Friday, 20 January 2012

Exploring the game of canoepolo

Of course we all have an understanding of how canoepolo is played, since we play this game. There are some websites and books that describe tactics and most of us have some ideas about tactics ourselves. This is enough to start practicing, but your view will always be from your own position. One step further is having a coach. Someone who can look at the game from the side, that way having a better view of what the whole team is doing and can also see what the individual does. This person can give tips on how to perform better and point out the things that went well. Problem is you can't see everything and also can't remember everything, so your mind starts filling gaps with what you expect had happened. You can't just go back in your memory when you missed something or to have a better look at it, that isn't how our memories work. Every time we recall a memory there is something we've forgotten, so we just make up something without really noticing or we don't notice at all. This website gives some excellent examples with videos of how bad our memory really is. Next video is also great:

So to counter this effect the next thing we do is add a camera. This way we can watch matches and situations over and over without the danger of distortion. We can even analyze what went good and what needs to be improved. This might sound like you have everything you need, but this still has some limitations. You still watch the match with certain expectations and when something doesn't go wrong or isn't very obvious you might still miss it. An example of this is the movie/book moneyball, based on the story of some people in baseball using different statistics than were used traditionally and this way changing the way people looked at the game. You can read another example in the article “Can irrational decisions be corrected? A football case study” by Jonah Lehrer.
This brings us to a couple of things I want to do this season. I really want to how canoepolo works. How are people involved in play? Do some people tend to pass more to each other or more from certain positions? What happens to the amount of passes and positional play if we change tactics or instructions? And more. So I thought that I would make a list with questions and put it online so other people can come up with some more.

  • How does a smaller pitch influence the amount of passes? Other sports use small sided games to increase the number of ball touches someone has (or movements someone makes), so ball handling in game situations improves. It is also said to increase game awareness because of more involvement in play of everyone. If this is also the case for canoepolo we need to incorporate this in our youth training or even let youth play on a smaller pitch/with less players.
  • What is the effect of different tactics on the amount of passes? And does this result in more/less ball losses, more/less goals etc.? This of course is very hard, as the quality of the opposition is an important variable influencing these results.
  • What tendencies do our players have considering position and other players they pass to?
  • From which positions do we take shots at goal and at which success rate? How many times do we pass before an attempt at goal and does our success rate improve or decline after more passes? Same for our opponents, basically answering the question if our defense can perform like a brick wall or we need to get the ball fast.
  • What influence do the amount of substitutions have on this? A hard question to answer as well. If you could you would want to see if the work your team does changes with the amount of substitutions per minute. You need GPS data and pressure sensors in paddles for this if you want to have some certainty. But you can count sprints by hand to get a rough estimation. Influence on the amount of passes and position is easier.

The first question is most important for me at the moment, because this influences the way we teach the game. Allowing children/beginners who start canoepolo to have more ball touches and be more involved in play would be a great achievement.

After reading this, does anyone have any ideas, suggestion or feedback? Maybe someone wants to do some tests themselves and report them later? Would be great if we can share knowledge this way and improve the game of canoepolo. I will write about this again when I have gathered the data.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Throwing fast is not key

Recently I read this article: Hitting ABaseball – “The Hardest Thing To Do In Sports” . In it they describe the steps it takes to hit a baseball, how much time each step takes and why it's so hard to hit. In canoepolo we aren't trying to hit a ball like in baseball, but our goalkeepers are trying to stop it getting into their goal. This got me thinking what a throw at goal needs to be successful.

Ofcourse one part of the equation is speed. The faster you throw a ball, the harder it is to stop. If we take the numbers in the above mentioned article for granted, we would need a throw in which the ball takes less than 0.25 seconds so the goalkeeper can't react or just barely. If our throw takes longer the goalkeeper will see the ball coming and the chance of stopping it will increase. So the next thing we need to know is how hard we can throw. I don't know of any numbers for the canoepolo throw, but I found this article article about elite male water polo players. The throwing speeds varied between 21.0 and 29.8 m/s, with an average of 25.3 m/s. Now we have this average we can look within what distance we want to throw. From the point of release to the goal the ball will cover 6.3 meters in 0.25 seconds. Taking the point of release at 1 meter so the ball has to travel 1.5 meter upwards on average, the distance from the goalkeeper we need is 6.11 meters to be within his reaction time. Keep in mind this is for ELITE water polo players, these guys throw hard. If you don't have a feeling for what 25.3 m/s, it's about 91 km/h. Is your throw let's say 15 m/s (54 km/h), the distance you want to be within shrinks to 3.4 meters. That's not even taking into account some goalkeepers may react faster.

So how is it possible we can still stop a ball although the travel time of the ball takes less than our reaction time? That's where things get interesting and we get to the second part of the equation.
Something we all do, most of the time unconsciously, is predicting what someone else might do or what might happen. When you walk through a crowded street you don't bump into people or at least I hope you don't. We look at each other and predict what the other person might do based on their previous movement, where they're looking, their body positioning etc. The same thing happens in sports. We look at our opponent and try to predict what he/she might do. The better you are at this, the sooner you can react. In some sports players/coaches scout their opponents before a match and try to find out which tendencies they have so they can react on things before they happen, winning valuable time for themselves. There are also quite a lot of researcher busy to find out what makes a person good at predicting what someone might do, for example what goalkeepers look at before stopping penalties in football. For this example it was found that the better goalkeepers tend to have similar gazing behavior and there are training programs to improve this behavior.

This has some implications for the way we train and play the game.
  • The obvious one is don't try to throw at goal from 6+ meters too often with a good goalkeeper at goal, he will even have time to react when he didn't see you throw.
  • For goalkeepers a part of their training should be trying to predict shots. This can be useful for players for intercepting passes as well.
  • Try to camouflage your throw. If someone can't predict where you're throwing, they can't react as fast.

An example of an exercise that incorporates this and can be used in a warm up is as follows: Player A has the ball with player B across of him. Player C starts to paddle from player B towards player A. Player A has to pass the ball in an almost straight line to player B before player C reaches him while player C also tries to intercept the pass. When the pass is made player A starts to paddle towards player B and the same as above happens again.
Of course there are a lot of exercises that can be used. Just shooting at goal is another way to do it.

The team I coach has their first tournament of the year tomorrow. As it's a developing team I've given them the instruction to try to only throw the ball from within 3 meters of the opponents goalkeeper and only from further away when there isn't a goalkeeper. This instruction is for two reasons. One is limiting the time the goalkeeper has. Second is they need to learn to create opportunities, by adding this constraint I hope they'll start thinking how to open up the opponent's defense and become more patient in attack. We'll see how it goes!

If you have anything to add, have questions or don't agree with something written here don't hesitate to respond. I love to hear your ideas, training methods and feedback.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Dear readers, through this blog I hope to share training methods, exercises, insights and my experiences coaching a developing canoepolo team. The main focus will be on canoepolo and developing skills, but the articles may also cover different topics.
As I'm new to this there is a chance some articles will be poorly written. Don't hesitate to give feedback or write a comment, as discussion is the best way to improve everyone's insight.
If you want to submit an article, have written something you think is useful or have some useful movies, I'm more than happy to publish it here under your name or post the link(s) in an article.

In the upcoming weeks I hope to upload some movies with exercises for indoor training, mainly for age 12-16. As the temperatures start to rise outside I will start adding canoepolo specific exercises. Everything will be accompanied with an explanation of how and why.