Australian men’s team – post London comments


Recently, I have been receiving comments and questions – both written and oral – regarding the Australian men’s water polo team (see the ‘comments’ section of the ‘Thomas Whalan: We have a great chance in London’ post). Below are my comments in response to those matters.

– Just wondering if you have had any time to watch any of the games from London?

Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts to get accreditation to attend the water polo tournament there, I could not get one. Other logistical issues made it difficult for me to be in London at the time. Had I been there, I would certainly have written about both the men and women’s tournaments.

I intend, however, to watch the videos of the matches and will be able to comment on them afterwards.

– What were your thoughts on the final make-up of the team? Any surprises?

I have been watching the Australian team – whenever it was logistically possible – including at the world championships and other international events both in Australia and overseas at my own expense over the last eight years. Some of my thoughts were written either as posts (for example, ‘Australian Men’s Olympic Squad’, ‘2003 world championships’ lessons’, ‘Australian “All Stars” match impressions’ and others posts, in particular the reports from the NWPL Finals) or in the ‘comments’ section responding to others.

In my opinion, the last two Olympic four-year cycles were a period of wasted opportunities. The main reason for such a conclusion is that there was no proper leadership at the Federal level. The Australian men’s team had the opportunities to get, at least, a couple of big time medals at the world championships and the Beijing and London Olympic games.

As I mentioned previously, the team that was created by 2004 was virtually destroyed in 2005 – its performance in Montreal was a complete disaster. Since then it has never recovered. The criteria and reasoning behind the coaching appointments were uncertain. The persons who were involved in those decisions could not properly explain themselves. That was one of the main reasons for the years of unfulfilled opportunities for the Australian squad and unrealized dreams of talented young Australians who worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices over the years. That begs the question as to whether the people who run Water Polo Australia actually possess the necessary qualities to meet the requirements of the office.

Regarding the last 2 years before London, from what I have seen, I could not get rid of the feeling that the coaching staff were more concerned with ‘ticking the right boxes’ rather than with the actual coaching and development of the team. There is also the question as to whether the coaches had the experience and expertise and the charisma necessary to achieve success at that level of international competition. After all, John Fox had not previously proven himself as a successful coach or player prior to his appointment as Head Coach.

I was watching live the Grand Final of the World League in Almaty last June where supposedly the final decision on the make-up of the team was made. The non-selection of Anthony Martin and Rob Maitland were not clear-cut to me as well as a number of other personnel selection decisions over the last eight years and about which I have written in my posts. It is my understanding that some players who were selected did not get much of pool time in London. May be that was one of the reasons as to why Australia lost the last period and the match against Serbia.

– Were you happy or disappointed in Australia’s results? Where did the Sharks go wrong in the game against Serbia?

As someone who put a lot of effort and work into the development of most of the Australian players who went to London and into Australian water polo in general, naturally, I was disappointed. However, I was not too surprised as the team’s performance pattern in London – including against the Serbian team – was somewhat similar to its performance at all major events over the last eight years. The Head coach simply did not have the expertise, authority and charisma to be successful at that level even though the material, financial and logistical possibilities at his disposal were conducive to achieving better results. For example, at the Beijing Olympiad in 2008, Australia had a great chance to make top four by beating Montenegro. It did not. And there are no excuses for that.

– Anyone step up in the tournament from Australia?

As I said before, I did not watch the games as yet and am unable to answer that question definitively. But I am aware that prior to the decisive match against Greece, certain players took the initiative to address the issues of the team’s performance in the preceding matches by analysing and discussing them during the organised video sessions that were not planned by the coaching staff. Apparently, those discussions made a big difference in the Greece and subsequent matches.

– Was the sacking of John Fox expected?

As I mentioned in a previous post and above, John was lucky to get appointed in the first instance – as far as I am concerned, that was a questionable decision since there were no apparent objective reasons for his appointment. However, he had a much better ‘deal’ than the previous coaches since Charles Turner. He had almost 7 years in the job which is plenty of time to build a good team. Therefore, I think, his sacking was justifiable.

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

14 Responses to Australian men’s team – post London comments

  1. Mark Grooby says:

    I still think the main issue with water polo here is the lack of available pool space. This leads to poor systems and then not attracting the right athletes and coaches to the sport. I would like to see a European water polo base established whereby the team can easily train and base themselves for a period of time. Due to the amateur status of water polo here many ex players leave the sport, Apart from some small club coaching roles they can be lost to the sport. What a waste this is. John Fox for example now has a wealth of knowledge, but where does he now go to use these skills. His next job is likely overseas. No club here could pay him a wage to run a program.

    • Thank you for your comment Mark. What you are saying is not incorrect. To address some of your points, there was a centralized AIS Programme based in Canberra where the National squad candidates could train professionally until 2000. It was abolished due to lobbying by some in AWPI.

  2. Dear ‘Antony Proctor’, If you would like me to continue to publish your comments, questions and opinion regarding Australian water polo matters, please disclose your proper verifiable name, email address, occupation and location. Please also advise if you have played water polo or have relatives playing the sport in Australia. Thank you for your interest.

  3. John Fox says:

    Erkin I have been directed and read your blog with interest and feel that some very stark inaccuracies need to be addressed.

    Before focusing on these let’s look at your coaching tenure and the effect YOU had on players both past and present.
    You completely destroyed the careers of several established players who would have brought Australia better success in Athens – the team which was coached by you and finished 9th!
    This includes but is not limited to some of our finest players including:
    Daniel Marsden
    Grant Waterman
    Mark Oberman
    All these lads refused to play under your authoritarian military style regime, where team members were treated like insubordinate boarding school kids and not the grown mature men that were entrusted with the responsibility of representing our great nation. A number of players took the shocking option of electing not to be available to play for Australia, despite clearly being amongst the best players still playing the game, as evident in the NL from 2001-2004. Rather than have to suffer and endure the abusive verbal treatment, harassment and ridicule from a coach who chose to employ the style of leadership that may have worked for Communist USSR in the 70’s and early 1980’s, they chose elective early retirement from the national squad. This was certainly was not a model for success that was accepted or even tolerated by Australian sportsmen and authorities and in fact all it did was create a trail of destruction that would take at least one Olympic cycle to repair.
    Of the players who did see through the pain of your tenure until 2004, the reports that came back from Athens were ones of despair and complete character assassination of individuals. I was amazed that a memorable experience such as the Olympics could have been so negative for so many young men and it was important above anything else that players and staff took pride in achievement and representation of their country. I believe the past 2 Olympic Games have been a fulfilling experience for all involved despite the disappointment of losing some very close game against highly ranked and credentialed opposition.
    Our men’s results since 2005 have been without the funding and support of an AIS program, the nursery and intensive development program through which a vast majority of our national representatives emerged. You were fortunate as both a junior and senior national coach to have this ‘best practise’ support and backing ever afforded to prepare your teams. I agree with your assessment of the value of the AIS and the error Australian Water Polo made in not being more forceful in fighting for an ongoing program. There has been acknowledgment of this and I know that for the past 4 years there has been a big push for reinstatement but this seems unlikely in the near future at least.
    Now just to correct an error in your blog-
    I have had the coaching tenure for 5 yrs not 7! I took over in 2007 and don’t understand your statements relating to the team of 2005. I do know that many disgruntled players walked away from waterpolo after Athens and there had to be a period of rebuilding and integrity instilled into the players. In that time we have had 2 bronze medal finishes at world league, and a 7th and 8th place at the Olympics.
    Since 2005 we have had to rely upon the state institutes to provide the daily training environment for our senior elite as well as providing the development opportunities for our emerging junior national players. Without the incredible efforts of a few individual coaches within these institutes and the amazing commitment shown by players who have received little or no financial assistance, our national teams would have gone much like the way of the Russian national teams of late, who now don’t even qualify for European championships!
    I was fortunate throughout my tenure to have had amazing assistance and compliance from coaches such as Paul Oberman, Chris Wybrow and Chris’ predecessor at NSWIS, Mark Hubbard. These coaches were responsible for providing the DTE for a majority of the players in senior and national junior teams, and as such are burdened with the most responsibility to prepare players for national teams, although this point is seldom acknowledged.
    Erkin, I may not have developed players from the time they commenced playing water polo and an under-age junior level, but is that the role of the senior national coach? I think not. Perhaps you need to peruse the job description of the national coach before making claims as to who is a suitable candidate for the job. And I would also question YOUR claims to development of players. Most if not all of your national team players, came through the AIS or state institute system AFTER being identified as a junior at national rep championships.

    You have criticised team selection for this Olympics, and as an interested spectator you have every right to do this. However before you go sprouting off with uneducated rhetoric, you need understand and consider facts and reasoning. As a national coach you would be fully aware that the selection of the team is based upon years and months of player performances in international and domestic competition and it is a very difficult task to undertake. In fact the hardest job of the coach is to deselect someone and then inform them of this. There is no easy way to do it and you are relying upon the support of your assistants and staff who have been an integral part of the team to help make an informed unbiased decision. Other knowledgeable people were also consulted in this process, and their opinions considered before tough selection decisions were made. Ultimately decisions on player selection were reached unanimously by the coaching staff. I challenge you to name any players who should have replaced those players selected for this years team.
    Your remarks about player water time are so far off the mark it shows how out of touch you are with the current team and its composition.
    The least played player in our team throughout the Olympics (excluding 2nd GK) was Tim Cleland who played at total of 80 mins. Tim was used in a very specific role to provide aggressive CB defence and in attack was a pinch hit CF as well as being our most effective XA player. Because of the biological composition, he is a very anaerobic player and is best used for explosive bursts. Every other player in the Australian team played close to or more than 100 mins. I am not going to go into specific detail about every player and why he only played so many minutes but will be happy to share this information with you if you request. In contrast to us and to refute your reasoning why we lost to SRB, the top 4 teams had at least 2 players who played less pool time than 80 mins and SRB had 2 players with 40 and 50 mins respectively. Your comments as to why we lost the SRB game are way off mark and as I have indicated in my blog it is more to do with experience (or lack of) and situation familiarisation in high pressure environments such as the Olympic finals. Remember besides GB we were the youngest and least experienced team competing.

    Perhaps in light of your comments about my credentials as a player or coach you should be enlightened with some facts.
    No I did not win an Olympic Gold medal as a player, however I have been involved in Australia’s most successful era of achievement, and with the exception of the 1984 Olympics where Australia finished 5th (equal to Barcelona result), I have either played or coached in all of our best ever performances at the senior level
    Player:
    1993 World Cup- 3rd (and only medal in this form of competition)
    1992 Olympics 5th, 1988 Olympics 8th.
    1998 World championships 4th as captain.
    Coach:
    2 x World league bronze medals

    To address your other nonsensical claims:

    The Head coach simply did not have the expertise, authority and charisma to be successful at that level even though the material, financial and logistical possibilities at his disposal were conducive to achieving better results

    I dispute your claims about the expertise as have many other experts who have witnessed our performances. Perhaps you should ask the players about the game plan v SRB and how we shut down their XA as an example.
    Authority- not everyone has the same dictatorial leadership style as yourself.
    Charisma- Perhaps you should look at your own performances as a coach of past teams!!

    Material, financial and logistical possibilities: not near as much as when we had the AIS program throughout your tenure and those prior to 2005. We made the best possible use of what resources we had with the tremendous assistance from some select state institutes.

    Your Accreditation!!

    Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts to get accreditation to attend the water polo tournament there, I could not get one.

    AWP couldn’t even organise an accreditation for Grace our team doctor until the final games, so just who did you expect to cover yours?? And you had to pay to travel to events. Wow that is shocking. As an ex-coach should I expect AWP to fund all my international spectating events from now on? I’m afraid that type of legacy does not exist in our sport in Australia, and I would never expect the limited funds from the men’s program to be contributed towards paying for an accreditation or ‘baggage’ that has nothing to do with the team.

    I am aware that prior to the decisive match against Greece, certain players took the initiative to address the issues of the team’s performance in the preceding matches by analysing and discussing them during the organised video sessions that were not planned by the coaching staff. Apparently, those discussions made a big difference in the Greece and subsequent matches.

    In my time as coach we developed a strong player driven culture that gave the players a voice –the direction not just left to one person that being the coach. The coach was responsible for guiding and steering the ship and then to pull it back in line when the direction became blurred or the drive lessened in intensity. That is the difference between a team and an individual approach!
    The trademark of successful ‘modern day’ teams are built on trust, honest and communication and successful teams indoctrinate these traits into their ethos. I applauded the courage and leadership shown by Thomas Whalan to address the playing group the day before the Greek game. In my national teams every player in the group has a chance to contribute, rather than being told to shut up and endure 3 hr video sessions of repetitive non-meaningful clips that become an endless blur. And when faced with criticism or outspoken opinions, I did not force the players to put paper bags over their heads and only then be allowed to speak to take away the fear of retribution from the coach for them having an opinion!
    As to your claim that video sessions were not planned, that is complete and utter tripe. Every non-playing day (‘rest day’) we had a 2 hr team meeting period blocked out for review, analysis and preparation. Beyond that all players were given access to video and other forms of feedback on a daily basis, whilst the coaching staff analysed other aspects of the in preparation for the meetings and games. And Erkin players were also given some ‘down-time’ on occasions to spend time with families and friends. Unheard of in 2004 I believe!

    At what price do you value success? I can honestly say I have left Australian Men’s water polo in a far better position than when I became coach in 2007. Can you say the same of your coaching tenures at both the national club level? Beware Balmain!!!

  4. Jeff Barrow says:

    Erkin, another great article. I may not agree with you but it it is important that your views are listened to.
    There are some aspects that I certainly would challenge you on but there are several of your comments that need to be “taken on board”. Vigorous and challenging debate can only be good.
    I like Mark Groobys comments as well. Knowledge retention is very important and it seems to be a low priority in our sport.

  5. Erkin Shagaev says:

    Dear ‘Anonymus’, Please be advised that I am unable to publish your comments related to my post and already published comments, even though they are somewhat favorable to me. Anyone who would like their comments to be published on this site should provide their verifiable name and address. Thank you for your interest.

  6. Ray Mayers says:

    I have just become aware of this blog and I have very strong thoughts on the varying issues. Mark Grooby’s suggestion is one that I have been pushing for years, the AIS already has a base set up in Italy where the Australian Team could be run out of. By bringing in different players to expose them to European polo will only improve our base of players. I totally agree with Jeff that vigourous debate is required because if we continue to do they same things we can only expect to get the same results. I have the greatest respect for both Erkin & John and proudly say both are my friends. Lets leave the personal attacks out and focus on what is needed to bring Aus Water polo to that level where we are considered a Gold medal contender.
    We need to attract Corporate sponsors which will help provide funding for talent identification. we should be attending swimming carnivals and looking at swimmers who are finishing in the finals but who may not make it at the international level. They are ripe to be picked up as polo players as they already have the swimming background and used to hard work. This is one example of doing something different. Another of Mark’s comments is unfortunately still true to this day – Pool Space. One only has to look at the enormous success of the Melville club to realise having your own pool can only benefit it members. The last point I wish to make is that a Coaching Director needs to be appointed, travelling around the country informing coaches of the types of drills that are required to improve our skill level and ultilise the precious pool time with drills that are going to benefit all. I have many more ideas and it is a shame that there is no proper forum where issue can be raised and considered where they need to be.

  7. Phillip Bower says:

    Hi Erkin
    Firstly congratulations on being appointed as Balmain Men’s Coach,you have a very hard act to follow.

    But seriously it is not a great for our sport to see two former National Coaches attacking each other.

    Everyone in the sport should congratulate ALL those who have coached Internationally
    both at Senior and Junior level ,but unfortunately we look down on those who have tried so hard to bring our sport to a high level and in general all we hear is criticism. I have been around longer than most I have never seen a national Coach who has not given his all. Wether you agree with his philosophies on coaching or not, It should be imperative that everybody involved in our small sport helps. You can’t coach at your best when you are continually looking over your shoulder.
    Erkin and John you have both done so much for Australia,you should both be congratulated and admired for your achievements.

    Why a National Senior Coach is also burdened with overseeing all the Junior Teams has always been a question I have pondered. Surley he should be solely responsible for Senior players and his teams preparations.

    Ray Mayers comment about a Coaching Director is something I have been talking about since I coached Juniors in 1981. Many Elite sports have a Coaching Director that helps bring together
    all coaches in our system and gets them on the same page.

    The time is right to see this put in place. A coaches forumn with past and present Coaches talking about Water Polo. Who wouldnt go and hear from the like of Hoad,Neesham,Turner,Shagaev,Fox,Mcfadden and past captains in Marsden,Whalan,Macgregor,Mayers,Kerr ?

    Has anyone even dreamed of putting a roadshow such as this on the Water Polo Calendar ?

    It would be much more beneficial than a presentation night during NL finals.

    Lets hope our sport prospers but it will not do so until we use the resources that are available to us.

    Phillip Bower

    • Thank you very much for your comments Phillip

    • Ray Mayers says:

      Well Said Phil, We all want Water polo to move forward and perhaps a ground swell on social media can put forward some positive notions to make changes to improve the sport. I totally agree that both Erkin & John have made huge contributions to Australian Water Polo and we should be harnessing their abilities & knowledge, We spend a large amount of money on developing players & coaches over many years only to dump them without a thought on how they could contribute back to water polo and in my opinion mostly all Ex Australian players & coaches would love to be part of the building process for the next generation of players.

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