Anyone passing by the pool deck after 3 p.m. can hear the characteristically angry voice booming across the area. They will see a short man waving his hands around while standing at the edge of the pool, only centimeters from falling in. Those who do not know him will just assume the water polo team was misbehaving, but those who have met the passionate boys’ and girls’ water polo coach, Yuniel Usin, will recognize it as just another practice.
The players call him Coach Yuni, while the lifeguards call him by his surname. He has worked here for close to ten years. Usin said he got his start coaching at MAST “by accident.”
He then went on to explain that the athletic director at the time saw him passing and shooting in the pool and asked him whether he could fill the spot left vacant by the last coach. Usin was reluctant at first but eventually agreed when he was told it would be temporary. “Temporary” seems to have lasted longer than originally intended and Usin continues to coach water polo at MAST.
Usin is a Miami Dade Ocean Rescue lifeguard and medic during work hours, but the more interesting aspect of his life is what he does in his free time. Usin is a self-proclaimed family man. He loves to host gatherings in his home for friends, family and coworkers; going fishing and holding barbecues where they eat their catch; and cooking authentic Cuban meals like roasted pig. He speaks proudly of his mother, who taught him the importance of running a business, and who he helped out with her own business, a series of restaurants.
Usin does not just coach sports, he lives sports. He boasted about their importance to him, and about his experience playing handball, soccer, and baseball, the latter which he attributed to being brought up in what he called a “baseball family.”
Usin started playing water polo when he arrived in Miami after having been a swimmer in Cuba and only playing water polo for fun once or twice a month. He got into the game and played for his home school Miami High, only to later play club water polo and use this experience to travel and play the game he loves. He even once visited Colombia for an international tournament.
Usin takes coaching seriously and talked about what he hoped his players could learn from him. “I always try to teach them about life, about morality. I always try to teach them to lead by example. I teach them how to set themselves achievable goals. I always try to have them see water polo as a sport but also as a way of life, because it’s a game that requires a lot of work, a lot of dedication. There’s too much pain to be playing this game without any love. Anything you choose to do in life is going to work out the same way,” Usin said.
“There’s always going to be that fourth quarter when you’re going to want to give up. The tough moments in life are just like a fourth quarter. The pressure is the same and the tiredness is the same. Life is pushing you to give up and that is when you need to step up.”
Usin is known for his playfulness both on and off the pool deck. He blends jokes and tough drills to make practice more entertaining while still being productive.
Junior Gia Castillo is going towards her third year on Usin’s team.
“Even during the most demanding practices, Yuni finds a way to make them enjoyable. He’s just a hilarious person to be around. I probably wouldn’t have continued water polo if it wasn’t for him,” Castillo said.
Usin is not just a coach to his players; he is also a mentor and a friend. Usin is the heart of MAST’s water polo family.