|Volume1: Number 11
||Men's Varsity Coaches
||March 15, 2007
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: You were just beat by a team that has six strong field players and a weak goalie. Your first six are not quite as good as their first six, but you have a better bench and a better goalie than they have. What would be your game plan the next time you play this team, and why?
Tom Whittemore, Coach of University of Redlands
ANSWER: (answer goes here)his is a pertinent topic for my team this season as I feel that one of our greatest strengths is our depth. In general, I try not to tailor our game plan to a great extent relative to our opponent. I believe that we are at our best if we focus on executing our game plan to the best of our abilities rather than make too many game to game adjustments based on our opposition. With that being said, I do believe in scouting opponents, knowing their strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies, and making subtle adjustments.
Here are a few suggestions for the game scenario as it was presented:
1.) Take Advantage of Your Depth - Given the new rules that add a minute to each quarter, having an advantage in depth is magnified. Since we lost the first time, it may be that we did not use our players in such a manner as to best take advantage of our depth. I would consider altering my line-up so that we can come off the bench with a very strong group that can take advantage of a tired opponent toward the middle or end of each period. Remember…early in a game you have the opportunity to sub by choice, later in the game your substitutions may be dictated by personal fouls, injuries, fatigue, or game score. In this case, I would try to sub early and often, and then shorten my bench late in the game if needed.
2.) Counter, Counter, Counter - Emphasize an aggressive counterattack offense, followed by (assuming no high percentage shot was available off the counter) a controlled front court offense. It is important to not only wear the opponent down by making them chase on the counter, but also by forcing them to play front court D.
3.) Attack Key Players While on Offense - Identify 1 or 2 opposing players that we should attack when we are on offense; possibly their primary Center or most skilled driver. This does not mean that we have to make these players guard 2-meters, but we should at least make sure they are swimming from 2-to-2. At times, you can get so focused on trying to attack certain players that you stray from your overall offensive game plan. Try to attack key players, but be sure to stick with what works best for you on offense.
4.) Stay With The Plan - From a game coaching perspective, it is important not to overreact to an early deficit. If you have preached to your team that your greatest advantage in this game is depth, then overreacting to a couple early goals by your opponent conveys a lack of confidence in your team, and you may end up shortening your bench when your depth is your biggest advantage.
In regard to the goalie scenario mentioned in this question, I rarely talk too much about opposing goalies whether I think they are great or poor. If you build up the opposing goalie too much, it tends to make your team tentative to shoot. If you state that the opposing goalie is weak, you may end up encouraging low percentage shots. I would simply emphasize our ability to score on our opponent in a variety of ways. Therefore, we want only high percentage shots on the counter knowing that if we play in the front court we will have a good chance to score 6 on 6 or 6 on 5.
Tom Whittemore came to the University of Redlands in 1988 following a two-year assistant coaching stint at his alma mater, Claremont McKenna College. Since joining the Bulldog staff, he has built the Bulldog aquatics programs into national powerhouses, working at one time or another as the head men's and women's water polo and swimming coach, assistant swimming coach, and director of aquatics.
Currently serving as the women's and men's water polo coach, Whittemore has claimed over 275 wins with each team. He earned his 300th victory with the men's team in the final game of the 2005 season with a 6-5 victory over Division I UC Davis for third place at the WWPA Championships. Whittemore also captured his 100th Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) victory in women's water polo in 2006 with a 7-6 triumph over Pomona-Pitzer Colleges.
Whittemore has led the Bulldog men's water polo team to SCIAC titles in 1993 and 1999, to go along with three-consecutive championships in 2001-2003. After a one-year hiatus, Whittemore's team regained the coveted conference crown in 2005 to bring the program's total to six. He was named Western Water Polo Men's Coach of the Year in 1998, 2001 and 2004. During the 2004 season, Whittemore guided the Bulldogs to their best finish at the WWPA Championships with a second-place showing. Overall, he has coached eight Division III Players of the Year, including three men and five women.
From 1994-1999, Whittemore coached the Redlands women's water polo team to five-consecutive Collegiate III National Championships and added three more titles in 2002, 2004 and most recently in 2006. For his efforts, Whittemore has been named American Water Polo Association Coach of the Year six times, earning that distinction in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2006 for women's water polo. In addition, the Bulldogs became the first Division III school to participate in the newly-expanded NCAA Women's Water Polo Championships when the team captured the conference's automatic bid in 2005. That year he was named the Division III Coach of the Year while coaching the Division III Player of the Year. Since the women's water polo team's move to varsity status in 1994, Whittemore has guided the Bulldogs to nine SCIAC championships, including four-straight from 2000-2003.
Whittemore began his career at Redlands as the men's and women's swimming coach from 1988-1995. Under Whittemore's tutelage, both teams continued to climb the conference ladder and develop for their future success. In 1993, the men's team snapped Claremont-Mudd-Scripps' 12-year, 60-dual meet streak in conference with a 124-81 victory. That year, one of his student-athletes, Greg Milton, captured the NCAA Division III Championship in the 100 Freestyle. Whittemore also guided the Bulldogs to the program's first SCIAC Championship in 1994.
As a collegian, Whittemore was a four-year letterman in swimming and a three-time NCAA Division III qualifier at Claremont McKenna College. Currently, he enjoys sports and traveling in his free time. He is also an active member of the Redlands Hoop Shots youth group through the local YMCA. Whittemore is married to the Bulldogs' current swimming coach, Leslie. They currently reside in Redlands and recently celebrated the birth of their first child; a little boy named Tait.
Mike Schofield, Coach of U.S. Naval Academy
ANSWER: The first thing I would do of course is to analyze the game tape from the first game with my team, and use it to reinforce how we need to play in the next one. I'd zero in on helping my players see where the opposing goalie is weak, and challenge them to take advantage of these weaknesses. I'd also make sure to emphasize to our team that we need to use our depth and wear out the top guys from the other team as soon as possible. Any opportunity to point out where we can take advantage of bad habits or predictable decisions by the opposing players should be noted and reinforced.
(NOW INSERT A "DOC HUNKLER" MOMENT TO ILLUSTRATE) I say this because no one knows how to psych up a team like Doc could!
I remember a similar scenario to the one presented in the above question the first year our Navy team was able to win an Eastern Championship. It was in 1986, against a very good Brown team who was coached by a USWP and CWPA Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Brown had previously won the Easterns on several occasions, and they had some really excellent players who played with great confidence. Their prior wins at Easterns certainly gave them good reason to do so, and besides we had never beaten them.
Brown's top player had been an All-American the previous year, and was the guy who really made their team click. In scouting them our coaches felt that we had a player who could match up with him one on one, and we spent days working with our guy, Russ Clarke, psyching him up for this big game. Russ was a 6'4" center defender, a great swimmer who loved to play physically. He was also very coachable, and eagerly accepted this challenge.
To make a long story short, Russ did a great job, and about halfway through the 2nd quarter Brown called a timeout to regroup, as we were giving them all they could handle. I looked over to the Brown bench, and there was their All-American laying on his back gasping for air like a fish out of water. Mark Gensheimer, our Assistant Coach, and I quickly pointed this out to our team and from that point on we knew we had them. It also helped that we were playing at home in front of a very pro-Navy crowd! Now more on
how to solve the problem that the scenario in the above question presents.
USING YOUR DEPTH
In order to do this, we try to press as hard as possible defensively, and not allow our opponent to rest on offense. We would want to speed up the game and utilize our counterattack to the fullest, and work to get some easy goals by exploiting their weak goalie. Of course, when you press you sometimes can get into foul trouble, so we'd want to stress pressing without taking stupid exclusions, and we would want to monitor our foul situation carefully. Since we have better depth, we also have more fouls to give, assuming we can play some decent 5 on 6 defense! Offensively we'd want to play fast, and we would want to try hard not to cross the line between fast and too fast- as turnovers and/or bad shots can beat you .
In the scenario presented by the question, our opponent has a better starting lineup, which means that we need to be mindful of getting beat by bad matchups between their top players and our weaker ones. The bad news in this setup is that the game get away from you quickly if the opponent gets cheap goals from mismatches, so your bench guys must know who they can guard and who they should stay away from. If a weaker player gets stuck with a mismatch, your team must recognize the situation and help the player out. The good news in this setup is that you can still steal short rest for your top players in several ways:
- when their top guy is out, rest yours if you can afford it.
EXPLOITING THE NEW RULES
If not, make sure your top guy takes advantage.
- if you are winning, and have a chance to sub late in a quarter, sub in a bunch of guys to finish the quarter, which makes the rest period for your top guys even longer. If you are feeling really lucky, sub in for all 6 players! This also give your bench guys a short period of playing time where they can focus on getting one good defensive series before coming out. It also reduces unhappiness from your bench because they know they are getting into the game.
- we always tell our bench guys that they earn playing time by doing 3 things: play great defense, swim up and down as hard as possible, and take care of the ball. When they do these things well, they usually play even more.
- if you have a weaker player in the game, make sure he/she knows who to stay away from and out of trouble. Part of our pre-game meeting always deals with matchups that are in our favor and those that are not. We always make sure that our weaker defenders know who they can guard and who they can't. Of course, if you are going to win the game you can always use those times to put your weaker defenders on better players to help them improve.
- if we are subbing after scoring, I'll often make sure to send our weakest defender to the player receiving the first pass on the re-start, usually that attacker stays the farthest from the goal for that possession.
With the new FINA rules in effect, the scenario that is presented by the question offers a good example of why swimming speed, depth, and conditioning play a more important role than ever in the outcome of games.
Longer quarters- makes it easier for teams with depth to wear down teams with better front line talent but with a shorter bench. Ending each quarter with lots of energy and pressure can pay off really well.
Shorter shot clock- speeds up the game, reduces time for offense to develop, and rewards ball denial when possible.
Field blocks = Turnovers- Before the new rules a field block usually resulted in the offense getting a new possession and fresh shot clock, now they usually result in a counterattack for the defense. Using practice time to develop shot blocking skills pays off more than ever before. Train your teams to out-react their opponents every time, and they don't even need to be faster swimmers to be rewarded.
Five meter shot opportunity (formerly 7 meters)- This change creates all sorts of tactical options, both on offense and defense. In our case, we try not to foul behind 5 meters unless there is no choice.
Any team plays better and more consistently when they are in good shape, and have teammates coming off the bench who can keep their team in the game. As Clint Eastwood says "A man has to know his limitations". Coaches and players who can collaborate on a solid game plan can do great things together, and sports history is full of examples of games won by teams who knew their limitations, yet devised game plans that played to their strengths.
Mike Schofield just completed his 22nd season at the helm of the Navy water polo program. Under his direction, the Mids have won seven Eastern Championships and competed in 12 NCAA Tournaments. Fifteen Navy athletes have earned All-America honors under Schofield, most recently Attacker Aaron Recko (3rd team) and Goaltender George Naughton (HM). The Navy duo's selection to the All-American squad marks the eighth straight year a member of Schofield's team has earned the national distinction.
Last Fall, Navy posted a 24-7 mark, reaching the CWPA Eastern Championship game for the 12th time in school history. Navy defeated conference rival Princeton 9-6 in the final to earn the CWPA's automatic bid to the NCAA's. During Schofield's 22 years, Navy has won at least 19 games in all of those years.
Schofield is well recognized in the water polo community, having also coached on the international level, guiding the U.S. Water Polo Team at the 1997 World University Games to a fifth-place finish. He also served as an assistant for the 1992 National Team and as an assistant for the U.S. Water Polo Team that won gold medals at the World University Games in both 1991 and 1993.
The Midshipmen compete in the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA), which consists of 20 schools divided into northern and southern divisions. The southern division has been dominated by Navy, as it has won 19-of-24 divisional titles since 1982.
For more info on the Navy program, go to: navysports.com
Schofield also directs the Naval Academy Aquatic Club, which produces some of the top young water polo players and swimmers in the country, many of whom have continued their careers at the Naval Academy.
Schofield graduated from Pittsburgh in 1979, where he was the captain of the water polo team and received most valuable player recognition. In 1982, Schofield arrived in Annapolis and assisted in resurrecting a water polo program that had been dormant for 32 years. He took over the head coaching duties in 1985, and his teams have enjoyed 16 20-plus win seasons, playing to an overall record of 488-191-1. Schofield has been named Eastern Coach of the Year seven times including last season (1982, 1984, 1986, 1990, 2000, 2003, 2006). In 2004, Schofield added the USOC National Water Polo Coach of the Year to his resume, and in March of 2004 was inducted into the United States Water Polo Hall of Fame.
Mike, his wife, Gina, and their sons, Kevin (12) and Matthew (9), reside in Arnold, MD.
(The coach given this question failed to send in his answer. Mike graciously consented to answer this question so this article could be posted with answers from both a west coast coach and an east coast coach. Thus WPP wishes to give a special thanks to Mike for helping us out of our predicament - THANKS MIKE!)