Jennings coaches youth girls water polo team, passes on techniques

Carter Kangas, Staff Writer

Lauren Jennings (12) runs a conditioning drill for her club water polo team, Monday. Players worked on staying afloat with weight. Photo by Jenna Ho-Sing-Loy

Coaching is no simple feat. Learning the sport, connecting with the athletes, keeping your temper, encouraging team bonding, and finding a positive team mentality can be a difficult challenge that not everyone can execute effectively.

Lauren Jennings (12) has had many coaches over the course of her eight years playing water polo. Some good, some not so much. But all have played a role in influencing her water polo career.

Now, Jennings has the opportunity to take on the role of the coach and teach others about the sport she loves so much.

She has volunteered with the Pacific Polo club for years, working with other athletes in the water, but never getting the chance to be in a real coaching position. 

That all changed over the summer when Jennings was offered the opportunity to work one-on-one with younger athletes.

“I started coaching with volunteering [to assist] at my club’s splash camps that they do,” she said. “This past summer, I again was just going to go volunteer, except now they’re like, ‘Hey, do you want to just  run it?’ So I had the 10 and under group for splash camp.” 

Jennings said she was apprehensive at first, but quickly learned that coaching was something that helped improve her own skills and form bonds with other water polo players.

“I was planning on stopping when high school season came around, but I love the girls that I coach and I love the job,” Jennings said. “I will say coaching has definitely improved my game, because it’s changed the way that I look at the sport. Like the logistics of it, but then also just like the mentality of the sport. It’s helpful to be told what to do and how to change your technique, but it’s a lot different when you try to correct others’ mistakes in the pool.”

Jennings wants to create a friendly atmosphere that is still competitive, helping run camps that drew her into water polo when she was only 10.

“Something that I enjoy is being able to provide [a better environment] at Pacific because with two coaches, we can help out more girls, all the while keeping it still pretty friendly and helpful and beneficial,” Jennings said. “The splash camp I worked at was a great way [for the kids] to not necessarily make a commitment to a team, but also get experience with the sport in a non-judgmental way because it’s no experience required. So for me, that’s just kind of something I want to do: introduce the love of the sport. And the joy that it can bring rather than focusing on the skills themselves. I’m not really worried about swimming or being focused on improving at all. I just want them in the water and enjoying playing the game.”

And by keeping scrimmages and practices more friendly, Jennings hopes to encourage her players to focus on improving themselves and having fun with the game rather than only winning.

“I specialize in coaching set players and guards because those are the positions I have experience in,” Jennings said. “I can remember one girl who was a guard that I coached. We were warming up for a game. I know winning is fun and I really like it, but I wanted to make sure that my team was going to have fun even if they lost. So I went up to the guard on my team and told her to work on her own game, and to not let the opponent set player get any goals. And that would be a win.”

With all the coaches Jennings has had, she knows lots of coaching styes she could try to model. She still remembers a favorite coach that she tries to replicate with her own coaching style. 

“I really try to be like the coach I had when I was 12, coach Andy,” Jennings said. “I was on the team with a few of my friends and I still notice some of the habits that we all have because of coach Andy. She was a very fun coach who never had boring practices, while still keeping things structured and making sure we got things done. The girls I coach now are around the same age as I was when Andy was my coach, so they just want to have fun. I try to mix having fun with being on task.”

Despite the high school season being underway and having her first game today Jennings has no plans to stop coaching and said she hopes to balance school, water polo and coaching moving forward.

“When I coach, my day will start at 7:30 in the morning and go until nine at night,” Jennings said. “It helps that my high school coach also coaches with me at my club. She knows my schedule, so she is very understanding of my situation. I want to continue coaching even during season, but I still have to think about school and keeping up with the Westview team. I just don’t want anything to slip.”