"Never come to any conclusions about life, it'll just prove you wrong!"

Stuck in Customs

Well our Hungarian adventure is almost over. We had our last training session last night, and this morning we scrimmaged the Eger boys 16/17 team. Retrospectively this has been a surreal experience so far.

Firstly from a traveller’s perspective, Eger has surpassed expectations. Although I’ve been here before, I definitely did not fully take into account all that Eger has to offer. The last time I was here, circa July 2000 I was still a teenager (19) and very much a young coach and inexperienced traveller. The only thing that stuck in my mind was how awful the food was that trip. This trip has been completely different. The food has been world class (but admittedly these days there are now a RANGE of vegetables that I actually eat, and chew whereas back then the only gullet acceptable vegetable was the potato).

The other travelling aspects that I never appreciated last time was the opportunity to swim in the old eger pool. Theres just something special about a pool lined with rocks at the bottom and filled with natural spring water. I have no idea why I never tried it back in 2000… young and stupid as always! I also got to swim in the new indoor eger pool which is also spectacular.

From a water polo perspective, this trip has been equally ground breaking for me. Taking over my first official senior international team has been awesome! There are always things that need improvement when you are a coach, but I couldn’t ask for a sweeter or more hard working group. Being a foreigner coaching in foreign language has seriously not been as bad as I thought. I honestly believe that if I had to leave now, the team is light years more organized than when I got them first!

The worst part of this trip is now I have to decide which 2 players wont be coming with us to Shanghai. Picking the 13th man always sucks! Back with my Western Province days in Cape Town I used to hate selections. There was always so little to separate the players. And the same here. All the girls have worked hard, and improved. But alas team selection is why they pay me the big kazakhstani bucks (called Tenge).

Tomorrow we have the day off to explore Eger. I am going to do some shopping and maybe some wine tasting. Thereafter we leave Eger at 4 bloody AM on Tuesday to catch an 830 AM flight from Budapest to Kiev. In Kiev we have an 11 hour layover, then a red eye flight from Kiev to Almaty.

until my next port of call

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Goulash!

So we’ve just finished our first week in Hungary, we’re now halfway through our trip. We trained for 6 days straight doing doubles, with morning games against the Eger/HUN jnr team and then 2.5hr evening practices. Sunday was meant to be their rest day, but Monday (today) was a public holiday in Hungary, so instead we had a short splash and giggle practice on Sunday morning and we moved the rest day to Monday. So they had a good 36+ hours rest to recover for the next 7 day slog.

Post practice thoughts and comments. Well as with most practices, some people make quantum leaps whereas others hobble. Every day is different. But collectively I think we are much better. We’ve improved some areas of our 2m defense and we’ve improved our organization on the perimeter. Our 5on6 is also better. As happens as our defense gets better so does our offense. We still make minor mistakes that at this level cost big time, but every day we get better. Trying to blend a team with experienced pro players and 18u players is time consuming, but thankfully I can lean on my experienced players to add some in the water coaching.

Apart from that Eger, Hungary is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Today I took an early morning along the river. Magic. I wonder if there are any coaching opportunities here?


So I’ve been asked this a lot, how do I coach if I dont speak Russian? This bugged for me a while. So I started from square 1 and assumed that nobody would know any english. I think identified 10 terms that I think I’d shout often.
1. Press – Press
2. Come back –
3. Attack
4. Left
5. Right
6. Block
7. slide
8. shift
9. Cut off
10. swim
The rest I figured I would use hand signals and a white board to explain…

Never make assumptions. What I’ve now learnt is that communication has a lot less to do with words than with the whole package. When I want to convey press, i need to say the word, enunciate, hold somebody and posturize being aggressive.

One of the key things I’ve learnt is to simplify everything and break it down into verbs and instructions. Go Left, Jump Right, Attack Goal. Im sure I sound pathetic when i speak it, and it sounds dumb in english, but its the most effective way. I like to think that im a pretty good communicator but I can still get better. My assistant on the other hand, talks to much and takes 2-3 times as long to convey the message.

The other trick I’ve learnt is that you must address people directly with precise information. Talking globally in your own language is great for not making criticism personal, which when coaching women specifically is very important. However when you coach in a foreign language, global doesnt work. You get the tense wrong and the information gets lost. I’ve found it better to be precise and direct and completely personal. This seems to take the sting off, and if followed with re-inforcement (even a simple thumbs up, or a loud “Gooood” + name) works better.

(Goodbye Kirishi)

Well the past week has been pretty cool, but pretty exhausting. As mentioned earlier we arrived last Sunday. The tournament only officially started on Tuesday. The schedule was pretty intense –
Tuesday – Greece
Wednesday – Russia
Thursday – Hungary
Friday – USA
Saturday – Australia

All are top 10 teams in the world. We did better than expected, particularly opening up a 13-13 tie with Greece. Thereafter we were competitive but not in good enough shape to compete for a full 4 quarters at that level. From my part it was great for analysis and getting to know the team. Benchmarks have now been set and we know what we need to improve on. Shanghai will be the test to see how far we have come.

Apart from the water polo, there wasn’t much to do here, except dodge mutant mosquitos. Biggest SOB’s I’ ever seen, and they dont make that annoying bussing sound like they do back home. No these are the silent Navy Seal Mosquitoes that live in the Arctic Circle.

What will I remember most about Kirishi? Probably the incredible friendliness of all the people. Virtually nobody can speak english, but they all go out of their way to communicate and help you. Other aspects are definitely the friends I’ve made on this trip – not just the Kazakhs and Russians but also with the Hungarians and the Aussies.

A strange coincidence was hanging out on the pool on Monday and I hear this Australian women shouting my name – I glance over and theres my friend Jenny Leissman! Jenny is one of the managers of the Australian team. I first got to know Jenny in 2003 when I took the RSA 18u team to Sydney to play against the Aussies and the Kiwi’s. Jenny then came to South Africa in 2004 with the Aussie 18u team, but I havent seen her since then. She never knew I was going to be around, and just recognized me from across the pool. Guess I’m still as young and goodlooking as always.

Tomorrow we leave Kirishi and drive back along the pimple road to St. Petersburg and then fly off to Hungary. This is the part of the trip that I’m looking forward to most. I officially take over the team tomorrow night, and then we begin the actual coaching process. Coaching the team in games is really just the icing on top, all the real hard work begins in practice… its the meat and potatoes of the business. I’ve gotten a small sense of each girl over the past week, and I’m really excited to start coaching them. It will be interesting to see what we can accomplish in just 6 weeks ahead of a MAJOR championships.

The other aspect about the Hungary trip that I’m really looking forward to, is that Eger is one of those water polo cities you just have to visit. When i was 19 and just beginning as a coach I went there and over the years I have made some great friends at Eger. During my Reddam days we hosted a team from Eger every year, and so I even know a few of the players. There are even 3 girls I am recruiting from Eger whom I’m looking forward to meeting.

So until my next report, до свидания (do svidaniya)

Leg 1

Quick update on where we are and where we’ve been.

We flew to Almaty via Istanbul (15 hours flying time, 4 hours layover in Istanbul). First impressions on Almaty it’s exactly what I expected from a former Soviet republic, exact its more sophisticated and civilized than I expected. The people are amazingly friendly and very hospitable. I like them alot. We were only in town for 24 hours and barely got to see the city, but we did get to see the swimming pool and try out some Kazakhstan food. Thats about all I can tell you at first glance. The people that we are working with are really awesome and Im excited to be here.

At 4am the next day we flew to St. Petersburg (5hours) and then used a coach to get to Kirishi. Kirishi is only 150km away but it takes two-and-a-half hours because the road is as pimply as a teenagers face. Say what you will about Africa, but these roads would put the Transkei to shame. Whats worse is that Kirishi is where one of the worlds largest oil-refineries is, so I kindof expected at least some decent roads. Wrong.

The city of Kirishi only exists to service the oil-refinery, and hence its as ugly as a refinery! The CEO of the oil-refinery is also the head of Russian water polo and hence why the water polo facility here is world class. Since KAZ are cousins with RUS, we are staying at the same sports hotel that the russian players stay while they train here. Its only 5min away from the pool so its convenient and they provide 3 meals a day. The most interesting thing for me is that all the rooms only have single beds, which I’m guessing implies that the RUS federation doesn’t want its players sleeping around.

Right now all I’m doing here is observing and getting to know the players. I’m not actually going to be doing any coaching this week at this tournament. I “take-over” next week when we arrive in Hungary. My “boss” is expecting a detailed analysis of all the games and our players by the end of the week and then a strategic plan on how to improve the team for the world championships. Its exciting and fun.

Miracles

Short post from JFK airport. Today I spent the day in NYC running around sightseeing, and also meant to get my Shengen Visa from the Hungarian embassy. Truthfully I had no hope in hell of getting my Shengen visa. Usual priority processing takes 4 days. But somehow my winning personality, handsome good looks, overpowering anti-aftershave must’ve changed some hearts. Anyway long and short, I got the visa. The staff at the Hungarian consulate went above and beyond to help me and were awesome!!! “Ria Ria Hungaria!!!”

About to board my delayed flight to Istanbul. Needed the extra time to just chill out and check emails. Running around NYC was fun, especially since I got to see Jadranko. but my feet are killing me.

Next stop Istanbul, then Almaty!

All Aboard!!!

So here we are, less than 24 hours till we board Turkish Airlines and head to Almaty (via Istanbul). Pretty excited. But anxious about what I haven’t packed. I’ve really tried to pack as little as possible for this trip. I packed all the clothes I wanted, then I halved it. And then I got that down another 30% or so. Have decided to just buy what I need along the way, and see how I survive. Definitely wont be winning any fashion awards for this trip. Pragmatism over Fashionism!

I’m not sure when I’ll next get a chance to write. But hopefully its when we arrive in Kirishi.

Peace!

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