Questions and Answers with USA Water Polo
Coach John Vargas
John Vargas, Newport Beach, Calif., is no stranger to Olympic water polo competition. In 1992, Vargas was a member of the US Olympic Team which finished fourth at the Barcelona Games. Vargas joined the national team coaching staff after those Olympic Games and served as an assistant coach to Richard Corso at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In September of 1996, Vargas was named head coach of the US Men’s National team. He will lead the squad through the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Q: Coach, Water Polo is known as one of the most physically demanding sports. Can you describe a typical week’s work out schedule for your team?
A: “It would be best to describe it in two weeks. We train every other weekend as a group. Meaning that the Northern California and Southern California teams come together. Right now we’re split at about 75%-25%. 75% of the players are down in Southern California and 25% are in Northern California, so we don’t have the opportunity or the money to finance to compete or do what we call centralized training, have everybody together, so we’re split up in two different areas. Every other weekend, we come together. They have also been given a weight lifting manual that was set up by the coach at the Olympic Training Center. It’s a 4-5 day per week training process that starts off from a high strength phase to power strength phase. It’s a year long schedule, but it has phases where we get into physical condition toward the World Championships in Perth, Australia. They should be physically at their best weight lifting. We have also given them a training/swimming schedule, that they follow four days a week. The swimming and weight lifting is on their own.”
Q: Because water polo is a team sport, are there really any individual stand-outs on the U.S.A. team?
A: “What we’re trying to focus on is total team water polo, and to say that one person is better than the next is not necessarily true. What is true is that if somebody is scoring goals that might be their role, or that might be that particular game where they are scoring a lot. It might even be their position and that’s why they’re scoring. Defensively, it’s the same thing. We want to be known as a total team. Ultimately, my goal is to have everyone playing at a high level, and as a team, we’re attacking everyone at a high level.”
Q: You have had a very successful career in Water Polo, both as a player and as a coach. Can you offer any advice to aspiring Olympic hopefuls?
A: “You want to be a well balanced person. The Norwegians came up with what they call a 24-hour athlete. You want to be responsible socially, athletically, scholastically, in all areas of your life and what you’re trying to create is achievers. To me that’s what we’re looking at. You have this atmosphere of trying to achieve at all levels, or all parts of your life, you’re going to be successful in whatever you do, and if you choose water polo and you attack water polo like you do other parts of your life, you’re going to be good.”
Q: The sport of water polo is very popular in Europe;does the game differ in style in the US ?
A: “Internationally, it’s considered a European sport, and they’re over there competing against each other daily. It’s so easy to travel within their countries and play top competition, where we can’t do that – we’re on the plane for 13 hours. As for their style, we can’t afford to copy it because they are perfecting it constantly. They have a different style, and the different style is they attack in a slow and methodical way, and if you make a mistake, boom, they’re going to make you pay for it. We come from a swimming background and with that in mind, what we want to do is be more aggressive on defense and swim and counter. When they counterattack, it is because somebody made a mistake, then they fly on you, but more than likely they’re not going up and down the court like we will.”
Q: What is the biggest challenge preparing your team for the Olympics in Sydney, or is that too far out?
A: “It is too far out. Right now the big challenge is preparing for the World Championship in Perth, Australia. That’s difficult to do when we’re separated;we have 25% of the team in Northern California and 75% down south. Those aren’t even good percentages because we also have some players in Europe, so we’re spread out everywhere. The challenge is to try to get everybody together to compete against some teams and find out where we are before the major tournaments.”