Water polo making most of better scouting
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) When Merrill Moses first started playing for U.S. water polo, the team manager would pack a TV and VCR for overseas tournaments, and players would watch VHS tapes of their games. Tony Azevedo remembers waiting and waiting for the play he wanted to see.
On the eve of the United States' opener at the Rio de Janeiro Games, Moses can scout an opponent's tendencies on his phone. Azevedo can watch every one of his shots for the last week. Water polo, one of the smallest sports in the Olympic program, has come a long way.
''It's time management,'' said Moses, a three-time Olympian who turns 39 on Aug. 13. ''We're definitely using our time more wisely and preparing in a much better way.''
When world champion Serbia takes on Hungary in the first men's game on Saturday, followed by the U.S. and defending Olympic champion Croatia, there will be no need for any introductions. Coaches are sharing more video than before, helped by the ease of technology, and USA Water Polo sends a staffer to major championships for video work - even when the U.S. isn't participating in the competition.
The increase in accessible scouting information puts water polo in line with some of the world's biggest sports, where video libraries have been more commonplace for a longer time. But Azevedo, playing in his fifth Olympics - a record for the U.S. program - thinks there is plenty of room to grow.
''I think the more and more we start to understand our sport and people start investing more technology into our sport, then we'll actually be able to take it to a whole new level,'' Azevedo said Friday. ''I think it's just started happening as water polo started growing in the United States and really outside of Europe.''
The use of underwater cameras also has added another level to water polo scouting. Some major competitions like the Olympics show the thrashing and wrestling that goes on below the surface, giving coaches a closer look at how players are fighting for leverage in key areas of the pool.
The 34-year-old Azevedo said the additional information helps in a variety of ways.
''I mean we've used it, of course, against opponents, saying 90 percent of this guy's main shots or his goals are high left,'' he said. ''We've even used it against ourselves, where you take a guy and say `Hey, you shoot 90 percent of your shots here. You need to start learning how to shoot, you know, cross cage or a lob or something else because people are going to catch on.' So it's really made both sides better.''
Shooting tendencies could take on even more importance in Rio, where tie games go straight to a shootout after regulation. Think penalty kicks in soccer.
Whether it's Moses or his backup, 6-foot-8 McQuin Baron, in goal for the tiebreaker, each of them can take a closer look on where shooters like to go in those situations.
For Moses, an assistant coach at Pepperdine who takes a lot of pride in his preparation, the abundance of information presents a different challenge.
''There's a fine line where you don't want to, I'd say, overthink things,'' he said. ''A shooter has his tendencies. I watch it to pick that up, but you also got to understand that he's not always going to do that. When I was younger, I used to go `Oh, he's always shooting there,' and now, I kind of know the tendencies, but I'm still reading the situation.''
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap