Pomona College Magazine
Volume 45, No. 1
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Sports / Water Polo Coach Alex Rodriguez
Who Rules the Pool?

By Mary Marvin

In a rare double, Coach Alex Rodriguez led both the men’s and women’s water polo teams to SCIAC championships last school year. Playing water polo since high school, Rodriguez (nickname: “A-Rod”) was an All-American at Pepperdine, and has coached at Pomona for four years. Now PCM takes a dip in the pool with Rodriguez, who discusses his coaching style and Pomona’s recent success—and tells us what really goes on underwater.

The Back Story
I tried to play basketball in high school, but I wasn’t real tall and not a good shooter. I had good ball handling skills and swam so water polo was a better fit. When I went to Pepperdine, I begged my way onto the team. I’d been in the CIF finals in high school and lost, so winning the NCAA championship in college was the biggest prize of all and changed my view of winning and losing. I was not the coach’s favorite. I was kind of a pain in the butt, so I have a high level of patience with mischievous types.

Big Moments
The Pomona-Pitzer men’s team had played Redlands the year before and won a pretty emotional game by one point—it was the first time we’d beaten them in 11 years. I think that helped us last fall. It gave us confidence, made us believe and led to our first SCIAC championship in 27 years. The turning point for the women happened two years ago and also came down to a game with Redlands. We beat them at their own pool, which was especially exciting for the seniors who had suffered a lot during their four years here. Defensively, that game was amazing; we totally shut them down.

In a big game, I tell the kids there are going to be moments we don’t play well and that they have to be prepared and try to survive the game. If someone makes a mistake, I don’t try to break them down. I hold my tongue, try to keep their confidence high, make them laugh if I can. You don’t let your nerves dictate what you’re doing.

Let Them Play
It’s all about preparation, whether we’re getting ready for a game during the season or an NCAA tournament. I believe that if I’ve done my job as a coach you won’t notice me during the game. I try not to be the center of attention; I want to let the kids play the game. My players will tell you I’m a lot more vocal at practices.

Doing the Egg-Beater
There is never a moment during a game when you’re standing still. You’re always egg-beatering [treading water]. The sport uses the whole body—your legs, arms and core muscles. You have to use your body to go from being horizontal to vertical, to be able to slide or lunge out of the water. Conditioning, including weight lifting and core work, is very important. The players swim about 12,000 yards a week, some of the time with weight belts.

Beneath the Surface
About 80 percent of the sport goes unseen—the fans and referees don’t see what happens underwater, which means there can be a lot of kicking, grabbing and sometimes cheating. I’d say the most confusing thing for someone watching the game for the first time is the number of whistles. Some of those whistles signal minor fouls—if a player grabs another player and causes him to let go of the ball. You want players to be able to move the ball around—if there were no fouls, the players would be grabbing another player all the time and it would be pretty boring.

Dream Job
My office is right here—I get to look out through my window at a pool, and work with great kids. I still get in and play a little bit; defend myself against the guys. During the season, I play Saturday basketball games with the coaches and some of the parents. A lot of people would kill to have my lifestyle.

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