Jeff Barrow: We can be as good as Europeans
April 20, 2013 3 Comments
Victorian Tigers are the current owners of the ‘Southern Cross Trophy’. They won all matches of the 2013 Australian National Water Polo League’s Regular season making this achievement even more remarkable. Such an outcome was not overly surprising for the country’s water polo community as Melbournians have always been among the leading NL teams since the competition’s inception in the early 90s. They have been among the main medal contenders in recent years winning the 2010 Premiership.
It is broadly known that the ‘Victorian Tigers’ brand – as it is known nowadays – is rightly associated with the name of the club’s Head coach, Jeff Barrow, who – when involved – has been the main factor as well as driving force behind these successes. Jeff selflessly and diligently fulfils the coaching role as well as that of the main organizer and chief sponsor.
In 2010, the Australian Government’s Sports Commission conducted a comprehensive Review of AWPI’s National Water Polo League resulting in recommendations that were ‘..designed to evolve the NWPL to a higher standard..‘ that have ‘..the potential to rise to a new standard of excellence and provide a platform for the development of athletes capable of creating sustained international success for Australian Water Polo..‘.
Among other things, the report urges AWP to ‘..create mechanisms to identify best practices and ideas around the maximisation of resourcing for NWPL clubs. These should be used as general models, standards and/or guidelines, to assist Club operations in areas such as optimizing fund-raising, valuing and retaining volunteers, and accessing of additional resources such as IT and media support.’
In view of the above-mentioned, we thank Jeff Barrow for graciously agreeing to answer our questions and share his views on various issues as well as revealing what motivates him to spend so much time and material resources on this ‘unprofitable’ sport that are thought to be beyond anything seen at a club level so far. We hope that this and other publications will help in the development of better standards and water polo quality in Australia and invite anyone who is interested to take part in the discussion by posting comments.
Jeff, congratulations on winning the Regular season’s premiership! This is a good result but I know that your main goal is to win the grand-final. What are your comments on this year’s season so far and on the upcoming Finals series?
It is certainly pleasing to get the ‘Southern Cross Trophy’ as this is only the second time in our club’s history that we have achieved this. It has been an interesting season so far and some of the results do not reflect the hardness and standard of the games. All the teams in the finals will be difficult to beat. There are differing styles and tactics by the teams and that is one of the aspects that makes it both difficult and interesting. If we play to our ability then we will certainly be hard to beat. The new format of the finals is quite interesting and I will reserve my opinion on that until I better understand the purpose.
I do not mean to take anything away from you as coach and/or your players – you all deserve the latest success. However, I have heard rumors about the financial support that your team has which is unheard of at water polo club level in Australia. If that is so, what is the overall budget of your team this year and where is the money coming from?
I am not sure or aware what those rumors are. But I do know we train hard, are well structured and offer strong support to our players. The current budget and financial support for the men’s program is more than $150k. In addition to that several of the players are employed in a couple of business operations. This figure is related to NWPL season only.
How is the money spent?
Primarily on some key players’ expenses, and ensuring that training, conditioning and rehabilitation programs are available to the squad at no cost.
I understand that you may not be able to name the players but what is the range of payments that individuals receive – from the lowest to the highest?
That is difficult to answer due to employment contracts.
I understand that some athletes – both past and present members of the team – are employed by your company and actually build careers beyond water polo? If so, it is very nice of you to provide that sort of support!
When I was playing I received tremendous support from some senior players and one even gave me a career start. I worked for Fred Blatchford for several years. Fred currently lives in Sydney and was also my first junior coach. My early coaches also influenced me a great deal and they were John O’Brien and Joseph Banhidy. I decided a long time ago that I would attempt to reciprocate when and where I could. The relationship between water polo and employment does not have a ‘use by date’ and I have not linked employment to “must play water polo”. The first player I recruited for employment was a young Russell Small who worked for me for many years and went on to create a very good business career. Others have included Martin Callaghan, Mark Grooby, Andrew Wightman, Simon Asher, Daniel Marsden and several other. More recently Iain Lark and Sam McGregor. As an example, Iain Lark chose not to play beyond 26 years old but still remains with the company. I have also been able to offer recent opportunities to Danny Lawrence and Tom Woudwyk. I have found that elite athletes train hard, work hard, are focused, have a high work ethic, and these are the common requirements in business. In summary – I would like to create an opportunity for elite athletes that allows them to also develop a career. I would like to see my players put back in to a sport that must offer them great enjoyment and rewards.
Unlike the benefactors in every other team, you do not have a son who plays water polo let alone being this team’s member. So what is there for you then? Why do you do it? What is the catch? Is it the love of water polo?
My children have played water polo at school and I have coached those school teams as well. The key reasons I attempt to put back in are: a) I really enjoy coaching and believe I can bring a benefit to the players; b) as stated earlier, I want to give back to a sport I got a lot of enjoyment out of and learnt a great deal of life skills from. I really want to see Australian Water Polo win a men’s medal at both the two major world events. The women have had great success and clearly lead the way.
What is your vision, for that matter?
My real vision is to create the best water polo program in Australia and bring a fully professional squad together with a complete support program. This is targeted to be along the lines of the big European clubs. My goal is to have the program for both the ‘Tigers’ men’s and women’s squads and both to have a fully supported program. This would require a very serious budget probably closer to the ‘rumors that may circulate’. I do not see why we cannot create an environment that would rival any of the leading European clubs with full time coaches and professional athletes.
Is there anything that you would want to be different in the Australian National League and in Australian water polo in general, for that matter?
There are many aspects that I would like to comment on. I do intend to write a report at the end of this season on the many aspects that could and need to be improved. There is a great opportunity for the NWPL but it requires commitment and focus. Too many little things are not being managed and that means the big things suffer. Honestly, there is a big opportunity for Australian water polo but it needs to be grabbed. I believe we have wasted several cycles of great athletes in the men’s programs that could have been supported better. The results will take care of themselves if the right support, structures and programs are in place.
What do you think about the current rules?
That would be interesting. I do believe that AWP could introduce different rules for the first half of the NWPL season and then play to traditional rules in the second half. See what works, what creates more interest, what helps in cost control.
Would you change anything?
Well, as general ideas I would see if:
– getting rid of the swim up and start each quarter with a neutral ball toss and allow all players to commence anywhere. Good for the players, coaches and spectators.
– playing six a side would be interesting and would reduce the impact of a zone defensive system.
– playing all games in a 25m pool; if that means going back to 6 a side then so be it. This makes the access to pools more available.
In the NWPL I would certainly address the rules around draws and the penalty shoot out. The points allocation is clearly wrong and is serving no benefit.
Some NL clubs in Sydney have difficulty accessing quality pool space and gym in the ‘prime’ time – from 18.30-21.30 – because it is too expensive or unavailable. How is your training organized during the pre-season and competitive periods? Do you have any problems as far as pool and gym access are concerned?
My role at the ‘Tigers’ only impacts from late December through until the end of the national league. During the NWPL season we have good access and we currently train as a group in the evening from 7.30pm plus Sunday late afternoon. On top of this we have full access to strength and conditioning, osteopath and swimming training. We try hard to compliment and work in full cooperation with the Victorian Institute of Sports’ program to avoid any conflicts of interests and at the same time to compliment each program.
Finally, could you please say a few words about you personally – your water polo playing and coaching careers and personal interests.
I started playing water polo at 16 with the Richmond water polo club. Many of my friends moved from swimming to water polo and I remain friends with many of those people today. I went into coaching at about 32 years old after a bad eye injury. I have coached a few club teams in Victoria after starting my coaching at Altona Water Polo club ( thanks guys), then back to Richmond for an extended period and finally with Melbourne Collegians. I also coached Victoria in the National Championships for many years and then both the Tigers and the former Barbarians team in the NWPL. I was also President of Victorian Water Polo for about 7 years. I stopped my involvement with water polo for many years due to a combination of lack of enjoyment (too much politics) and a decision to live overseas. After an extended break of about 7 years I was invited back to coach again and am enjoying it. Privately, I enjoy bush walking with my family, travelling and finding new and interesting cafes.
Good luck in the Grand-Final series!