US National Men's Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
Life does not always go the way that you plan or dream it will. Water polo is a good reflection of this statement. Losing hurts but it is a part of life and how we deal with it is a choice and can often define who we are.
As you know, the Olympic Games did not go very well for the Men’s team. After starting well with wins against Montenegro, Romania and Great Britain, we lost to Serbia and then Hungary in the preliminary round. Somehow, this took the wind out of us and we lost our confidence. In the quarter-final game against Croatia we lost 8 - 2 after going 1 - 16 on our 6 on 5. I am not sure that I have ever been on a team that struggled so badly on the 6 on 5. It was a disaster. With our dreams of winning a gold medal or any medal for that matter crushed, we seemed to be “dead in the water” so to speak. We finished the Games with consecutive loses to Spain and Australia to finish a disappointing 8th place.
Needless to say, it has been a very difficult time for me and each of the members of that team. We had such high hopes and expectations and our dream did not come true.
How do we deal with the lose? Where do we go from here? Everyone is a bit different in how they react and move forward. I can only share with you my process. As the head coach, I take a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders. There have been many nights of tossing and turning in bed searching deep in my subconscious for the answers. The truth is that it is extremely difficult for any team to succeed. Every little piece of the team must be working together - each coach and player playing his/her role to the best of his/her ability. Even when all this is in place, the team still may not win. We experienced the success in 2008 and this time around for whatever reason it just was not clicking. As I have reflected on the Games, it seems to be that there were a lot of little things that went wrong. The Olympic Games is the most amazing sporting event in the world because you have to be at your best for a two week window every four years. It is the greatest challenge in sport. My hat is off to all the gold medalist!
The fact is that no one wins all the time and losing often teaches us a great deal - if we are open to grow and move forward. I am humbled by our loss and I am taking some steps to move forward. Here are the steps that I am working myself through. Hopefully, there is useful information here for everyone. As I said, no one wins all of the time and unfortunately losing is a part of life.
Look in the Mirror
This is where it all starts. This is the one thing that each of us has control over - ourselves - our actions and reactions. In order to take a good look at yourself you need to find a quiet space where you will not be interrupted. Prayer and/or meditation can be very helpful in this process. As I have reflected on this past year I have identified some things that perhaps I would have done differently. Obviously, I can not go backwards and change it but I do believe that this is a healthy exercise for me. As the head coach, I have to take the responsibility upon my shoulders first for our result. I have been told by many great coaches through the years that “when you win the players should get the credit and when you lose the coach needs to take the blame.” I do believe that this is true. Looking in the mirror takes honesty with yourself. I feel that when I am honest with myself I will potentially grow more. I have no doubt that I showed up everyday to practice and gave it may all. However, when things go wrong reflection will reveal what could have made the journey better. I am not trying to beat myself up over this but I am trying to be honest and figure out how I can grow and make the next adventure better. I know that some of the biggest disappointments in my life have created a platform for me to grow into a better person/coach/husband and dad and ultimately that is what life is all about. I have also tried to keep this all in perspective and focus on some of the very positive things associated with me being the head coach of the USA National Team for the past six years. The relationships with the players stands out on the top of this list. We have had so many great experiences together in our travels around the world. I consider all of these players family and I know that I will have a relationship with most all of them for the rest of my life.
For me the next step is to “huddle up” with those closet to me so that I can get some honest feedback from the outside. The most important part of this process is to get with people that you love and trust the most. These are people that you can be totally honest with and they can be honest with you. You don’t want people who can’t give you honest feedback. In my opinion, it may be good to have one person on the team that was close to you and then a few people that were not part of the team. I feel like I need to get different perspective and if I only relied on feedback from within the team it may not be as “real”. The first person that I went to was my wife. Lori knows me better than anyone else. We have been married for 25 years and we are shooting for another 25. We have hd some good discussions and I have asked her to talk to me from her perspective. I don’t want her to just agree with me. I want to hear what she has to say and tell me honestly what I may have been able to do better. I have learned a great deal from my wife and even though she never played water polo she knows about team work, family and relationships as well as anyone. These discussions have also helped us to grow together. After all she shared in this journey too. I then went to one of my closest friends and asked him to share with me what he saw. In my opinion, this process takes time and numerous conversations. These conversations have helped me to work though the pain. I have cried on Lori’s shoulder. I also was able to let go of some of my frustrations and it has helped me to stay positive to some degree. I do admit there has been some severe disappointment (bordering on depression) associated with losing but also just the normal letdown of the Games being over. After spending six hours a day with the team - we have barely seen each other since. This has been hard too. Anyway, having these conversations with the ones that I love and trust has allowed me to express some of my feelings and sadness and let it go. This is how we grow and continue to move forward.
The beauty of life is that we wake up to a new day everyday. There are new opportunities and new adventures to pursue. As John Wooden said, “Make everyday your masterpiece.” I feel strongly that we can not let something bad hold us back. Too many people I know get stuck on something bad that has happened in their life. Once again, no one wins all of the time and this loss while very painful is only sport. I may be in a valley right now but I know that I am looking up to the mountain in front of me. I am not face down and dead. I am alive and wanting to move forward and find my next adventure. I am in the process of forming a game plan for what is next in my life. I am forming a vision of what that looks like. I am surrounding myself with people that believe in me and want to go forward with me. I know that i have been to the top before and if I make my plan and go after it with all of my heart passionately I will climb the mountain again. Success truly is a journey and the experience that I shared with this team was an amazing journey. Even though it did not work out the way that all of us hoped it would it still pretty incredible. This was a special team and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity I had with them. I have found that the higher you reach in life, the bigger that your dreams are - the greater the risk. We risked it all and made a commitment to ourselves and each other and did the best that we could. Things did not work out the way we had envisioned. I feel bad about our result but I would do it all over again. The experience has been an amazing chapter in my life.
My dad once told me that “life is not fair”. Things don’t always work out the way that you want. I have been to the top before and I am going to get back there again. This is a temporary “valley” for me. This is the life we all live. There is a natural ebb and flow.
I am convinced that in the end I will be more defined by how I reacted to the loses in my life then the wins. The loses may actually have a more powerful impact on me. When I am humbled and on my knees, I am ready to grow and become the man that God intended me to be.
As always, I am open to feedback and your comments. I can be reached at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your support.
See you at the pool.
WATER POLO PLANET.COM: the Alternative Voice www.waterpoloplanet.com