Volume1: Number 4 Men's Varsity Coaches December1, 2006

Bi-weekly a varsity coach from the west coast and a varsity coach from the east coast is given the same question solicited from a member of the water polo community. The coaches answer the question independent of each other and their answers are posted here together with a photograph and short biography of each coach. We hope to have the men's varsity coaches to answer the questions in the fall and winter and the women's varsity coaches to answer the questions in the winter and spring.

QUESTION: The mental aspects of water polo often times determine the outcome more than the physical play. What techniques and methods do you employ to prepare your players and team mentally.

Wolf Wigo, Coach of UC Sata Barbara

ANSWER: I think the most difficult games to prepare a team for are when you are playing a lesser opponent. When playing a game against a rival or a superior opponent it is usually easy to get a team fired up to play well. Quite often teams will play down to the level of the opposition. Your players need to have the drive to play their best even when they don’t have to. In a way it is very similar to practice; many players will treat a game of this nature the same way they treat practice. They know that it is not necessary to give their maximum effort in a practice because there are no immediate short term consequences, and the same goes for these types of ‘easy’ games. The players know that even in the 4 th quarter if the game is close that they can ‘turn it on’ and win the game. When you have (or create) a team that can blow out the weaker opponents consistently and train very hard every day, you will soon have a very good team. The great players are training hard every day in practice and the great teams usually crush a weaker opponent.

So the question then becomes how can I get my team to train in the right manner every day? The easiest way is to have strong leaders on the team - if you do not have them then it is necessary to create them. Every team is unique, so it is hard to give one approach that will work for a given squad. Over time you must create an atmosphere that if you are lazy and do not want to work hard that you are an outcast on your team. On many teams the player who is going very hard in the swim sets or other training is looked at as ‘ruining it for everyone else’, or making them look bad. This is a losing approach and must be rectified as soon as possible.

For getting players ready to play a match: Each game must be played as if it may be that last game you play. The players must give everything they have for the time that they are in the pool. If they are in for 1 or 4 minutes them must come out breathing hard and fully exhausted. All opponents must be respected, but never feared. In every game the team must play as if the season is on the line; for when the season really is on the line, the players will be mentally relaxed but still ready to play hard and at a very high level. How to get your team to this point of readiness before a match is for each coach to determine. Any mental technique that a coach employs to reach this end is successful in my opinion.

Wolf Wigo

As a three-time Olympian and former captain of the USA Water Polo Men's National Team, Wolf Wigo is well-versed in the Olympic motto of Citus, Altus, Fortus: Faster, Higher, Stronger.

Now in his second year as the head coach of the UC Santa Barbara men's water polo program, Wigo will continue to attempt to instill these same principles in the Gauchos. Faster in the pool, higher in the national rankings and stronger overall as UCSB takes on the best teams in the country as a member of the ultra-competitive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

In 2005, Wigo's first season as a collegiate head coach, the Gauchos finished the season with an overall record of 13-17 and tied 13th in the Collegiate Water Polo Association Top-20 Coaches' Poll.

Prior to coming to UCSB, Wigo spent two years as head coach and administrator of the Saddleback El Toro Water Polo Club in Orange County, Calif. Under his direction, the program grew from 20 members to over 160 in 10 different age groups ranging from five to 60 years old. Wigo oversaw all aspects of the organization including fundraising, scheduling and supervision of seven assistant coaches. Wigo also served many of the same functions as the director of Ultimate Water Polo's "Tools of Champions" clinics, a position he held since 1999.

Wigo also conceived, produced and appeared in numerous water polo instructional videos.

In addition, Wigo gained four years of experience outside the pool as an equity option trader with Cole Rossler Capital Management, working on the floor of the Pacific Stock Exchange from 1997-2001.

While Wigo was working to further his coaching and business aspirations, he concurrently established himself as one of the world's premiere water polo players as an 11-year member of Team USA. In 1993, Wigo joined the nation's elite squad and in 1996 he became the first player hailing from east of the Rockies to make the US Olympic water polo team since 1956. Wigo competed in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games.

After scoring a team-leading 16 goals during the 2000 games in Sydney, Wigo was named to the five-player All-World First Team by NBC Sports and USA Water Polo, making him a finalist for World Water Polo Player of the Year. He completed his tenure with the national squad in 2004 by serving as Team USA's captain in Athens. Selected as USA Water Polo's Male Athlete of the Year in 1999, 2000 and 2003, Wigo also helped the Americans win gold at the 1997 FINA World Championships.

Wigo's collegiate career at Stanford University was nearly as distinguished. He earned All-American honors four straight years and led the Cardinal to back-to-back NCAA titles in 1993 and 1994. As a senior captain Wigo was named Stanford's Outstanding Male Senior Athlete and NCAA Player of the Year.

After earning his BA in political science from Stanford in 1995, Wigo spent the next two seasons as a graduate assistant coach on "The Farm" under the legendary Dante Dettamanti. He returned to help the Cardinal as a full-time assistant in 2001 when Stanford captured another NCAA championship.

In addition to his coaching duties at UC Santa Barbara, Wigo also coaches for Santa Barbara Water Polo Club. Wigo is still active in USA Water Polo's Premier League and most recently helped the New York Athletic Club team to its second consecutive Premier League championship in 2006.

The New York City native is married and resides in Santa Barbara.

Kyle Witt, Coach of Gannon University

ANSWER: Preparing your team mentally for an opponent or a season is just as important as preparing them physically for that same season. The physical part of the game is pretty easy to define as a coach. This is conditioning, drill work, basic X's and O's stuff. But the mental part of the game is something that does not have a clear definition or parameters. Preparing your team mentally is going to probably be the hardest part of your job as a coach. Most X's and O's are fairly similar. There are only so many ways you can attack a man advantage. But how many different ways are there to get your team ready to play a conference rival? Since every team is different and every kid is different, there really aren't any standard rules or techniques that I can lay out. With that being said, let's try and look at a few ways that you can better prepare your team mentally.

I would say the first thing that you need are kids that are energetic and have a willingness to be coached. If your athletes have these two qualities, you can coach them to do anything that you want. I believe that there are two types of mental preparation, mental preparation through practice and mental preparation for games.

Mental Preparation for Practices

Every good coach will have a practice plan before they step onto the pool deck. A typical practice plan could look something like this:
45 minutes swim/leg work
20 minutes passing
20 minutes shooting
20 minutes individual drills
20 minutes half court
20 minutes full court scrimmage

That was probably the easy part coming up with the above practice, but there are more important questions need to be addressed before you step foot on the pool deck. Are you going to make the conditioning interesting to keep their minds fresh? Is passing just a warm-up for their shoulders or are you working on something like wet passing? Is the shooting warm-up or are you throwing shot blockers in there to simulate a drop or crash? One of your athletes went 0-6 last game against a poor opponent, so how are you going to approach this athlete with what they need to change in their shot? I could go on and on, but you get the point. The more you plan your practices out, the time spent on each aspect of the game will mean more.

With a well-designed practice plan you will be able to spend more of your effort and energy on fixing problems with your athletes. Instead of worrying about what to do next, you can focus on the moment and improve your team on a daily basis. When coaching your athletes in practices the most important thing an athlete can see is where the coach is going with his practice. When an athlete understands why they are doing a particular drill or conditioning set, they will give more of an effort to make it work. Showing the athlete film on previous mistakes and successes, or have the athlete step to the side for a moment to either watch someone else do it properly or improperly will go a long way in helping your athletes actually see what the problem is with their game. Once an athlete recognizes the problem, they will work harder to fix it. By creating ways to have the athletes help coach themselves, you are allowing for them to feel like they fixed the problem and the solution was in them all along. This confidence boost will carry over to the next time you show an athlete a problem with their game.

Mental Preparation for Games

Games are where your athletes are allowed to show their skills and allow themselves to implement what was worked upon so diligently during practice. Many athletes get so nervous with anticipation or because of a tough opponent that they forget what they worked on during the week both as an individual athlete and as a team. Before a game I would suggest calling the team together before they warm-up to focus your athletes. Go over your game plan for the opponent, remind them of the importance of their warm-up, and remind them of what they worked on during the week and how to implement it into their game. Athletes need to know what their roles are for games. You can't just throw kids in the pool and say "go get 'em". Let each of your athletes know before the game what they will more then likely be asked to do for you. If Jimmy is the first kid off the bench, let him know that you will be running a 2-3-4 crash and that you want him up top moving quickly and sprinting down the pool on the counter attack. Give Jimmy a few times up and back, then take him out after a goal or two and let him know how he did with his role. Saying something like, "That was great Jimmy, do that again for us in a few minutes." Having your athletes know their roles will give them confidence in each other and themselves. A confident team is much tougher to beat then you might think.

I am sorry that this article does not get more elaborate, but I am a little limited with length. Hopefully this will give you a bit of insight into how to run your practices a little smoother as well as keep your kids mentally ready to attack your opponents better. Keeping your athletes positive is the most important thing to do over the course of a four month season. Good luck.

Kyle Witt

Kyle Witt begins his second season as the Gannon men’s water polo coach. The former Whittier (Calif.) College assistant succeeded Don Sherman, who resigned prior to the 2005 campaign to accept the Gannon Associate Director of Athletics position. In addition to his duties with the men’s program, Witt will also direct the women’s program in the spring and serve as an assistant swimming coach.

Gannon improved dramatically last year under Witt as the season wore on, winning eight of its last 15 matches. The squad performed even better in the classroom. Five Golden Knights earned All-Academic recognition from the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA): Paul Musille, Philip Torchio, Brandon Thomas, Bryan Morphy, and Pat Mack.

Witt brings eight years of aquatic experience to the pool. Prior to his arrival at Gannon, he served as the assistant men’s water polo coach at Whittier College in 2004. Whittier posted a 23-10 record, culminating with the school’s first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Championship. The program ended the season No. 1 in Division III and 18th among all divisions.

Witt was involved with all aspects of the program at Whittier. His responsibilities included coaching, running off-season work-outs, organizing the weight training program, recruiting, and developing game plans. He coached four All-Americans and four All-SCIAC members in 2004, including SCIAC Player of the Year Ethan Jessup.

Prior to his stay at Whittier, Witt was the co-head women’s and men’s water polo coach at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, California from 2002-04. He led the men’s team to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section Championship and a Final Four appearance. His women’s squad advanced to the CIF Southern Section post-season for the first time in school history. Twelve student-athletes received Division I water polo scholarships during his two years at Mira Costa.

Witt began his coaching career as the Rose Bowl aquatic coach in 1999 before assuming the head water polo coaching position at Westridge School for Girls in Pasadena, California in 2001.

Prior to his coaching career, Witt helped build Loyola Marymount (Calif.) University into a national contender as a stand-out player. He earned All-WWPA honors four times and was named to the All-American second team as a senior. Witt led Loyola Marymount to the NCAA Final Four during his senior season. The Lions fell in the semifinals to UCLA before defeating the University of Massachusetts in the third-place match. Witt tallied four goals against UMass.