1996 National Senior Men Coach’s Report

The Australian men’s water polo team has competed internationally since the 1948 London Olympic Games, and has qualified for all subsequent Olympiads except Atlanta in 1996. In that year the Australian team failed at the Qualification tournament in Berlin where it lost in the decisive matches against Romania and the Ukraine. Both these teams subsequently appeared at the Olympic tournament in Atlanta-96.

Up until that point in time, there were not ‘continental’ qualification pathways to the Olympic games participation. Australia, along with all other nations had to go through a common Qualification procedure. Nowadays, in the absence of another strong water polo nation in the Oceania region, Australia’s Olympic participation both in the men’s and women’s tournaments is guaranteed. Incidentally, at the time the Australian men team’s Head-coach was Charles Turner. He now works as Director of New South Wales Institute of Sport and was recently made member of AWPI’s Hall of Fame.

In May 1996, Australian Water Polo appointed me as Head-coach of the National men’s team. I was given 18 months until the world championships that were to be held in January 1998 in Perth. The condition was that unless a ‘good’ result was delivered, my tenure would not be extended beyond that term. It seemed a hard condition, particularly compared to that of the previous coach.

However, I thought it was great honor to coach the Australian team and took the challenge without any hesitation aiming to do my best no matter how difficult the task. During the next one and a half years I was simultaneously performing the roles of both Senior and Junior National Head-Coach. In July 1997, the Australian Junior team came 4th at the world championships in Cuba for the second time in its history.

At the time I knew that the domestic water polo ‘infrastructure’ was not conducive for the proper development of players and preparation of the National teams. The state based Intensive Training Centres had been in existence for 3 years only, therefore, the qualitative characteristics of most Australian players’ skills were still lower compared to that of the leading nations. The good results of Australian Senior and, in particular, Junior teams during the nineties were achieved in spite of the amateur nature of Australian water polo.

Shortly after, during the first overseas tour in June 1996, it became even more obvious that – if Australia was to have any chance of being competitive and, hopefully, delivering a ‘good’ result in Perth – drastic improvements of our individual and collective skills were needed. Most importantly, the squad’s culture and mentality had to be changed.

The tour gave us a lot of food for thought. The concrete shortcomings that required attention in our physical, technical and tactical as well as psychological preparation were identified. To their credit, in a relatively short period of time our athletes, through sheer hard work and sacrifices, made the required positive changes to most of those areas. That work enabled us to achieve important wins against the powerful US and Greek teams during the 1998 world championships and to jump from about fourteenth position in the world to fourth. America and Greece came, correspondingly, first and second at the 1997 FINA (World) Cup that was held only nine months earlier.

It must be stressed that against the general amateur background of Australian water polo, a Centralised Programme provided the organisational and logistical conditions for the National squad to work purposefully and systematically on those shortcomings. Were it not for the Australian Institute of Sport’s excellent infrastructure with the sports science, sports medicine and other ancillary services as well as athletes’ support and welfare programmes we would not have been able to build the prerequisites that enabled us to reach a WC semi-final stage for the first, and so far, last time in Australian water polo men’s history.

A more detailed reflection on the areas that required changes was presented at the time in the attached report.

In the photo the ‘Aussie Sharks’ during their European tour – from left: Alistair Visch, Sean Boyd, Daniel Marsden, Jason Hensby, Renae Burdack, John Fox, Gavin Woods, Peter Soros, Craig Miller, Nathan Thomas, Rod Owen-Jones, Paul Oberman, Eddie Denis, Guy Newman, Physiotherapist Andrew Sutton, Head-Coach Erkin Shagaev.

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

2 Responses to 1996 National Senior Men Coach’s Report

  1. Mark Grooby says:

    Good reading Erkin. Having played 75 times for Australia and 3 yrs at the AIS, I agree with your report. No disrespect to my previous coaches as I’m sure they did their best with good intentions, but I learnt more about water polo technically from Zoltan Kasas when he was in Queensland in 18 months than any other time during my playing days. I believe we have moved on from these days and nice to see more athletes pocessing equal or better skills than Europeans.

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