Water Polo

For the past 8 months or so, my oldest son has been part of an Intro to Water Polo class and team, offered by the local aquatic sports club, CASO (Club aquatique du Sud-Ouest). He’s been to weekly practices and several matches. In March, we went to matches that were part of Les Jeux de Montréal, and annual sport event for kids. The games were held in the Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard, where the water polo matches for the 1976 Olympics were held; that was pretty neat for me, since I’m an Olympics buff. Another time, we had a parents vs kids match, where the rules were, let’s say, a bit looser (there were definitely more than 5 players on each side!). That was fun, but it also made me realize how difficult it is to *not* touch the bottom of the pool!

Yesterday, we went to the final tournament of the season for the “Ligue des Pamplemousses” (Grapefruit League), the league of about 8 kids teams in the Montreal area. Antoine is in the Under 12 age category. Since his team was ranked in first place after the rest of the season, they skipped the quater-final round, and went straight to the semi-final, against the CDN-Chaos. What a match it was! Antoine defended really well, it was by far his best game of the season. Him and Number 8 from the opposing team were always together, each one defending very well, neither giving the other player an inch. Then, in the last period, Antoine scored a beauty of a goal. He swam with the ball, kept it out of reach from the defense, looked for someone to pass to, couldn’t find anyone, so instead, he shot to the top of the net, and in it went! Final score, 4-1 for CASO! On to the final gold-medal game of the season!

The final game was to be played against Laval. They had a strong-looking team; 11 players versus our 8 (so they were able to change players more often and keep everyone more refreshed), and one 12 year old who was a giant compared to the others; he looked like he was 15 or 16!

So, on to the game. It was a close battle, back and forth, back and forth. Several close calls, the ball hitting the crossbar, or sailing right over. At the end of the first two 5m25s periods (there are 4 periods total), the score was tied: 3-3 and then 5-5. Then in the 3rd period, disaster for the Laval team: the goalie, in trying to avoid a rushing attacker, put his hand too far back and ended up putting the ball in his own net. Goal for CASO! Laval battled back from that mistake, and the period finished with them ahead, 8-6. One period left!

By the start of the final period, you could tell that the kids on both sides were tired, but especially for CASO. Antoine told me that the kids on his team were more than nervous; they had only been in the lead once in the game, always battling back to tie it, but never able to get ahead. Could they actually tie the game again, and then take the lead when it counted?

More swimming back and forth, more missed chances on both sides. Then CASO got a penalty shot awared to them, and they scored! It was now a one goal game, 8-7. But not long after, Laval scored again. At this point, it should have been 9-7, but the person in charge of the electronic scoreboard made a mistake, and made it 8-8! The Laval parents in the stands got all excited, waving at the officials, trying to get them to see the error. Meanwhile, the kids kept playing; CASO scored! In all the confusion with the scoreboard I didn’t see how they scored, but all of a sudden it said 8-9 in CASO’s favour! Finally the officials noticed the error, and they fixed it. It was actually 9-8 for Laval. More furious battling, and then another penalty shot for CASO, 9-9! Then, with less than a minute to go, CASO went straight to the net, with their strongest swimmer going for it. Right then, with 36 seconds to go, Laval called a timeout. CASO’s momentum was stopped, but everyone got a chance to breathe. Laval changed their goalie at this point. When play started again, the CASO player hesitated and hesitated, before finally taking the shot with only 6 seconds left. The goalie made the save! Only a couple of seconds before we’d be going to overtime!

And then disaster struck again.

The new goalie for Laval reached back to throw the ball far down the pool, but… she reached back too far. The ball went into the net. And then, game over. CASO won!

When this happened, the Laval parents were in shock. They couldn’t believe what just happened. Stunned silence. For a second there I thought, no, the officials can’t let our team win that way, that’s a really shitty way to win. But I saw the Laval coaches react (one knocked over a chair). So did the officials. Everyone knew that she had actually put the ball in her own goal. It counted. It was over. The rules are the rules. If they hadn’t counted it as a goal, CASO could definitely have argued for it. The Laval players were devastated. A couple of them were crying when they walked away from the pool. The parents were still in shock, none of them believing what had just happened.

I thought a lot about this game yesterday and today. First and foremost, what a horrible way to lose a game. The kids on the losing team looked bitterly disappointed. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad life experience to go through something like that. On the one hand, it’s just a game. Laval got their silver medals in a little ceremony afterwards. On the other hand, learning to deal with disappointment, adversity, and “bad luck”, is an important life skill. Hopefully, the cliché of “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” holds true for these kids. Still, I couldn’t help but feel bad for them. The league does what it can to promote fair play, and teamwork, and just having fun while playing. But during the Jeux de Montréal, I saw matches that ended being 13-0 or 14-2, total blowouts. Those couldn’t have been fun for the kids on either side. This match was different, so unbelievably close throughout. CASO got a few lucky breaks, but then, so did Laval; crossbars and timeouts at just the right moment (not mention having more players) certainly helped them stay just one step ahead of CASO for most of the game. One thing’s for sure: no player on either team is (hopefully) going to make the same mistake again when it’s their turn in goal.

What a season it was. I never thought I’d get so excited watching kids play water polo (sorry for the lack of pictures, I was too into watching the game!), but the coaches of all teams really did an excellent job with their teams. You could see the progress that individual children made. The CASO coaches (Marin, Vincent, and all the others) always encouraged the kids, showed them how to improve their techniques, and were great all around. Bravo to CASO and all the other teams in La Ligue des Pamplemousses!