Olympics Make Big Changes for 2020: Two Steps Forward or Three Steps Back?

Good evening water polo faithful,

As some of you may be aware, there have been a number of exciting changes in the sport of water polo, especially on its largest stage, the Olympics. The Olympics have made a massive expansion on their sporting repertoire since 2016 with the return of baseball, and softball while introducing surfing and skateboarding among those included. 2016 also saw the first time that golf was included in the modern Olympiad.

FINA has also become involved with the changes to the Olympic program by adding two more teams for the 2020 Women’s Water Polo Olympics Bracket for a total of 12 competitors. This, has been widely received as a major landmark, to which I personally agree. For years, the men’s bracket had a group play where a chance to place in the Olympics is at stake.

The women’s bracket on he other hand, did not have anything at stake despite the bracket play determining seeding. This has cut and limited the opportunities for women to expand the sport in their own right. With this newfound expansion, there is by far a major progression being made for the sake of women in sport which I look forward to watching.

However, there has also been a drawback to this addition: roster sizes are being cut from 13 to 11 players.

That’s right: in order for two women’s teams to be added, roster sizes were also cut by two. That means for a team that starts six field players and a goalie (for seven total), there are only four substitutes for an entire game.

This, of course is not the first time that FINA has tried to make changes to the water polo game before, and this by far is guaranteed to make a substantial impact. While the women are able to experience a step forward with more teams, a step is taken back for the fact that FINA is undercutting the styles of play teams are able to utilize.

With this change, who is to say a coach out there will now be more interested in going with the horizontal, driving into Center, and counterattacking style of play rather than the vertical positional play some teams prefer. It’s not to say that you cannot find a center who is able to swim from end to end, but the position itself requires conditioning and training that is vastly different in comparison to perimeter players.

This now raises a number of questions from a positional standpoint, however one has stood out form the rest: what does this mean for Center players?

To put it simply, Centers will not be run out of business, but rather experience a revitalization in the position known as the Utility. By definition, a Utility is a player who is capable of playing whatever field position a coach tells them to play. However, at the college level, this term has been used loosely and is more likely to be used as a glorified perimeter player who may have some experience at the 2 meter, but not enough for a coach to designate them as such.

With that said, at the Olympic level, it is imperative to have theses utility players bred to be like goalies: a special breed. This would mean looking at their capability to have strong legs but make it end to end of the pool. It will mean the player needs to continue to dominate and have confidence as a 2 meter player, while still being able to be involved in the counter attack. If a player can achieve these marks, they will become the most sought after and desired player on any roster. It will indicate that the position will become the most marketable to any national team coach.

However, there is still time until the number is finalized, and plenty of more time to debate. With that said, in case anyone is asking, yes a coach should still bring two goalies, because who in their right mind believes nothing could go wrong there?

Until next time, I will see you on the deck.

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