Thursday, July 5, 2012

Going for gold (USA men’s water polo coach Terry Schroeder discusses 2012 games)

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GOOOOOOAL!—Team USA water polo head coach Terry Schroeder celebrates a goal during a match against Italy at Yingdong Natatorium during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The U.S. topped Italy, 12-11. 
Photo courtesy of Jerry Lai/US PRESSWIRE GOOOOOOAL!—Team USA water polo head coach Terry Schroeder celebrates a goal during a match against Italy at Yingdong Natatorium during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The U.S. topped Italy, 12-11. Photo courtesy of Jerry Lai/US PRESSWIRE
Q&A By Dashiell Young-Saver
Terry Schroeder, head coach of the U.S. men’s water polo team, is hungry for Olympic gold.
Having tasted silver three times, twice as a player (1984 and 1988) and once as a coach (2008), the longtime Westlake Village resident is determined to lead this year’s group to the top of the medal stand.
The last time the U.S. won gold in men’s water polo was in 1904.
The team has been training in the Conejo Valley since January at California Lutheran University and Oaks Christian High and will be leaving for London later this month. Most of the players have Olympic experience.
And for Schroeder, former captain of the U.S. national team, London represents his sixth Olympics.

FIRED UP—Terry Schroeder won silver medals with Team USA men’s water polo as a player (1984 and 1988) and as a head coach (2008). 
Photo courtesy of Jerry Lai/US PRESSWIRE FIRED UP—Terry Schroeder won silver medals with Team USA men’s water polo as a player (1984 and 1988) and as a head coach (2008). Photo courtesy of Jerry Lai/US PRESSWIREThe Acorn spoke with the local water polo legend last week about his past Olympic experiences and the status of this year’s U.S. men’s water polo team.
Acorn: What made you fall in love with coaching?
TS: What I love most about coaching is developing relationships with the guys and seeing a team come together. . . . Also, helping a group of players perform better collectively than they could ever perform by themselves is really a joy for me.

A: Do you feel like your experience as a player, going from representing the Pepperdine team to a whole nation, helped you become a better coach for the Olympic water polo team?
TS: There’s no doubt that (my experience as a player helped my coaching). When I first got involved with the national team I was an assistant coach. But my experience as a player and the fact that I had played on the national team for 14 years and been on four different Olympic teams earned me instant respect with the guys. And when you have that respect, you certainly are a better coach.
We went from being the ninthranked team in the world to winning the silver medal in Beijing (in 2008), and it was incredible for me just to be a part of that. As we’ve gone through this process now over the past four years heading toward London, we’ve got a lot of guys that are in a similar situation as I was in 1992, when (I was) in the twilight of my career, playing in my last Olympic games. We have probably five to seven guys that are in that same category now, and I’m able to share some of my experiences with them, good and bad.
A: Looking at your ninthplace ranking in 2008, what did you do as a coach to motivate the players to defy the odds and take home the silver medal?
TS: When I stepped in, the team was a group of experienced and talented players who had gone through three coaches in three years—me being the third. So it was a divided group that was a bit dysfunctional in some ways.
But the bottom line was that they were hungry . . . to have somebody help them . . . get on the right track to winning a medal. We created a vision that was reachable: Get back to the podium.
It had been 20 years, back to when I played in 1988, since USA men’s water polo won a medal. . . . We had to first create that belief that they could do it. Then we had to start bringing them together as a team.
We did a lot of team-building activities, like having different sports heroes (such as Rafer Johnson and Tommy Lasorda) talk to these guys. . . . We also went up to Colorado Springs and did a half-day boot camp with the Navy Seals. . . . By the time the Olympics rolled around, we were family. We had a group of guys that loved each other, that would go to battle for each other, and it showed.
A: That sounds like an amazing experience to go through as a coach. So, coming off of that great success in 2008, what developments have there been in the training and the roster of the Olympic team from then to now?
TS: We have 10 out of 13 guys back on our Olympic team. So the guys are older and a little more experienced. We certainly don’t have to build the belief system. They now believe that we can beat anybody on any given day, which is huge. . . . We’ve had our shares of ups and downs . . . but we are one goal away from being in the Olympic final again.
In the non-Olympic years leading up to 2012, we have had very little time with the guys, because nowadays they play professionally in Europe from September until the third week in May. It’s really hard to build that team chemistry in that short amount of time.
So as a team, the guys decided that they were going to forgo their contracts in Europe this year. In January, we started full-time work with the entire team, and we have been training nine practices a week at CLU and at Oaks . . . so we’re back to that position now where we’ve spent a good amount of time together.
A: What other new challenges are you expecting at this year’s games?
TS: Another big challenge is going to be keeping these guys healthy. We are going to be the oldest team in the pool in the Olympics, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hungary was the oldest team in the pool in 2008, and they won (gold). But we have a few guys nursing injuries right now. . . . A big factor in this success will be staying healthy through what is a grueling two-week Olympic tournament (eight games in 16 days).
A: With three silver medals under your belt, how thirsty are you for gold this year?
TS: It’s certainly one of the biggest reasons I’m still out there. I’ve come so close, as a player and as a coach. For me, to sit up there in the stands and watch our guys get silver medals around their necks was really bittersweet. I was super proud of them on one hand, but super disappointed for them on the other hand that we didn’t quite fulfill that dream. . . . The silver medal is a tough one . . . but in the years gone by for me, I can say that I’m really proud of the two silver medals I received as a player.
But the fact that I’m still in the middle of it all (shows that) I want that gold for these guys. I want them to have a chance at making history and be the first team from the United States in more than 100 years to bring home that gold medal.
A: What do you think the chances are for this year’s team to win the gold medal in London?
TS: I think that our chances are good. . . . I wouldn’t want to be on the deck for any other team. I think there are seven teams right now that are all probably within a goal of each other (for the title).
I really do believe that it is going to be the most competitive Olympic water polo tournament ever. . . . I feel pretty good about where we are at right now and what our chances are.

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