The #1 Post – No easy way to the top for Australia´s best

(11.08.2015) – As the international season draws to a close for our senior teams, the Aussie Stingers and Sharks, we reflect on the recent FINA World Championships in Kazan and what it will take to be top of the world in just over 355 days time at the Rio Olympic Games. That’s right, the big dance is coming and we need to be ready to turn fourth (Stingers) and eighth (Sharks) into gold.

During the 20 day campaign in Kazan, the teams had at times twice a day training sessions (pool and gym/body circuit) leading into the first game and continued this rhythm of training throughout the tournament. Multiple hours of film, coded, cut and collated led to plenty of previews, reviews for players and coaches to prepare for upcoming teams and debrief after each game.

The trusty physiotherapists and doctor were kept busy, as was the ice machine in the hotel restaurant, while the odd psychology session, both group and individual, kept the players focussed on the job at hand. Players and coaches had interviews and game recaps to keep the supporters updated back home, while social media presence was at an all time high. There were meetings with delegates, organisers, other nations and our other Australian disciplines competing in Kazan. All in all it was a busy few weeks for all involved.

What about the competition you ask? Well, its fair to say that while we are not happy with the final rankings in Kazan, there is light at the end of tunnel. In fact we were only four seconds away from the Sharks making the semi finals for the first time in 17 years and one converted penalty from our Stingers claiming bronze. Good performances from both teams throughout the two week campaign with a clear strategy on where to improve, led by the respective head coaches, makes me confident that history won’t repeat next year.

Upon reflection though, it does highlight what it takes to be the best, something we are striving to be not only in Rio, but across the board as the leading water polo nation in the world. Currently those positions are held by the USA in the women and Serbia in the men. Both teams hold the respective World Championships, World League and World Cup titles since London where the USA are also the defending Olympic champions.

The obvious can be said of these teams – good quality, physically strong athletes, talented players in key positions CF, GK, CB, outside shooters, systems that produce endless talent and a proven winning record which highlights the saying, ‘success breeds success’. One ingredient the USA and Serbia have also discovered is how to win games without succumbing to the influence of refereeing decisions, something the Stingers, and Sharks in particular, were on the wrong side of at potentially game impacting times.

Ignoring that last point, the key ingredients we possess in comparison are not too dissimilar. Physically fit and strong athletes, key position players, and in the next 12 months, a good preparation to build on the talent within the team. We are working hard on a system that produces endless talent and may see the fruits of this labour in Tokyo 2020 and beyond. We are the women’s World University Games champions and our B95 teams are about to head into the FINA Junior World Championships in August (women) and September (men).

However what Australian teams and athletes possess that may be the difference in Rio is an undeniable determination and commitment to the cause. You don’t become an international water polo player in Australia for the money, fame or fortune. It is a passion and desire to live a childhood dream of glory on the biggest stage that motivates them.

Our Stingers and Sharks represent their country with incredible pride and and demonstrate a willingness to fight alongside mates they spend up to eight weeks on the road with. The sacrifice, mental fortitude and resiliency to ride the ups and down of an amateur athlete, competing against professionals, is an ingredient if harnessed as a collective could be our secret weapon.

With a little polish and inspired leadership by two of the best tactical coaches in the world, this fight, willingness to scrap for every inch and ability to play as a team, might just be the difference between winning and losing. So throw your support behind us as we hit the final preparation on the Road to Rio. No women’s team has ever won the Olympic Games after winning the World Championships the year prior, and only twice has it occurred in the men, so the title is up of grabs and we are going to give it a big shake.

Until next time…be your best!

Tom Hill

Manager, High Performance

Water Polo Australia

About our contributors

Tom Hill

Tom Hill as High Performance Manager has led the WPA High Performance Program since the beginning of 2012. From playing AFL football and coaching junior talent programs to sports administration at state associations, state institutes, universities and national level. Hill’s experience extends to a variety of stakeholders. He also has an academic background in Business, Sport Management and Sport Law.

Greg McFadden

Greg McFadden is the National Head Coach of the women’s water polo team, the Aussie Stingers. McFadden has been in charge of the Stingers since 2005 leading the team to Bronze medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, Gold at the 2006 World Cup and Silver at the 2010, 2014 World Cups adding to Silver at the 2013 World Championships. McFadden represented Australia at the 1992 Olympic Games as part of our most successful men’s team which finished fifth.

Elvis Fatovic

Elvis Fatovic is the National Head Coach of the men’s water polo team, The Aussie Sharks. Hailing from Croatia, Fatovic has been in charge of the Sharks since the beginning of 2013 and thus far led the Sharks to their top performances in a decade at the 2013 World Championships and 2014 World Cup. Fatovic is regarded as one of the best left headers in Croatian water polo history, and competed at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. Fatovic won the 2012 Olympic Games Gold medal with Croatia as an assistant coach to Ratko Rudic.