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Why I Coach: Varsity Water Polo Head Coach Mike Koziol

FORT WASHINGTON -- Mike Koziol is entering his 11th season as the Head Coach of Germantown Academy's boys water polo team, and since 2020 has been leading the GA Girls Team as well. With summer practices underway and the fall season right around the corner, Koziol gave some insight into why he coaches the sport.

How did you get your start in coaching?

The first water polo game I ever coached was during my senior year of high school at the Pennsylvania State Novice Tournament, which was like a JV state championship. A few of the other seniors on the team and I thought it would be fun and we had good ideas, so our coach let us do it. From that moment on, I loved it. That same year, I also coached a swim team at the Ambler YMCA.

My first actual coaching water polo experience was at a YMCA in Chicago. I found an aquatics director who needed a swim coach. She had pool space, and told me, “If you build it, it’s yours. Here’s two hours on a Sunday.” I just kept at it and by the time I was done, we had more than 20 kids and a young man who was in the Olympic Development Program (ODP) at 12U. I got my start at GA when I was fresh out of college.​

Did your playing experience influence your coaching style?

My philosophy as a coach is very different than what I knew as a player. I was a good player on a great team. Depth was a strength, and we had a big team that competed hard. I play a much tighter rotation. I do believe that you can compete with a lot of people, but I think that our rotation on game day is a little bit tighter.

What is your coaching philosophy?

Overall, the most foundational belief in my experience is that you can build a student-athlete up from being someone who can barely get up and down the pool to someone who is a contributor in a year or two with effort, care, and passion. And of course, connection; taking the time to get to know the student-athletes, taking the time to get to know who they are as people, who they are in the classroom, what their other interests are, and who their family is. Even as two teams, we're not the biggest group on campus, but we’re one of the closest programs. The connection we have and being able to show them that I believe in them can accomplish a lot. 

How do you coach players of different skill levels?

We have plenty of variation during practice. We do a lot of small group work where kids are clustered by ability or position. We’re very rarely six-on-six full pool with everyone else sitting out. When we are doing that in season, it'll be 14 kids in the water, some doing wall ball, some doing dryland, or a chalk talk. We're constantly moving, constantly doing different things.

How do you practice with two teams? 

It depends on what we're accomplishing that day. When we're in the skill building and the development phase, we mix the groups. The six best players or the 12 best players will play with different teams, different caps, and that's something that I think has been beneficial for the girls’ team. I think it's important for the boys because it's given them a new respect for the female student-athletes. Seeing that connection on a game day like, “Yes, that's a girls team but that's my teammate.”

Who has been most helpful in your GA tenure?

I'll never forget Jim Fenerty [1760] calling me as an undergrad at DePaul University in Chicago while I’m sitting in the lecture hall during my senior spring. I’m thinking maybe it's one of my friends who got a new phone, but I listen to the voicemail and it's, “Hey, Michael, this is Jim Fenerty from Germantown Academy…” and I immediately called back!

The next person is Alison Rader, who I knew in passing because her brother Matt was my high school swimming coach. It was phenomenal sharing the deck with her when she coached the girls; getting to model practice structure, having conversations, and just learning how to interact with kids and parents. I still bug her for ideas and run things off her all the time even though she's not on deck everyday anymore. The last person at GA is Jeff Thompson, who asked me what I really wanted to do with a law degree as I was sitting in the pool office studying for the LSAT. I told him I wanted to work in sports and how I wanted to be Howie Roseman. Jeff just said, “You enjoy working with kids, and you work in sports right now.” That was a transformational conversation. 

​From an outside perspective, Rudy Ruth is an amazing mentor and friend. He is the former superintendent of the Wilson School District and their long-time boys head coach, and serves as the commissioner of Pennsylvania Water Polo. Adam Krikorian, the women's national team coach, is also amazing. I've had the opportunity to speak with some of his players. The culture that he has built is incredible and it's cool to see. It's a lot of what we're doing but we’re on a smaller scale.