Coach Graham becomes a professor for “water polo class”

Pacific men’s and women’s Coach James Graham.

Pacific men’s and women’s Coach James Graham.

Welcome to Water Polo 101 with University of the Pacific men’s and women’s Coach James Graham.

Graham stepped away from the poolside and into the virtual classroom Nov. 10 to discuss his sport and coaching philosophy during a webinar hosted by Pacific Athletics as part of the “Pacific Together” fall event series. Much of the session was geared toward helping educate people who don’t know much about water polo.

Graham is entering his 13th year as men’s coach and ninth year leading the women’s program. His men’s team was national runner-up last season.

Here are five aspects of the sport and the Pacific programs that he shared with attendees:

Why does the whistle blow so much?

“Most of the whistles you hear are what we consider ordinary fouls. Then you have about three seconds where they can’t contact you and disrupt your passing ability. When you start hearing more whistles, it’s usually a penalty.

“I watch game film on mute. If you don’t hear any whistles, it’s an intuitive sport. But once you start hearing all the whistles, you start to get sidetracked.”

What is happening under the pool’s surface?

“The excitement for the players is under water. If we were to show you clips of things happening under water, the offense is usually attempting to get a handful of (swimming) suit. The defense is struggling to try to get free. The referee is trying to judge who is instigating all of this stuff.

“But when the ball comes inside (close to the net), that’s when the defense usually lays the hammer down and is more likely to be committing the foul.”

Are goalies a part of the offense?

“Throwing is a big deal for goalies. If you have a very accurate goalie, it can change your offense. For me, and for our team, we have an offense that is transition oriented and dynamic, so we want to be able to move the ball down the pool. A goalie who can put a throw on a dime is a next-level weapon.”

Does the sport use set plays or free-flowing play?

It depends where you are. In the United States, there are a lot more set plays used. In Europe, it is more like soccer and free flowing. After time outs, you usually have more set plays. It’s a philosophy or a system more than it is set plays.”

How did Pacific become known as Water Polo U?

“Honestly, I have to give credit to one of our media people, Kevin Wilkinson, who at one point helped me take it in this direction. Online there was a message board and some people there called us Water Polo U. And he saw that and made it into a hashtag for us. I thought it was brilliant and represents what we are trying to do.

“We go all in for our programs to create an environment that is unique. We want people to come out to our games, but we don’t want people to (just) watch our games. We want you to come take part in our event. We want you to be fully engaged and part of that crazy environment that we have here. This is all part of that Water Polo U.”