I had a conversation at the end of the fall polo season with a coach I hold a lot of respect for, and what seemed to be an old adage at the time has stuck with me: “Luck is when readiness meets opportunity.”  This “luck” had helped him lead 5 different teams to C.I.F. Championships during his time as coach. Luck? I don’t think so. It was clear that this coach had put in the time and was in fact simply ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arose with his team and their games.

In Water Polo and in life, the idea of readiness is a fascinating one. How do we become ready? How do we know what we need to be ready for? How do we know when we ARE ready? Let’s pin it down a little bit though

From an athlete’s perspective:

[Novice] “I want to try Water Polo, but I don’t think I’m ready.”- While actually a thought of new players year after year, the response comes easily: if you are willing to work hard and improve yourself, then you are ready to jump in and start. The sooner the better!

[Returning Player] “I want to be on the varsity team, but Coach doesn’t think I’m ready.”- Coaches have a million different ways of telling if an athlete is ready for a situation or a level of play. As an athlete, how do you know when you are being assessed? It’s not like a math test where you sit down and you have 20 questions to answer. Every time you show up to practice, it is a test of readiness. EVERY coach looks for that readiness in their athletes, but each coach has their own ways of assessing. What are they looking for? Some coaches can break it down nicely, others can’t. The easiest way to figure it out is look at varsity players. What do they exhibit that the coach finds them to be ready? As an athlete, you can take matters into your own hands by making sure that every possible moment your coach could be assessing your readiness for that higher level, you are showing yourself at all times to be on-par or above -par with the varsity players on your team.

[New Varsity Player] “I was good at the JV level, but I don’t know if I’m ready for this higher level.” A lot of players get nervous when they get moved up. You were comfortable being successful at the lower level and were good at what you did, but then lost confidence and lowered performance when you got moved up, thinking you are not ready for that level. You need to remember what it was like to start water polo in the beginning, when you didn’t know anything. Remembering how you moved from where you used to be to where you are can help inform how you can move from where you are to where you want to be. At some point you made yourself ready, and your coach saw it. If for some reason you don’t FEEL ready, then revisit that process that made you ready before and apply it to your new situation. Getting excited about growth is a large part of being ready for that next level.

[Varsity Player] “We’re coming up against the most challenging team we are going to meet all season, and I don’t know if we are ready.” This is the thought that plagues players and coaches alike. “What if” questions abound and often serve to break us down in these moments of doubt. There are an infinite number of moments in a water polo game that will test your readiness and decide the victor. The key is this: game-time is not the time to worry about how ready you are. Nothing about your game is going to change for the positive by your last-minute reflection. You are only going to get nervous and mess up things you would otherwise have downpat.

PRACTICE is when you need to worry about you readiness for the big game, whoever it may be against. Practice is where you need to be exploring the game, your game, your team’s game to find out all the ways you are ready and not-ready for that heightened competition. Everytime you pass the ball in a lax way, every shot you take that is not being summoned up from your entire being, every time you don’t swim counter like your life depends on it you are ROBBING yourself of that true readiness that allows you to go into a game confident and READY. Practice for readiness and you will turn those situations from a team testing you, to you testing yourselves on another team; this is the ideal mentality.

Truly we are just exploring the tip of the iceberg in this discussion, as the idea of readiness flows out from players and coaches, to family and schools as well. When we ask ourselves if we are “ready,” we need to be able to make a list of the things we have done to prepare, so that we can celebrate our accomplishments but also so that we can sort out what we have done already and what we can still do to step up to that next level of readiness.

See you at the Pool,

Coach Sean Banister