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FEATURE ARTICLE

 

The Importance of a Defensive Player

By Aaron Brown

 

PLAINFIELD, IL -- If you ask most coaches, they will tell you that one of the most important elements of their teamís success is having a high quality defender. Without this type of player, even the best offensive teams become vulnerable and have a hard time winning games when goals are hard  to come by. Yet, most of the statistics and glory in the sport of water polo is heaped upon high-scoring offensive players, while the top defenders generally continue to go quietly about their business, doing the ďdirty workĒ on the other end of the pool.

 

In covering the sport, one of the biggest difficulties I have faced is finding a way to reward the best defensive players. Unless someone is there to see each game to determine how much of a factor a defensive player was, it is not uncommon to see the gameís best defenders fly under the radar and not get the credit they deserve. And with 25-30 games per night to cover, itís virtually impossible to be everywhere to cover each game.

 

It is commonplace to see a game recap that mentions the leading scorer, it is possible that 2-3 other players also get credit for their offensive contributions, and it may be likely to list a goalieís number of saves. Rarely will the recaps make mention of a defensive playerís performance, since the position is naturally less about statistics and more about the impact a defensive player can have on a game. For example, how do you quantify the impact a defensive player may have in forcing a teamís offense to change their strategy, simply because a defender is not allowing the oppositionís best offensive player from getting the ball? It may not show up in a statistic like steals or forced turnovers, but it might change the outcome of the game and cause frustration to an opposing team.

 

Thus, the question for me as a reporter becomes: How do I reward defensive players for their efforts without being able to see every game? And itís not a question that has an easy answer to it, as I wouldnít pose the question if I could follow it up with an explanation.

 

This caused me to think back to my athletic career, starting in adolescence. I remember playing little league soccer back when I was a young lad and still have some of the local newspaper clippings that coaches sent in to report scores. It would list any player who scored a goal, recorded an assist, or made a save. Then, it would list offensive and defensive standouts, which were basically a listing of anyone who didnít score, earn an assist, or make a save. It was exciting to see your name in the paper as a child (and Iím sure it made parents proud too), but on reflection, I now know that every single team member was likely listed in one way or another in the report.

 

As a coach, I remember some of the most memorable performances coming from defensive players. In my first year as a coach, we lost an early-season game to Evanston 8-4. Later that year, we faced them again, only we had more time to prepare and work on both team and individual defensive strategies. As a result, we won a low-scoring game 4-2. We scored the same amount of goals and probably had about the same amount of offensive talent and ability later in the season, but it was our defense that stood out and held a more talented team to a mere two goal performance.

 

As a reporter, I have been able to see the top teamsí best defensive players at key tournaments, sectionals, and the state tournament, but I fear that there are many other great defensive players who are are not being rewarded for their efforts, performances, and work ethic.

 

If you have any suggestions for how to reward the top defenders in the state, feel free to send an e-mail to illpolo2010@gmail.com as I continue to search for an answer to this question.

 

 

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