Volume2: Number 1 Women's Varsity Coaches April 1 , 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: Some coaches use negative reinforcementon with their players during practice and games, others use positive reinforcement and still others use a mix of these two types of reinforcement. Which do you perfer and why?

Michel Roy, Coach of University of Hawaii

ANSWER: This is quite a difficult question to answer but I will try to do it to the best of my abilities.

I have been coaching water polo professionally since 1985, when I started a program in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada called the “Best Ever Program”.  It was funded by the Provincial Government and it was for Olympic sports only. At the time there was only men’s water polo in the Olympics so I coached only men then.  In the mid ’80s things were much different than today and words like “Politically Correct” didn’t really exist, or maybe I wasn’t aware of it yet.

I believe that to understand someone, you must get to know him and understand where he comes from.  So, when I grew up in the sport of water polo it was for me quite different.  I was born into the sport and began playing in 1972 when I was 12, and was coached by a Hungarian guy who had to swim the Black Sea to come to Canada as a free man.  His name is Gabor Csepregi and he had been a member of the Hungarian National Team.  Hungary was the leader in the world of water polo, having won more Olympic gold medals than any other country.  Gabor was very sure of himself and a very knowledgeable coach in the sport.  I am not sure that “positive” was a Hungarian word.  We sure listened to whatever he had to say, yell, shout and/or scream at us both in French and Hungarian.  I am making him look somewhat bad but he actually was the opposite for me.  He was the most important and the most influential man in my life.  I would not be who or where I am today without him and his “negative” or “positive” reinforcement actually made me a better person and for sure a better coach.

So, when I started coaching professionally male water polo players in Vancouver, Canada, I am not sure that the word “positive” was a part of my coaching method, but I can tell you that I know for fact today that all those guys in the mid ’90s were quite fond of my coaching methods. We are best of friends today and are better people for being a part of a great and very successful program.  Success attracts success and makes successful stories.

An example is the following picture:


These guys were the product of this “Best Ever Program” and are all very successful in their lives today.  From top to bottom and left to right:

Shane Gunthe, CA, Tokyo, Japan
Steve Roosda, Computer Specialist, Vancouver, Canada
Danny Hubbard, Computer Specialist, San Diego, Cal, USA
Bryce Beatty, Hotel MGR, Dubai (Middle East), San F., USA and now Victoria, Canada
Zoltan Bako, Vic- Principal, Langley, Canada
Adam Sidky, PhD, Surgeon, Calgary, Canada
Scott Williams, Paramedic, Vancouver, Canada
Shuichi Yokokawa:: Planet Manager, Japan.
Me: Coach, Hawaii, USA.
Mike Wilmink, PhD, Surgeon, Phoenix, Az, USA
Darren Macmillan, Principal, Burnaby, Canada
Todd Milne,: (not sure, lost contact)
Mark Beatty,: Pilot, Sidney, Australia
James Birch, CA, Vancouver, Canada
David Clifton, Venture Capital Specialist, Peru, South America
Rick Robertson,: Forestry Engineers, Burnaby, Canada (not in picture)

(For people that don’t know what CA is; it is “Charter Accountant”, same as a CPA in the USA)

This was their last Picture together and most of them retired from water polo soon after and went on to become very successful in their own lives.  This was the 5th National Championship win in 6 years of playing Senior Men’s Water Polo in Canada.  I am showing you this picture to make people realize that in those days, being “positive” may not have been in my vocabulary but it didn’t stop the outcome of those amazing individuals.  Perhaps it helped them.

Times have changed over the last decade and words like “be positive”, “politically correct”, “be nice” and “positive reinforcement” has surfaced due to some coaches abusing their power over some players.  I believe that both “positive” and “negative” reinforcement has a place depending on where you come from, who has coached you, your influences, your intensity and your desire to win or loose games.

For many years I have known another coach who is thought to be a “nice guy”.  His name is John Stockdale and he is still coaching water polo in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.  John was tough in his early days.  Like the rest of us, we had no choices then, it was the way it was then.  He became a “special good guy” to everyone and now he is the most positive coach I have ever met.  Do I love him? YES, he has to be one of the most important people and role models in my life to date.  But, do I agree with John’s method of always being positive or “too” nice?  NOT always!  Over the last few years I have been watching him coach a lot (because he coaches youth girls and has a lot of talent in his program).  I have been watching him and wishing that I would love to have his team.  I believe that winning doesn’t come easily and it is a lot of hard work.  Positive reinforcement helps some athletes but so does negative reinforcement.  You must know your athletes.  Training and games cannot always be all positive with a lack of intensity and lots of fun.  They cannot be all negative reinforcement either. After writing this, you have to understand that I am a believer that both are needed to achieve success. 

Now that I am much older, more experienced and have two children, my life has changed dramatically.  I now coach only women and I have to admit that some of them can get the best of me even when I am upset.  These days, however, I run fun, enjoyable, sometimes stress free practices, but I never lose track of what’s ahead and the games that we will have to play, so for some moments, I can get back to my old ways and make them realize that we do what we do for a reason and “goofing” around isn’t it.  I am very protective of my athletes and I try to help them become successful people not just successful athletes.  During games I rarely yell at one person directly, I will always direct traffic of course - tell them where to go and what to do, but I rarely use profound words directly to an individual.  I mostly direct my attention to the referees.  In water polo the referee calls are very subjective. Because many referees do not spend nearly as much time as coaches actively involved in water polo, they can often miss some of what is going on in the water or make an inaccurate call.  I and every other coach I know believe it is part of our job to make sure the game is being refereed accurately.  Referees have too much power over our game and can misuse their power and in fact control the game.  This reflects as negative reinforcement to the athletes.  Alternatively, a referee making good calls reflects as positive reinforcement to the athletes

After all the years that I have coached water polo professionally, I believed that I have seen, lived and experienced so many different situations with athletes (win, loose, hurt, happy, sad, mad, fun, etc.) that I am becoming more of a story teller than a coach.  I start telling stories all the time so that my current athletes can use the experience of others before they have to live it themselves.  and I do it with some “positive reinforcement” methods. Hahaha.

I hope you have enjoyed my point of view.  I also hope that I answered the question.  Sometimes I tell stories and forget the beginning or the question. Good luck with your games, season and your athletes.

Michel ROY

Michel Roy, Hawaii An apt description of head coach Michel Roy's first season at the helm of the Rainbow Wahine water polo team would be "learning experience."

"It's very much different," Roy said, "coaching men and women. The men are competitive, it's strictly an ego thing. Coaching the women is a new world."

Not that the world of women's water polo is unfamilar to Roy. He has spent more than 25 years as part of Canada's water polo program, including 17 as a professional coach.

Since 1985, Roy has been affiliated with the British Columbia Water Polo Association, serving as technical director, provincial coach, and head coach. There he won a total of 30 national titles in six categories, including 10 senior men's and seven junior men's titles, the most of any club coach in Canada.

In addition, Roy served as head coach of the Pacific Storm Water Polo Club, where he led the senior men's team to national championships from 1999-2002.

Water polo aside, however, Roy is charting territory unfamiliar to him, the world of recruiting.

"In Canada, you get a kid at 12, and by the time they retire in their mid-30s, you're good friends. One athlete plays with the same club for life. The idea of having to recruit is foreign to me."

Working in Roy's favor is his international experience. Among Roy's list of international experience, he served as head and co-head coach of Canada's senior women's national team from 1995-99 and co-head coach of the senior men's national team from 1992-93. From 1985-94, he has worked with the men's national "A", "B", and junior teams.

Roy's profession has taken him around the world, as he has been to Hungary, England, Cuba, Greece, and Holland to name a few.

Roy has also been fortunate to learn from the best in the business. He had a one-year apprenticeship with the well-known international water polo expert Rezso Gallov of Hungary, attended individual seminars with Monte Nitzkowski, the USA's national team coach and player for six Olympics, and served as assistant coach to former USA head coach Rich Corso.

Roy is hoping his international experience can help build the Rainbow Wahine into a national contender.

"My hope is to use my connections to turn the Rainbow Wahine into a team made up of players from all over the globe. I want to go where other schools don't, places like Germany, Poland, Australia, Brazil. I want people to feel like Hawai`i is the place to be."

Roy certainly feels like Hawai`i is the place for his wife, Linda, and his two daughters. He also feels it is the perfect location to make his mark in collegiate water polo.

"My first reaction to getting this position was that it was a dream job, one that could be a lifetime position," Roy said. "I'm very happy to be here and I want to stay here as long as I can."

Roy also wants to see the best out of his athletes, both in the pool and in their life after water polo. He has coached more than 50 athletes who have participated on Canadian national team programs, the most of any coach in the country. Among his many former players who went on to American universities, he coached former Rainbow Wahine All-Americans Marie-Luc Arpin and Karin Umemura, Lila Fraser, and Christi Bardecki, UCLA All-American Mike Wilmink, UC Santa Barbara All-American Scott Burt and California All-American Kaliya Young.

"The obvious goal is to win a national championship," Roy said. "But first and foremost, my goal is to make my athletes the best they can be and hopefully success will come with it."

Finally, in 2005 he was selected MPSF "co-coach of the year" and the University of Hawaii placed 4th in the MPSF Championships and 4tf in the NCAA Championships. In 2006 he was named MPSF "coach of the year" and his team finished 2nd in the MPSF Championships and 4th in the NCAA Championships..

Rob Swingle, Coach of Siena College

ANSWER: I get this question a lot from prospects as it is a very good question to ask during the recruiting process. My answer is always the same though…” I like to believe that I give my team what they need, when they need it.”

What I mean by this is that there are times when the team needs a kick in the butt and I have to pick the right moment to do just that. If I do this all the time though, the team will eventually back away and I will lose them. There are times when the team needs a joke in a team huddle to help lighten the mood and relieve some tension or anxiety. While my sense of humor is odd at times, again, I have to pick the right moment to do just that. If I do this all the time though, the team will not take me seriously and I will lose them. Same goes with the supportive approach. Too much of that and people start to crave the constructive criticism to improve. So, a happy medium must be achieved.

It’s like playing poker. You have to have good observational skills and you must be willing to put in the time to observe. Once you find someone’s “tell”, you can help take them to the next level from there.

The overall theme here is “motivation” and how does a coach properly motivate his or her athletes, as well as the team as a whole for a particular year or season? It is the coach’s job to find how each individual on their team is best motivated and to then use whatever tactics they can use to help keep each athlete motivated, focused and committed to the task at hand… as well as to the overall team goals for that year or season. To discover what motivates an individual, a coach must put in the time to build a relationship with their athletes to discover the correct tactic per athlete. Since each team is different than the team the year before, the coach must also determine what motivates the team as a whole. This is a tricky part of the job and some years I get it right, while other years, I don’t do as well with it.

I do know that a properly motivated athlete will achieve more than they were initially capable of… and that is coaching defined to me, getting more out of a team than their base talent would initially allow.

Rob Swingle

Rob Swingle, Siena Rob begins his third school year as head women's water polo coach at Siena in 2006/2007.

During his first season with Siena, Rob was named Co-Coach of the Year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) for improving the Saints water polo program in all phases. He amassed the most wins in Siena water polo history and started his Siena career with a team record of 9 - 16 overall.

The team finished one spot higher in conference play than the year before in its second season, had four of the team's five leading scorers as underclassman, completed a successful trip to California for the first time in program history and played the most ranked teams (3) and the most number of games (31) in school history amassing a 7 - 23 - 1 record.

Prior to the his arrival in Albany, Rob was the assistant coach at Villanova University where he helped lead the Lady Wildcats to their best finish in six years at the Eastern Championships in 2004.

Rob's head coaching experience began at Emory University in Atlanta, GA where from 1998 through the 2003 season, he was the head coach for the Emory Women's Water Polo Program. Rob earned three `Collegiate Water Polo Association Southeastern Women's Coach of the Year' awards while at Emory and was named `Emory Coach of the Year' in 2001.

Overall, Rob has seven full years of collegiate women's coaching experience and has coached in over 165 collegiate contests.

As an athlete, Rob was named to the All-Big Team teams twice for water polo as the starting goalie for Purdue University. He also won an individual state swimming title in the 100 backstroke in high school while swimming in the state of Delaware.

In addition to his duties as head women's water polo coach, Rob also manages the Siena Swim Center as the school's Aquatics Coordinator. He covers everything from pool use to pool revenue. The combination of his Aquatics Coordinator role and his passion for water polo make for a nice mix for the Siena Water Polo Program.

Coaching Philosophy:

Coaching at Siena for Rob includes the principles of leadership, teaching, tough verses tender love, taking pride in being a Saint, and teaching athletes to have the discipline to do the right things at the right times. A good year for Rob is helping a team reach or exceed its potential.

Team Priorities:

Rob believes in dual number one priorities between academic success and athletic success. He truly wants each member of one of his teams to be both an all-conference athlete as well as an all-conference student.

Personally: Rob currently lives with his wife Liani in a suburb of Albany named East Greenbush.