposure of athletes to playing in pressure situations.  The “farming system” has younger athletes directly in contact with Olympians and or older experienced players on a daily basis.  The top three or four seventeen year olds would participate in our trainings and sometimes compete with us. In Vouliagmeni, there were four younger kids who would train with Giorgios Afroudakis, Petre Santa, Dimitri Mazis, and myself daily.  One of those kids was Christos Afroudakis.  In Spain at CN Barcelona, there were a few younger kids training with Dejan Savic, Ivan Perez, and myself.  One of those kids was Guillermo Molina age seventeen at the time.  At seventeen the younger kids are playing in A1 pressure games. I remember us struggling in our game against CN Mataro, and Guillermo stepped up and scored four goals as a seventeen year old. 

I think an unexplored area for our system is summer competition. It has to become more structured. We tend to have our kids play against kids their own age. There must be a vehicle for younger players to play with and against older experienced players on a consistent basis.  When I was playing on the Junior team, we would scrimmage against Beach (which was club guys made up of the Long Beach State college team) on a regular basis during the summers.  I like where they are going with the Champions Cup competition where there is a resemblance of this structure.

If you were king with unlimited resources and could design the perfect program to develop aged 7-18 year old water polo players for Olympic/International/NCAA D1 competition, what would it look like?

I think the underlying directives of development lie in the aforementioned answer.  We have to create a structure that takes the advantages European club system and adjust it to our established system.  Our sport is through our academic institutions.  How do we address the weaknesses of our system?

The greatest area of potential is in the club system.  What is the role of the club? Can the club expose younger athletes to older more experienced players on a regular basis?  I think we face the challenge of keeping our 23-30 year old demographic playing in a constructive manner.  This demograhic is crucial for our younger athletes. The role of the club is to augment the academic institution’s programs and provide an arena where kids are competing against older players.  When I was swimming with socal, the college guys would come home for the summer and raise the training standard.  Let’s explore the developmental journey that the club can offer.

There are two phases of development in regards to maximizing an athletes growth.  The first phase is pre high school kids.  The role of the club is greater for the splashball age through the junior high age.  The club is the primary outlet for kids at this age because there are no programs at the junior high school.  I believe a structure that will prepare the kids for balancing the commitment of being a student-athlete when they move on to high school is crucial.

The second phase is the high school level athletes.  The club’s role is secondary to the high school program. It is more of a supplementary experience.  However, the club can offer exposure to older more experienced athletes on a regular basis during the summers as well as a fundamentals and conditioning base in the high school’s off seasons.  Exposure to older college kids during the summer will give the 16’s and 18’s role models who are going through the student-athlete college experience.

I also think that water polo training at young age needs to be treated more seriously.  If you look at the clubs in US swimming, you will find it common for twelve year olds to be training twice a day.  Swim clubs like Socal, Nova Aquatics and the Mission Viejo Nadadores have established a strong training regiment for kids at that age.  I think the ages between ten and fourteen or pre high school age

It is imperative that we take advantage of some of our shortcomings during the summer.  Senior Nationals has to be the pinnacle of our sport.  It has to coincide with JO’s.   The number of younger kids playing club ball has dramatically increased with the number of teams at JO’s.  Those kids have to be exposed to our top level athletes. Or maybe the senior team plays the national B team before the finals of JO’s?  Or the finals of Senior Nationals is played before the finals of JO’s.   How do you get more kids to see the Fisher Cup?  There has to be a more streamlined schedule of our youth and senior levels. Right now there are too many decentralized events going on in our sport.  We need to focus and promote something that will create meaning and tradition.

You will be starting the Long Beach Water Polo Club (http://www.longbeachwaterpoloclub.com/) on May 1. Do you plan to get the club going in time to have entries in this years JO Qualifiers?

The qualifying tournaments are in June.  I do not know if we will have a team for both genders in every age group.  I think we have an amazing program to offer to offer the community.  We have recently secured the weight room facility at university.  We want to create the previously mentioned farming system model and grow this sport locally.  As a college coach for both genders, I have a unique insight into what is required to become a student-athlete at the college level.  I am excited to give the youth of our community the knowledge that I obtained throughout my water polo career.  We will commit all our energies into those who are willing to take a chance with us. 

Lets talk about age group development for a moment.  May years ago, I coached competitive swimming and directed a learn to swim program. I found that I was most effective with aged 11-14 year old boys than any other age or gender group and found that my staff also did best with age/gender specific groups.  With the addition of Splashball into clubs, I suspect that the most successful clubs will be forced to have different coaches for each club segment.   How do you plan to address this with the new Long Beach Water Polo Club?

We have our coaches in place.  Many of them have been disciples of the Long Beach State program.  We are also including some of the local coaches in the community.  I think it is important to find people’s areas of strength and passion.  Certain coaches have a knack for working with the younger kids and some of the coaches want the older more competitive environment of the 16’s and 18’s.  We are looking to grow splashball and the masters areas of the club. 

I am going to close with one of the toughest questions I have asked in any interview because you are tough enough to take it.  If Bill Gates gave you a check for $5 million and 2 choices to spend it: endow one NCAA program or build your own state of the art 50 meter pool with a removable bubble,  which would you choose and why?

It is kind of the chicken before the egg thing.  The new facility would be my choice.  It is tangible. It is stable.  The market crashing would not dissolve lanes 1-3.  In our location, every major aquatics event could be held at our campus.  Long Beach would regain its place as the water polo capital.

All of us at Water Polo Planet wish Coach Arroyo the best as he moves into the age group club season.  More information about Coach Arroyos Long Beach Water Polo Club can be found at http://longbeachwaterpoloclub.com/

Gavin Arroyo