1999 National Junior Men Coach’s Report

The below material is a formal account of the 1998-99 Silver medals winning world championships campaign.

It is presented as it was written at the time without any omissions or additions. I believe, it can be of interest to aspiring coaches, athletes and administrators.

A lot more can be said about the team, its players and our preparation. In a related post, “Australia’s Blood in the Water – Happy Australia Day!”, I give a brief insightful view of the campaign at that world championships. https://erkinshagaev.com/2012/01/24/australias-blood-in-the-water-happy-australia-day/

The main guidelines and steps of the preparation were outlined in the documents written before and after the July 1998 European tour. Please find attached. The programme determined at the beginning of the 15 months preparation period was implemented to a large extent.

A number of events held in Australia and overseas made it possible to more or less regularly check on the level of physical and technical preparedness of the players and work on the tactical arsenal of the team. From this stand point the camps with the participation of the Japanese and Uzbekistan senior and USA junior squads which were held in Australia were invaluable.

The July 1999 events in Hungary and Croatia were of paramount importance
since not only were we able to practice against some of the best players in the World in this age group – and check them and their systems out – but do it under comparatively difficult circumstances which any long overseas high level sporting tour presents. However, as always, the final ‘tune up’ only occurred during the period prior to and in Kuwait at the camps and tournaments there and in Greece and Egypt. It was quite brutal baptism in some instances given the way the rules are interpreted and the game played in Europe.

Nevertheless, despite that and the voyage being very difficult for the young players who had to be ‘on the road’ for nearly 35 days, it paid off later during the Championships.

The above-mentioned events and the fact that several players participated in the previous WC cycle (however a number of players went overseas for the first time in 1998 only) allowed us to accumulate some high level ‘adrenaline rush’ experience. Without such experience it is impossible to compete at the highest level. Having said that, one has to critically admit that the top European teams still had more experience which they accumulate in camps and tournaments because of: a) close proximity to each other, including such high level tournaments as the European championships which precede every WCs; b) stronger domestic competitions both organisationally and technique-tactically (Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Spain , Romania, Greece, Slovakia); c) more high level competent coaches work with the players (for instance in the USA there are approximately 40 paid coached as there are in the previously mentioned countries); d) professional clubs with proper infrastructures; e) a number of other factors.

In the reports after the previous junior WCs, I always critically assessed the level of skills – first and foremost – ball skills of our players. The confident sophisticated passing and shooting, particular in the perimeter attack situations, were crucial in our success against powerful Romanian and Yugoslav teams. However, one has to critically admit that there is a lot to be gained in this aspect of the Australian players’ performance and this was reflected in our games against Slovakia and Italy when the opponents were able to reduce the element of surprise which worked in some other matches.


The team’s performance at the events leading up to and in Kuwait received reasonable coverage in the electronic and printed media, so without going into details a brief assessment of some areas of the team’s performance is as follows:

Dean Semmens and Thomas Whalan were good captain and vice-captain. I had a lot of help from them in creating the right atmosphere in the team.

Peter Tresise and Toby Jenkins as well as some other players were able to put a lot of pressure in the centre-forward position on the opposition in most of the games including the crucial ones. This was reflected in the number of the CF goals they scored, X-man earned and general tension for the opposition they were able to create which would “open” the players on ‘the perimeter’.

Thomas Whalan, Adam Richardson and Dean Semmens performed very well as centre-backs and were able to ‘close’ the opponents most of the time. They were helped by Gavin Aubrey who was also good. Despite spending a lot of time in the highly demanding centre-back role, Thomas Whalan was also the most aggressive and efficient perimeter attacker.

Our set attack was efficient due to the very aggressive actions by the centre-forwards and constant shooting threat from Gavin Aubrey, Nick Falzon, Tim Neesham, Trent Franklin, Adam Richardson and Thomas Whalan. The high mobility displayed by most of the players but in particular by Christian Hoad and John Neesham combined with the above-mentioned features made our attack dynamic, constantly dangerous and at the same time controlled.

In the set defence, the team was able to use flexible systems implemented with high discipline and aimed at supressing the strong features of various opponents. As mentioned above, a pivotal role in that belongs to the centre-back players in the order of mentioning. Laurie Trettel displayed a high degree of reliability most of the time to make the whole team feel more confident in defence.

The X-man defence was satisfactory up until the final game when the opposition was able to exploit slowness of some of our players. The X-man attack was satisfactory up until the final. However, having described these two aspects of our game as satisfactory, I should like to note that one can only be satisfied when both defence and attack are 100%.

Our counter-attack was efficient enough from the stand point of creating good shooting positions since the players had to adapt to a stricter and less risky way of set defence. However, the conversion into goals could have been better. I believe that if we had to play another WC, this is where the reserve is significant and could be improved with more high level games behind the players’ shoulders.

The official and unofficial games played showed that the gap in different areas of individual players’ preparedness between the Australians and their peers from the leading water polo countries has significantly narrowed and in some cases – as the results show – our players exceeded the others. Any opponent had to apply maximum efforts to achieve a good result in the games with our team.

However, the Australian players need more improvement in all the skills to take a leading role in the World water polo. Whilst admittedly it is a reflection on the coaching in Australia including at the National level, the main reason for a still existing gap is a poor domestic situation with coaching, competitions organisation, facilities and marketing of the sport which was referred to in other documents.

The result that was achieved would not have been possible without the support that the team and I received from Richard and Janet Whalan. Michael Ryan and Cheryl Grossman did an outstanding job as the team’s physician and physiotherapist. Ron Morelli was an honest part of the Australian delegation. In fact, Richard Whalan was an integral part of everyday management and was involved in the smallest details of the related work with the team in general and each individual separately. In addition, his efforts and perseverance allowed to both implement the entire programme on the one hand, and significantly reduce the cost of same for the players and their families on the other.

We would like to thank everyone who was directly or indirectly involved into the team’s preparation; the clubs & ITC coaches and Istvan Gorgenyi who worked with the squad before me. Our thank you goes to the Sydney University club members for their help in scrimmaging with us in September 1999 and the members of other Sydney clubs for the help they gave us.

Personally, I express my deep gratitude to everyone who genuinely supported me in good and difficult times without deviation throughout entire period of work not only with this team but in general for the whole period of the last 3 years in particular and longer.

About Erkin Эркин Shagaev Шагаев
European, world, Olympic champion, two times World Cup winner Чемпион Европы, мира, Олимпийских игр, двукратный обладатель Кубка мира

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