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.
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.
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.