If you ask most coaches, they will tell you that one of the most important
elements of their team’s 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
continue to go quietly about their business, doing the “dirty work” 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 the impact a defensive player makes,
it is not uncommon to see the game’s best defenders 'fly under the radar'
and not get the credit they deserve.
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 goalie’s number of saves.
Rarely will the recaps make mention of a defensive player’s 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 team’s
offense to change their strategy, simply because a defender is not
allowing the opposition’s best offensive player from getting the ball? It
may not show up in specific statistical categories like steals or forced
turnovers, but it might nonetheless 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?
This caused me to think back to my athletic career, starting in
adolescence. I remember playing little league soccer back when I was young
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. There was never a category for defensive players.
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 a more experienced Evanston High School team by an 8-4 score.
Later that year, we faced them again, only we had more time to prepare and
work on both team and individual defensive strategies, and as a result, we
won a low-scoring game by a 4-2 margin. We scored the same amount of goals
and probably had about the same amount of offensive talent and ability,
but it was our defense that stood out and held a talented team to a
As a reporter, I have been able to see the top teams’ best defensive
players at key tournaments, sectionals and the state tournament, but I
fear that there are many other great defensive players who are not being
rewarded for their efforts.
If you have any suggestions for how to reward the top defenders in
water polo (or any sport where defense is involved),
send an e-mail to email@example.com.