BIWPA team has had the opportunity to interview Toni Esteller, an internationally renowned water polo coach.
Born in Barcelona in 1955, Esteller has been the National Spanish Water Polo Team coach, and his career has been linked to CN Barcelona water polo club, for more than 20 years.
Throughout this interview, you’ll see how his understanding of water polo is influenced from his strong personality, both in sport and in daily life.
Direct and sincere, he doesn’t mince words, he doesn’t leave anyone indifferent. We hope you enjoy the interview as much as we enjoyed talking to him.
Hi Toni! For those who do not know you, how will you define yourself as a coach?
My greatest attribute is the ability to understand the players: both in training and in matches. I can read what they do, what they think and how they act. I am very stubborn, or rather, very insistent. At all.
You have been the coach of your own son, Joel. How was the experience?
I was particularly demanding with him. As a coach, you are prepared for a lot of situations, but I think nobody is prepared to train their own blood. It’s almost impossible to separate the human side from the sport side, so imagine how difficult it was in those circumstances. As a coach, I was too hard with my son. He took it better than me, because he has endured impossible situations.
And how do you remember your time as the Spanish National Team coach?
I have different memories. I was very young, around 32 years old, when I started training the absolute team. And meanwhile, there was a boycott against me …
Of C.N. Montjuïc. During my first year as national coach, I combined it with the task of coaching CN Catalunya. C.N. Montjuïc, one of my opponents in the Spanish league at the time, wanted to prove that being CN Catalunya’s coach while I was training the National Team could generate me a conflict of interest.
Was there such a conflict of interest?
I followed strictly sport reasons. Please remember that I accepted the federation’s proposal to train the absolute once the league had already begun. But Montjuïc’s team still thought that I would favor the C.N.Catalunya. Even after I select 8 Montjuïc’s players for the absolute team, the high pressure still continued.
How did you face that pressure?
I believe that everything that happens to you, teaches you as a coach and as a person. Not only the boycott teaches me. Also other things have formed me: the transition of the national water polo team; resign due to the differences with steering committee… All that set of feelings and experiences is what generates the learning of the individual and the coach, it’s a continuous process.
Why did you quit as the Spanish water polo team coach?
First of all, I went in and I found a boycott, and I thought: “What is this?!”. Then, after making the transition team, certain differences with the directive, about the approach of the Olympics in 1992, made me decide: I resigned. And I resigned only one and a half year before of achieving the dream of any water polo coach: be the Spanish National Team Coach for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
Do you regret your decision?
It was hard. A lot. And I have to admit that at first, I didn’t want to live the Olympics, I would rather go on vacation. But my wife encouraged me to face the Olympics. And fortunately, Santi Carreras from Catalunya Radio, gave me the opportunity to live the experience of the Olympics as a journalist, working in their radio broadcasting. And I’ll always be grateful to him, because it was an amazing and different experience. So thanks to that, finally I really enjoyed the Olympic movement, in a way that I would never expect.
What do you think about water polo’s social consideration in our country?
We must be critical. In Catalunya we brag to be a multidisciplinary sports country. We are proud of our athletes, we have many Olympic, etc. But it isn’t enough. I can see more and more Franco’s time reminisces in politicians’ attitudes about sports issues. In Franco’s era, soccer and bulls were used as a political element. Currently, the soccer has some similar connotation, because a group of politicians uses this sport for achieving their own political considerations. I miss a more true, solid and clear support for the minority sports, like water polo needs.
What do you mean exactly?
The political elites fill their mouths every four years, or when we win a world hockey championship. But beyond that, in our day to day, that support doesn’t exist. I would like to make them understand that there is something more than the Barça-Madrid match in the Catalan sports life. And despite of being an FCB supporter – I’m a really culé-, I consider that the political elite is concerned to go to sports events only if they report them media presence, as Barça matches do. Furthermore, FC Barcelona is an entity that is fully consolidated at street! Politicians still go to their matches although the FCB does not require the political support. They should support all the other sports that really ‘needs them’, such as water polo.
But some political representatives have assisted to other sports matches, isn’t it?
Political elites have sport as a tool for the polls. The discourse of the political caste in relation to minority sports are all words, and only a few actions. The politicians just come to watch the matches of sports (considered native, or minority sports) on rare occasions or when the elections are close. It’s that clear.
What do you suggest?
I’d like Mr. Mas (Catalonia’s President) come to watch, for example, a water polo match at any time, and when no one expects him. Such a gesture would help to understand that there are more sports than football. With his presence, he would imply much more than sending the Councilor for Sports; and it would also help to disseminate and enhance the Catalan culture and our sports.
Is Catalonia a leader in water polo’s world?
In this country we have very valid ideas to support water polo, and another ones to support all the other ‘minority’ sports; but all of us need more. In water polo case, BIWPA’s project forward and shows that Catalans have much to say and to do for this water polo. So with a bit more institutional support, and social consideration, with CAR of Sant Cugat’s facilities, with all the clubs, the National Team, and along with many other agents, Catalunya can be erected in a short term as a major world leader in water polo, for sure.
What do you think about BIWPA’s project?
Featuring an unusual and highly dynamic approach, BIWPA’s project is already a solid reality. Very often, and for different reasons, clubs can not absorb the individual growth, and the development to the excellence, of each player. So, more and more, theses periods for sport technification are necessary and very useful, both for clubs and players. BIWPA is a very good new and an attractive idea, so I want it to be a very successful platform, because it facilitates the improvement of any national or international player. This project goes far beyond the common concept of an entertainment sports program or camp. It is a serious commitment about the young water polo players and their improvement to achieve the sporting excellence.
Finally, could you answer with a few words to complete the sentences … ?
Beach or pool … beach.
A favorite food … ‘arroz a banda’, a south-catalonian typical rice cooked in fish broth, accompanied by alioli sauce.
Water polo is … a sport and a fantastic job.
A good-luck charm or ritual … I haven’t any now, but the last good-luck charm was my daughter’s doll: a green frog. It was funny because as my son was on the water, my daughter’s doll was in my hand.
A slogan to win … it doesn’t exist, that’s for books. I believe in preparation.
Thank you for your time Toni!
Thank you too, and wish you all the best with BIWPA’s project