All posts tagged xavi balaguer

Xavi, I have to tell you. You’re a classic in water polo. How did you start this love affair with water polo?

Thanks for the classic comment! Well, maybe, yes … I’ve been a player, coach, technical director and president of a club. I’ve played in all divisions of state water polo and I have also trained in all the divisions; great male and female and players. Thirty-odd years of romance with water polo.

My start was somewhat atypical. After practicing some sports, including swimming, one day at the Sabadell Swim Club I ran across veterans from a water polo team working out. They lacked goalkeeper and so I jumped in, certainly fortunately, lol … and from there I went on to train with the kids my age and in a short time started playing in the junior category and the Absolute team. It was about 1983 or ’84, and water polo snagged me for life.

Like everyone, you would have started in the water. What are your memories of that period of your life?

Well, I started swimming when I was 8 or 9 years old at the Badia facilities; newly built, but after a couple of years I fractured my arm (humerus bone), and I took a year off. After a while, I opted for football and tennis, but I had already acquired a basis to play water polo. My memories are of the mythical and now defunct “Muni” of Sabadell with his balloon. Training with Jordi Molet, Llorenç Carbo and with many players who currently are still some of my best friends, such as Pere Carrasco, Marc Alcón, Antoni Nouvilas or Joan Manel Xiberta.

When did you decide to pass from the water to the bench?

The first team I coached was the absolute feminine team the Sant Feliu Swimming Club, back in ’90. When I left the Sabadell team, I ended up in A-2 (now First) in Sant Feliu. There they proposed that I combined being the goalkeeper of the team with coaching the Women’s team and I accepted the challenge. They were two seasons in which I learned a lot and I liked being a coach. And I have never looked back. But you always feel like a player. Last season I played 1st division Catalan meetings with the absolute A from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).. against the kids who I now train!

What teams have you trained and what anecdotes could you tell us that you remember fondly?

I will recount in chronological order: Sant Feliu Swimming Club – Absolute Feminine, UAB Waterpolo – Absolute Masculine and Absolute Feminine, Sabadell Swimming Club – Absolute Masculine and Absolute Feminine and now, Poble Nou Swimming Club – Absolute Masculine and Masculine Cadet. Also, during my eight years in Sabadell I was also assistant coach with the junior teams, both masculine and feminine.

My best moments in water polo so far undoubtedly have been in the UAB Waterpolo Club. We created a club of friends with whom we came to play the First Division, playing there many seasons. I lived very intensely: as player, coach, president, managing the economy with the vice president Ermengol Llorenç … The anecdotes are endless, both in and out of the water: incredible results in relation to our structure, organized trips thinking about the after-match … and a philosophy of waterpolo that is unparalleled throughout state water polo. I should write a book!

But there is something I must tell you, that’s romantic, which is when I was coach of Sant Feliu Swim Club Feminine Team, I met a player, Olga, who I married, and she’s still is my wife. We have two children who also have become addicted to the pools. The best of water polo, haha!

Surely your great leap so far has been the Sabadell Swim Club, where you directed the absolute women’s draw …

Yes, I passed from a sensational club of friends, to accepting a professional challenge in the Club of my entire life. It was 4 years of sporting success winning 3 leagues, 2 Queen cups, reaching an F4 in the LEN Cup. We created, alongside Mateo Celma, Pere Carrasco and Toni Sánchez, all the feminine structure base of the club, and that allowed us to practically renew the entire great team we had for a very young team, which has been the basis of both Sabadell Swim Club (CNS) and the Spanish selection. They were bad times for resources and recognition of women’s water polo, but I always remember the selfless spirit and ability of work and sacrifice of that group of excellent players. Hence I took another leap at that big moment, to the Sabadell Absolute Masculine team. It was 2007.

Later you assumed the technical direction of the CNS but it did not quite jell. Why?

I collated the Technical Directorate of CNS with the post of coach of the Absolute Masculine Team for 4 years. I accepted it because it was a great dream for me. Imagine, your Club presents you the dream project. For the first time I became a full time professional. We built a project together with Pere Carrasco, who shared coaching and Technical Department duties with me, Marc Alcon as a manager responsible for the section, key managers such as Claudi Martí and a team of highly qualified coaches, basically from the Club.

The project for the masculine team was simple, but required time and patience: To provide continuity to our base-grown players to fill the absolute team with them, and for the wheel to continue rolling. In addition we would facilitate and promote their education. We wanted to create a strong Sabadell  Swim Club DNA with magnificent existing resources.

Thus, we gave meaning to our water resources, our Santa Clara School and our potential in categories (in 2008 we won all the championships of Spain of ages and we were youth champions in 2008, 09 and 10). In order to achieve that we became more flexible in technical hierarchies, we created tools and resources for our players (like the team B in 1st and 2nd Division, flexitime for studies, grants, etc.), we gave them a place in our absolute Divisón de Honor (top league in Spain) (DH), we showed them the way and instilled in them the CNS DNA. We did not want to be eternally condemned to sign up players to be up there and be proud of the fruits of labor of education of all our structures (technical, managerial and social).

In the women’s project we set a roadmap to be the best team in Europe. There was a very big “niche” there and we had to take advantage of that.

On a sporting level, the results were excellent: success in all age categories, a very competitive absolute masculine team with great recruitment of young players from the Club, a women’s team that was sweeping Spain and the European champion.

Economically we optimized and rationalized resources. In 2003, 10 persons were taking in 80% of a big budget. In 2011, redistribution had largely benefitted the feminine team, athletes and the technical base.

Everything evolved according to the objectives set, but sometimes in sport decisions are not made based on an analysis of validity of a project and of professionalism and the results of work; and unfortunately all the people who were part of this exciting project had to leave it in the middle of 2011.

This summer you are back to the bench after a period in which you have remained on the sidelines…

Well yes! The disappointment was huge in 2011 and I moved away from it a bit. I needed a “cure” from water polo and serious reflection. I studied a Master of Sports Business Administration at the UB and disconnected. But gradually I turned to engage in water polo, first W. UAB, after that with BIWPA and now coaching at Poble Nou Swim Club.

In June, a good friend and old salt in water polo, Joan Colomer, called and said that Poble Nou intended to continue with the waterpolo in a new work project with the base and with an absolute amateur and that he would be there. He asked if I felt like joining in. I was thrilled, stung by the water polo bug. I had a meeting with Jordi Homs, President, and found it a very good proposal. That left me only to get the ok from my family, but as they already know me, it seemed immediately clear to them.

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It has been a summer of rumors about Poble Nou. How have you lived?

Initially I distanced myself from the situation of the club, with the news coming about the possible resignation at DH and the possibility of water polo in general being seriously affected. I thought that situation was a shame for our waterpolo. When I agreed with Jordi I joined, and it was always clear that the part of base teams and all amateur would continue, no matter what happened with the professional team. The club has tried to find resources up to the last minute to follow the DH, but has not been successful.

What project awaits this Club with Xavi Balaguer in charge, and what technical team are you counting on to carry it out?

Well, the control is a matter of teamwork with Joan, and I will bring my expertise and experience to this exciting challenge in a historic club.

The club has undergone many changes of players in all categories. The situation of uncertainty that it has lived through for a time has made many athletes opt to go to other clubs, but we have registered 7 competing teams, covering all categories of waterpolo for this season. This shows that our commitment for the base is firm although we don’t have an excess of kids. The project moves to stabilize the various club teams in terms of number of players and provide reliability and quality to our training. We will become a training club of athletes and people which kids will not only not want to leave, but they will want to come to us.

We have 3 highly skilled technicians in a mixture of experience and youth: Joan Colomer who needs no introduction, with the little ones; Marc Martinez, a young coach looking forward to the experience; and myself with the older ones.

Moving on to BIWPA. You are a key pillar of this project. What is your role?

First, I’d like to say that I am very grateful to the trust Cristina, the authentic engine of BIWPA, and Yuri have placed in me from day one. I think I have a very BIWPA profile and because of my training and experience I am very cross-sectional and I can occupy and I do occupy different functions. In BIWPA I take care of the Technical Department, and that means training tasks and campus direction coach, and some tasks at the Academy. Lately I’m more oriented as manager of foreign teams in the Training Camps and as head of the large collaboration project with the Dutch Federation.

The arrival of foreign teams and the Academy make BIWPA pretty unique in the world.

The BIWPA concept is awesome. It has covered an essential gap in our sport. I have lived through the birth of the project from day one and I’ve always believed in it. In times of crisis and abuse at all levels to “second fiddle” waterpolo, an initiative arising  like BIWPA  is priceless. I think BIWPA complements the great work that the clubs do every day with a series of projects and high quality services such as Camp and Training Camps for teams. But I would highlight the Academy as innovative. From responsibility, professionalism and passion we offer a number of services that undoubtedly benefit our waterpolo with many synergies with federations, clubs and athletes. Other sports have had similar initiatives for years. Over time I think you will see the true importance and dimension BIWPA, here and in the world of international water polo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did you learn about BIWPA?

I was looking for a program that included water polo in order to finish my high school career. I searched water polo in Europe and BIWPA was one of the first results that I had found. I have studied Spanish before, so an option to pursue my water polo career in Spain really helped me make my decision.

What skills do you want to develop in the academy?

I hope to gain experience a lot of experience at the academy. The athletes who study at the university – that is where I want to play – have much more experience than I do. It takes 5 or 6 years of playing water polo in order to gain this type of knowledge. I hope to gain this type of experience with BIWPA. Also, my position is a center, so I would like to improve my defensive play.

Why did you choose Barcelona for your training?

Like I have mentioned earlier, I am familiar with the Spanish language and it seems to be a beautiful city.

 

 

What does it mean to come to Barcelona as a young water polo player?

I am not familiar with the history of water polo that exists in Spain since it is my first time here. When I came, Yuri and Cristina explained to me the long tradition of water polo that exists in Catalonia and the area of Barcelona.

And what are your first impressions?

Coming to play with BIWPA in Barcelona was a big change. It was definitely a challenge in a new city. Also, the demand for the sport was something that I had to adjust to. I was accustomed to training 2 hours for 4 days a week. When I came to Spain I training 5 hours every day.  So yes, it has been a big change for me.

How important is it to meet new people and learn a new language during this process?

Meeting new people was not the most important during this process; rather learning a new language wasthe most important to me. Knowing a different language can help you find work in the future, now I can speak Spanish!

Could you say anything in Spanish now?

(Laughs) Ask me a question.

Do you believe that BIWPA might have helped you choose a university with a scholarship?

(In Spanish) I believe that yes, after 10 months I have the experience to play a higher level than ever before.

Thanks to our Team Training Camp we have been able to have the community pools of Monjuic for two foreign teams during this week. On one hand, [we have] the young men of CNAC (Portugal), and on the other the female cadet of Melville (Australia). Both teams have trained throughout the week in double sessions, with the invaluable help of a Catalan team to intensify the practices, in this case the CN Rubí.

A developing sport

This is how Filipe Oliveira (Coímbra coach) and his players Henrique Silva and Tiago Dinis (International U17) define the water polo in Portugal. “The situation isn’t good. There isn’t very much culture, the country only thinks about soccer and doesn’t offer support to the other sports. There is little outreach so it is costly to try to gain momentum to get on the level of other countries like Spain for example”, assured Oliveira. In the opinion of the three, the Portuguese players need to improve their fitness and strength, in addition to learn[ing] the best tactical basis to reach the elite. Without going any further a player who reaches the level of the Spanish, French or Italians is seen as a rare breed.

If we stop the focus in practice, Tiago Dinis tells us that the main differences are the “in Spain they train with much more intensity, in addition to employing more hours of training, especially outside of the pool. They focus on developing the tactical/technical part and the strength of the players. The workouts here are more specific, while Portugal we touch base on swimming and passing.”  Additionally, the Portuguese coaches generally have difficulty finding solutions to the problems of their equipment due to a lack of proper training.

Henrique Silva believes that the fact of playing in CN Rubí is very positive for the Coímbra as it helps them improve their competitiveness: “in Portugal we are one of the best teams, but if we played in Barcelona’s league we would be competing for last place. The teams in Barcelona are more physical, taller and have better ball control than us.” Something that his teammate agrees with, adding that they are also “more intelligent, their movements are automatic because they train more, [they are] very organized and [there is a] great understanding between them. They don’t need to be quicker than us because they’re smarter”, said Dinis.

Finally, the assessment of the role of BIWPA in this camp is extremely positive in all aspects. For the coach, Filipe Oliveira, he noted that it enables “see[ing] another way of life, meet[ing] people at different levels and experience, to try to be the best in the world. Our goal should be to reach the level of Spain”.

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Improve from the same idea

Quite different is the case of Melville, a team from a small Australian town. We talked to three members of the female cadet: the coach Chloe Nella and players Brooke Pensini and Sarah Leavy. For the coach the water polo in is going through a good time, practicing a style that is “more physical, stronger, and quicker. Overall we train during the same hours as in Barcelona, even though in Australia there is only on pool for male and female teams, so is it difficult to do as much as we would like”, confesses Nella.

Their team chose as part of their program video sessions for morning workouts where the players can see from under water cameras their mistakes that they later correct in the pool with BIWPA coach Xavi Belaguer. For Sarah Leavy it’s an essential help to improve “different perspectives, such as the placement and use of the legs”.

In regards to the general practices, they don’t differ much from what they do in Australia, because as Brooke Pensini tells us they have “similar exercises and objectives. In Barcelona it is true that they are harder, you need to act and think quickly in order to take advantage of situations.” Thanks in part to the help of CN Rubí who has been a worthy support for the Australian cadets. The three members of Melville agree in pointing out that this is a physical and very competitive team that is also very organized.

In closing, there are always words of gratitude for the BIWPA experience, according to Chloe Nella “it has made us faster, stronger and more physical. The girls have learned to grab the opponents, hold the defenders and take advantage of it. Additionally, the defense has learned to stop the drive of their mark”

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