Back to Fundamentals by Terry Schroeder

Training Principles

Terry Schroeder
US National Men's Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 4 Number 3February 15, 2012
The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

This month I thought I would spend a little time writing about the concept of preparing a team for peak performance.  Obviously, this is our goal now.  We are in the process of preparing our Olympic team to be at their best at the Olympic Games in London July 27 – August 12 2012.  Since most of you are not in the middle of preparing for the Olympic Games, I will keep that in mind and give you all some general principles that anyone coach can use as you prepare your team for your big event – whether that is JO’s, a club championship, CIF or NCAA’s.

The first thing I try to do as I look at my team’s goal and the time we have to prepare is to begin with the end in mind.  So for me that means to look ahead to the Gold medal game at the Olympics and ask myself as a coach – how do we get there?  What do we need to do to be ready to win that gold medal this time around?  No question I want to be in the best physical shape we possibly can be in for the Olympic Games.  The challenge at the Olympics is that we are not preparing for one game (the gold medal game) – we are preparing to be at our best for a two week period.  We need to be strong in the beginning of the tournament to advance out of preliminary play into the quarters, semis and ultimately the finals.  And in the finals we want to be at our best.  So we need to maintain an extremely high level of fitness for a two week period.  This is very difficult to taper for, in fact there is a very delicate balance of maintaining strength and endurance at the highest level (more on this later).

As I look at our goal and what we need to reach that goal, I need to consider many factors such as our swim conditioning, our strength (weights) conditioning, diet, rest, team building, tactics and individual skill work.  With all of this in mind I begin to work my way backwards through our season and plug in all these factors and break our training into 3 or 4 main periods. 

Here are the phases of training that I have broken our training calendar into.

  1. Basic strength and conditioning – this was a two month period that we had after the Pan American Games in October.  The team was home (away from the coaches) and they were each provided workouts that we designed to build some basic strength through our weight training program with a group called P3 (I encourage you all to check out there web site).  At the same time we provided water workouts that were designed to build a base level of conditioning for swimming and leg strength.

  2. Hypertrophy, maximal strength and aerobic conditioning  - Beginning in January we have started to hit the guys hard with both land and water workouts.  The team is broken down at this point as we have been going very hard for six weeks.   We actually have decided to take an extra 1 ½ days off this weekend and give them a little recovery time before we move into the next segment.  During this phase we have been lifting very hard with the direction of our strength training coach from P3 and building aerobic power by swimming a bit more distance.  A typical day might consist of 4,000 – 5,000 yards of swimming plus leg work.  Swim sets may consist of more 200’s, 100’s and 50’s. We have a few more weeks in this phase to spend a total of about 8 – 10 weeks building a very strong base of strength and aerobic endurance.

  3. Explosive Power and Muscular Endurance – Water polo is a sport that requires both of these to excel.  Many of our movements in the water are based on explosive power. Like jumping over your hips for a shot block, exploding up out of the water to make a steal or changing directions and making a powerful move in the opposite direction.  To play the game of water polo you need endurance – not just aerobic endurance but strength endurance to wrestle, battle and swim end to end and then do it again and again.   This phase of training should mimic the game.  Meaning swimming should be combined with leg work and be shorter distance.  This phase will consist of more 50’s, 25’s and even 12.5 yard sprints.  In the weight room we will also focus more on this strength endurance element.  However, it is important throughout this phase and even the final phase to remember your base.  Especially since we have such a long time period (8 months – now just 5) that we are working with. This may mean that once a week or so we do a good base day and jump back into the aerobic phase with some more distance swims.

  4. Competitive Phase or Peak Performance Phase -  Keeping in mind that we are aiming for a final 14 days of competition in London, we (as a coaching staff) will do our best to keep our finger on the pulse of the team and add a little more Power, Endurance or Sprint work as needed in this phase.  We also have to keep in mind that we will have competitions during the year that we want to play well at.  For example, at the end of March we will be playing against Montenegro, Italy and Germany in a tournament in Thousand Oaks.  Considering the fact that we want to play well in front of our home crowd (we don’t get that many opportunities to do so) we will interrupt or training phase slightly to play in a few games.  The other factor involved here is that after these games we will be making some cuts and in order to give everyone a good look I want to see them playing well and not too broken down.   So we will adjust accordingly as we go through the year.   This phase will be all about competition and maintaining a high level of play.  We will focus on tactics, individual skills and conditioning that is specific to water polo.   We are training the entire body.  Our workouts apply not only to how the body’s energy systems and neuromuscular system is being taxed but also to the specific movement patterns of our sport.  This final phase will last 6 – 8 weeks with more and more fine tuning occurring as we get closer to the Games.

We will also try to monitor external distractions and stressors and adapt accordingly. What this means is that I can fine tune and change our phase to adapt to the circumstances.  Also important in this process is working in team building exercises.  In my opinion, this needs to occur all along the way.  It is very important for us as a team to establish healthy trusting relationships outside of the pool as well as in the pool.  So we will work in team dinners and some fun activities that may mean that we miss one training or two along the way.  We may also take a few more breaks to allow the athletes to stay mentally strong and focused as we go through this process.

Travel is another factor that may influence our training phase. As we go through this process, I need to constantly check in with our athletes through verbal communication and observation.  While structure and discipline are imperative to success being able to adapt is also critical to success.

Once again, I would recommend laying out your season and beginning with the end in mind.  Work your way backwards through the various phases and come up with a game plan as to how you are going to get your team from point A to point B.  Make your plan and then use your skill as a coach to put the plan to work and adapt a bit when necessary. 

We now have approximately 160 days to go before Team USA jumps into the pool for our first game in London on July 29th.  That is going to happen very fast and we need to make sure that we don’t waste one single day of training.  We need to feel that urgency and push each other to get better each day.  We have the pieces in place and now we have to  help them become the fittest team and the best team.

As always, please feel free to email me with any questions that you have regarding this month’s article.  Thank you for all of your support.  I appreciate many of your positive comments about these articles and most of all your support of our team. 

See you at the pool

Coach Schroeder

[email protected].


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