If you've spent much time at the pool, you might have thought you saw someone famous that you recognized...a famous movie star perhaps...
But it wasn't. It was our very own Coach Victor, or Dr. Adler as he is known.
Coach Victor is the director of the San Jose Express. The success and growth of the club is in large part due to his hard work, dedication and love for water polo...and this team.
I got a little bit of time to chat with him and ask him some questions.
Here is my interview with Coach Victor...
Coach Ron: Hi Victor, hope all is well with you and the family. And thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Let’s get right to it…
Coach Ron: SJX has grown so fast. Can you tell us a little about how the team got started? What were the roots of the team?
Coach Victor: After a number of years of coaching at Harker, we had done about as well as we could with seasonal players. If we wanted to be more successful at the high school level, we had to start building a pipeline of experience at a younger age. A Harker parent encouraged me and Ted to start a youth program. I told her if she brought 12 kids, we would do it. We started with about 25 10u in the summer of 2014. Coaches Ted, Sachi, Peter, I, and some others were the original coaches. The oldest of that original youth movement are now freshmen in high school.
We wanted to be a club based on being “hands on” with the kids. Meaning we wanted to make sure that coaches gave players feedback and that we helped the kids have proper fundamentals in the early going. In order to do that, it meant we had to have a low player-to-coach ratio. That’s what makes us different. And we’re really committed to those low ratios.
Coach Ron: I’m very impressed with the coaches here at SJX. Not only do they like kids and water polo, but they help each other out and are quick to learn. What can you say about your coaching staff?
Coach Victor: Our coaching staff is a team that shares ideas. We all know that we have stuff to learn, and the coaches like to learn.
Coach Ron: Let’s wave a magic wand and have things go back to normal. What are your goals for the team in the next year?
Coach Victor: How about the next three?I would really love to have that magic wand for humanity’s sake.
More narrowly and selfishly, I’m missing the action of water polo and seeing the kids practice and play.
Anyway, we were looking forward to a busy and rewarding spring and summer. For our younger and newer players, it’s always about the continuing mastery of the fundamentals – proper kicks, body position, and body motion. For them, it’s also about getting getting some game experience. For our experienced older kids 14u and 16u, it’s about competing. For them, it would be about cracking the championship division this summer.
The goals for the next three years would be similar for our youth, continue those fundamentals. For our olders, it would be about competing at a very high level (I believe that we will consistently be in the championship group for the next few years). Given all the hard work and focus on fundamentals from the early years, the necessary tactics become the easy part because the hard work was done as little kids.
Coach Ron: I’ve also been impressed with the parents of SJX. They are supportive without being overbearing (not a common commodity these days). Can you go into the role of parents and how they can help their kids…and the club?
Coach Victor: Youth sports, particularly team sports, can be a great learning experience. Parents can help their kids by reinforcing the instructions of the coaches and cheering for their kids and their kids’ teams and teammates.
For the club, they have been incredibly helpful in organizing our travel and making the trips a great experience for the kids. We can always use more hands helping out at Bay Challenge League as well. The referees love our parents because they do a great job at the desk. Parents should not be scared about on-the-job learning at the desk. You’ll learn a lot about the rules and the game! It’s worth it.
Two bits of advice:
Coach Ron: And finally, where do you see the growth of this team? If you had three magic beans and could plant them, what areas of growth would you like to see for SJX?
Coach Victor: The growth has been in the 14u age group, both boys and girls. It’s around that age that kids get bored of swimming or are looking for something different and come upon water polo.
10u is where I’d want the most growth. No offense to the older kids because they’re far easier to work with, but if we can get the kids at a young age, we have the opportunity to work wonders. It’s frustrating but gratifying.
Coach Ron: Well, as the 10/u coach, I'm all for that. I've got some ideas on that as well.
Coach, thanks for taking the time for us. I'm sure you're as eager as all of us to get back into the pool.
Stay safe and see you soon!
What did you think of our interview? Who would you like to have interviewed next? Leave a comment and let me know.
There's lots of choices when picking a sport for your child.
To be honest, there's many good choices. Of course, I'm prejudiced when it comes to picking water polo...and San Jose Express.
Right now, I'm going to pick just water polo. I'll get to the specifics of why I think San Jose Express is the best team for you.
Water Polo Reasons to Play
Reason #1: It's a Combination of Many Sports
Water polo is a little bit of swimming, basketball, soccer, team handball, and wrestling.
Many of the skills and strategies those sports use, water polo combines them.
Obviously, it requires swimming skills. But the strategy and tactics are very much like basketball and soccer.
And the throwing and catching is like team handball. Do you know that at San Jose Express we have a lot of team handballs to help the kids learn how to catch and throw?
And then there's the wrestling part, especially for the older and more experienced players, wrestling becomes a big part of the game.
Reason #2: Water Polo Develops the Whole Body
Some say swimming develops the whole body. Well, I say water polo is way better than swimming for developing the whole body.
Water polo uses the same skills as swimming and then multiplies it by ten.
Reason #3: There's Rarely Cuts in Water Polo
In many youth sports (and most when you get to high school) teams have to have cuts. That means unless you're the best...you don't get to play.
Now, this is a big pet peeve of mine. I don't think it's fair or right that kids don't get to play a sport they love and have worked hard at.
This almost never happens in water polo because there just aren't enough kids to play.
Kids can get cut. Goofing off, not coming to practice, being a bad teammate. These are reasons that kids should get dropped from a team.
With water polo this rarely happens especially here in Northern California.
Reason #4: Water Polo Players Are Usually Very High Academically
Reason #5: Water Polo Can Be Very Physical
Now, this might not be a reason as a parent you want your child playing water polo.
And if they are just getting started water polo isn't more physical than most any other sport.
At higher levels it does become more physical. I think for girls, it's the most physical sport there is.
And for boys, it's the second most. Football is the the most physical.
I like the physicality of water polo for kids. It teaches them how to handle others and how not to be intimidated. They get used to being held and grabbed.
As a teacher I see so many kids who have no idea what it's like to make contact with another human being. Water polo players are used to it. It's part of life.
This gives water polo players a toughness and a self-confidence that they don't get in other sports.
Reason #6: Water Polo is Also Relatively Safe
With the physicality of the sport, it is also relatively safe.
You tend not to get over use injuries because it requires so many movements.
Broken bones and limbs are very rare. In 30 years of being around the sport, I don't know of any at the high school level.
As a parent you must know that there are risks with any sport and water polo is no exception.
We at San Jose Express work hard to make sure that your kids are in a very safe environment. It's something we talk about at every coaches meeting.
Reason #7: Many Other Sports Are Great Lead-ins for Water Polo
With all the youth sports being heavily impacted and competitive, kids frequently don't make the team.
So families look for something else.
And that's how they found water polo...and San Jose Express.
But the experiences of playing other sports goes a long ways to being a good water polo player.
Basketball and soccer teach ball movement and spacing.
Baseball and softball teach how to throw the ball with accuracy and power.
Swimming obviously teaches how to swim and move your body in the water.
So, if your child didn't make the team or get to play in another sport, chances are they will with water polo. Especially with San Jose Express. We want all kids to be able to play.
Reason #8: Water Polo Sure Is Fun!
There's something about being outside, in a pool, playing with friends.
Working together as a team to improve.
Winning as a team. Even losing as a team.
I remember many specific moments of playing water polo in high school. I remember passes and shots. I remember many of my teammates and even opponents.
It was just so much fun.
Maybe that's with any sport, I don't know.
I do know its true for water polo
If you're thinking of having your son or daughter play water polo, I encourage you to give it a try.
If they are already playing and loving it, leave a comment. Tell us what you think as a parent. Or an athlete.
Coach Ron Usher
In the last blog post, I talked about using katas to teach, rehearse and strengthen basic water polo skills.
Which then leads down to "What are the basic skills needed to play water polo?"
And then what are verbal cues you can use to quickly teach those skills?
I've found the best cues are ones that are short and give a visual image. And if you can make it fun for kids then it's even better.
So there are three basic body positions in water polo. The first, is the Sea Horse
The Seahorse is the basic vertical position in the water. Hips are down, head is up. It's not a water polo position you want to be in frequently, but sometimes it's a great choice. It's also the preferred choice if you're tired and need some rest.
The second basic position is the Water Strider.
This one is the second basic water polo position...the Water Strider. The hips are up high and it's easy to move quickly. Or I should say, easier to move quickly. It's never easy. This is the preferred position for most players and one we spend a lot of time on developing.
The third position is of course, the Sea Otter.
UAs you can see, this is on the back. From here you can typically see the pool the best. You can move fairly quickly and it's easy to catch and throw the ball.
OK, we got the three water polo positions. What's next?
Well, each of these positions there's three kicks you can do...
1. Flutter kick. Great for swimming fast. Not good at all in the Seahorse position.
2. Breaststroke kick. Very powerful. Great for sudden, explosive movements.
3. Russian kick (formally known as the egg beater). This kick gives a lot of stability and directional control.
I believe that the ability to go from one kick to the other is very important...and needs to be trained and taught. It seems like it should be simple, but because so many polo players don't change their kick quickly, it requires teaching and progressions.
So with each of these positions, there's three kicks you can do.
But wait...there's more!
Of course there is. You most also practice moving in these positions.
Moving in water polo is interesting. In the USA we spend a lot of time working on swimming skills. Yet, subtle movements of a few feet make a huge difference in a game. This is something I picked up from observing the Euro kids practicing.
A few feet give you a much better angle on a shot. A few feet get you much closer to stealing a pass. A few feet get you open when previously you were well covered.
Here are the movement directions that water polo players go...
1. Forward and Back
2. Side to Side
3. Rotate to the right, Rotate to the left
4. 45 degree hip turns
5. Up out of the water.
That's really nine directional moves. Of course, you could combine the movements (Strider to Otter, Sea Horse to Strider) as well.
But wait...there's even more!
There's one more variable for these basic moves.
And that's arm position.
You could have both arms in the water sculling. This is the easiest way to do it.
Or you could have one arm out of the water. This is a typical defense position and a ready position for catching a pass. And obviously, what you need to do to shoot or pass the ball.
And finally, you can have both arms up out of the water. This takes the most strength and power out of the legs. Water polo goalies are masters of this but all players work on the leg strength to be able to keep the arms up.
From these three positions, nine movements and three arm positions there are hundreds of variations that water polo players will use.
My goal is to have San Jose Express be masters of these positions.
They need to transition from one to the other quickly and know when to use one or the other.
They need to have to strength, power and skill to use all the combinations of them.
I'm looking forward to seeing the team back in the pool.
Until then, stay safe, sane and active.
Coach Ron Usher
Coach Sasha has some amazing videos of drills from Europe.
Now, most videos of drills and players has world class amazing athletes doing them. They make the impossible look easy. This is great, but not for young athletes learning the game.
It certainly isn't appropriate for my 10/U group that is just learning the game.
But these videos were different. Many of the examples were with young kids; ten to twelve years old.
Their drills looked like some of the ones we do (which is unique to San Jose Express. I don't think the local teams do these water polo drills. And these water polo drills are one of the reasons that SJX has improved so quickly at all levels.)
So we're going to incorporate these drills into our youth water polo program...
Which got me thinking...
"What can we do to speed up the learning process?"
As a coach and teacher, I'm always trying to speed up the level of skill of my athletes. In swimming, I like to think of myself as a surgeon. I'm going to come up with the fastest, most efficient way to improve my athletes.
These videos have given me a great idea.
We are going to combine karate and water polo!
We are going to invent...
Water Polo Katas!
What is a karate kata? A kata is a series of moves done in sequence; sort of like a dance.
Beginning students learn a kata. As they improve, they learn more katas and the skills become more difficult.
It's a great way to cut down the instruction and speaking time. You can say, "Do Kata #3" and the players will know which drills to do and how many times to do them.
Each kata will have 8 to 12 movements so that the kids can memorize them fairly quickly.
And there are kata's for every skill!
Heck, maybe we'll have belts for them...No, probably not.
I'm excited about the upcoming season. Let's hope this doesn't take too long!
Until then, stay safe and sane. Do something physical every day.
See you soon!
most over looked part of youth sports is the mental side.
Parents and coaches are just happy the kids are out there. And there's an expectation that playing the sport will provide the mental skills and positive benefits alone.
This is like "playing to get in shape" which is a horrible idea. We need to get in shape in order to play.
The water polo coaches at San Jose Express try to develop a good positive attitude and the mental skills players need to be good athletes...and good people.
What are those skills we are trying to develop?
Glad you asked!
The Seven Mental Skills Youth Athletes Need to Be Successful
1. Intrinsic Desire to Play
3. Being Part of a Team
5. Goal Set
7. Manage Anxiety
Each one of these traits deserves a blog post (or a chapter in a book) but here I'd like to go over them briefly.
Intrinsic Desire to Play
There's two parts to this.
First, the desire has to come from within. If parents or coaches have to bribe the athlete to come to practice then it's not going to work. They will either quit or be miserable.
No one wants that.
Kids have to want to be there. That way they learn how to self-motivate. They feel they are part of the team...not being forced to play.
I think the coaches at SJX do a good job of bringing this out in the team. It always is something to work on.
The other part of this is "play". The athletes have to like it and have fun. If it becomes work, it becomes boring. Again, this is not what you want for your athletes or child to feel.
Fortunately, water polo by nature is fun. We hope the kids on our team have fun and learn. That way they will continue to play through high school...and beyond.
Resilience is the ability to come back from failure, frustration and disappointment. It is something that the best performers have in countless endeavors.
We will all experience failure. It is the ability to come back which is key to success. We can't be afraid of failure. We have to be willing to take chances and then come back.
I find this very relevant with the Corona virus right now. How will our team, our sport, our community come back? We all must be resilient!
3. Part of a Team
It is one thing to do something just for yourself. It is another to do it for others.
When kids feel they are part of a team, they will sacrifice more and work harder. The team will support them and encourage them to do their best.
We want our San Jose Express water polo players to feel that they are part of a team. They are part of a tribe of people that have come together to work towards the goal of being better athletes, people and players.
There are two parts to communication. The first is very practical.
To play water polo you have to talk to each other!
Most of the time your face is underwater. Your lungs are screaming at you as you're working. There's water in your eyes and some guy is dragging you underwater.
If your teammate doesn't shout out loud that you're about to receive a pass, it's most likely that you won't be able to catch it!
The other part of this is that kids have to communicate with their coaches and even their parents. Issues come up. You need to be able to express yourself.
When teams and athletes communicate, they are successful.
5. Goal Setting
Goal setting is more than just having SMART goals.
Goal setting is about individual and team goals.
It's about having a vision and a path to achieve it.
We are working on developing our goal setting program for San Jose Express. We want to be a premier youth sports program and for that to happen, our team must be able to set goals and achieve them.
Being able to visualize and mentally rehearse is a skill that goes beyond water polo and youth sports. It helps in all areas of life.
Again, along with goal setting, we are developing a program to teach these skills to our team.
We hope it becomes a life long skill that they can use in all areas of their lives.
7. Manage Anxiety
Sports and life can be stressful. It's a very tough time right now in our country.
Our kids experience a lot of stress and anxiety just living here. And they experience it playing water polo as well.
Water polo games and tournaments are stressful for everyone. It can be a good stress or it can be overwhelming. We want our team to know how to manage the stress at home...and during a game.
San Jose Express understands the importance of both physical and mental preparation.
We understand that life is more than just playing a sport.
Yet, the skills kids learn (or should learn) playing sports should apply to all areas of their lives.
We try to develop complete athletes.
Hope to see you on the deck soon!
Six Physical Skills for San Jose Express Water Polo