Working with the age group categories is a very important, responsible activity. I am a fan of the theory that younger generations should work with the best coaches. Those coaches should be trained and creative, eager to prove themselves, but also be aware that what can be ruined early hardly can be corrected later. There lies their greatest responsibility.
The big mistake that young, new, and some seasoned untrained coaches make is often times they don’t realize that skill learning is a long tedious process. The one important thing to have when you are coaching young athletes is patience.
Skill learning involves process of putting many elements together that eventually create skill. For example: scoring the goal on “one on nobody” situation. That seems to be a very easy task and yet for young players can be very complicated. The skill of one on nobody has number of elements that if done correctly make very simple and easy task.
To get in the scoring position, alone in front of the goalie, first takes skill of swimming without and with the ball. Then, it requires the skill of picking the ball up and improving shooting position. At the end, we have a skill of shooting the ball.
Even these individual skills have further elements that young athlete needs to master before being able to complete a task of scoring a goal. Working on the each element before working on the skill is very important. After athletes master these individual elements it will be easy for them to complete the required skill or a task in the game.
How do we know which elements and skills to work on? Although there is a lot of literature and manuals on how to coach water polo players at each age it is important to remember that those manuals are just guidelines and it is not something that needs to be followed blindly.
Before coach starts teaching the skill he needs to know what is the skill. Skill is the ability to perform the action without to much thinking and with the minimum of effort. Basically it is performing the task automatically. We can also define skill as the sum of the technique and the ability. Technique is important to perform the task correctly and abillity is something that we need to do the task in the first place.
Skill = Ability + Technique
If we look at this equation and we want to improve our skills then it is evident what we need to work on. Ability is inherited and athletes ability goes up as they are getting older. Also, maximum ability can be achieved with training. If the athlete has inherited muscular makeup that is favoring explosive strength then we can’t expect that athlete will be strong in endurance strength. This athlete will be good at sprints and some other athlete will be good at long distances. However, both athletes can achieve their maximum ability with training.
On the other hand, technique is constant and proper technique needs to be taught from the very beginning. Big difference between skilled and unskilled player is in the technique. Technically superior players are usually most skilled players in the pool.
The mistake that coaches do is trying to teach the skill rather than teaching the elements of the skill. It’s like putting a carriage in front of the horse. Task of swimming in the counterattack needs to be taught by first teaching the swim strokes. First with one arm, then with two arms and then combined with legs. These elements should be repeated even after athletes learn them.
Now that we know the importance of teaching basic elements next thing would be implementing this knowledge with our long term athlete’s development.