The countdown to London 2012 is officially on as we are less than two years away from the greatest two weeks in sports for water polo fans. Stadiums are being built and dreams of Olympic conquest grow more vivid by the day. With that as a backdrop and because “Talking Water Polo at the Planet” is big in the U.K., I was able to land an interview with a man who has intimate knowledge of the preparations being made in England for this glorious event.
Tim Kendall is the Assistant Coach for Great Britain's Men's National water polo team. We sat down this past week to discuss London 2012 as well as the water polo scene across the pond. Below is our interview.
Can you tell us a little bit about the new water polo arena being created for London 2012? I read some exciting tidbits about it on the BBC's website and I know our readers would love some information about the new facility being built.
First of all, I’d just like to say how much I enjoy, and learn from, reading the articles on Water Polo Planet, as well as Talking Water Polo. WPP is arguably the best freely available source of resources on the Internet. I particularly like the contributions of the coaches of the USA National teams and their assistants with their emphasis on fundamentals. I know there is a lot of interest in the UK in both WPP and Talking Water Polo.
The water arena at London 2012 will be stunning, right at the main entrance to the Olympic site. Work recently began: although a temporary structure, it’s a distinctive design with a capacity of 5000: see:
With the Olympics only two years away, can you give us some insight into how Great Britain's Men's and Women's squad have been training for London 2012?;
I need to point out that it is not yet confirmed that either or both our teams will be competing at London 2012: the British Olympic Association is likely to decide in the spring whether we will be put forward to take up places in the competition as host country. There are several criteria, the main one being that we are seen to be competitive. We certainly feel we have a strong case for both teams, both of which have improved significantly in the last few years. I know how hard the players are striving towards their dream.
Cristian Iordache, the men’s coach, has taken an innovative approach in helping place most of the players as professionals in clubs around Europe in countries such as Hungary, Germany and Holland. Some players remain at the high performance centre here in Manchester. The players come back to Manchester for camps and matches.
Szilveszter Fekete’s, the women’s coach, has his squad based in Manchester, and his innovation has been to take part in the Hungarian League.
One of the very popular members of the Royal Family played Water Polo in Great Britain yet your National team (like ours) still scrambles for funding and popularity. What do you see as possible solution(s) to increase popularity of water polo across the world?
I’m passionate about our sport, Trevor, and believe that participation is the key. While I understand that is influenced by TV coverage, I would regard excellent coaching and administration as the way forward for our sport. In many ways, water polo has a natural appeal to children from which both the children and our programmes can benefit. Particularly interesting are growing links to “learn to swim” programmes (I think the case is similar in the US). Certainly there are very active pockets of development in the UK, and fine people working at grass-roots level. These need to grow and be supported.
It would be great if successful development models in the US and UK were to provide a way forward for other parts of the world, particularly with significant financial issues in several of the East European hotbeds of water polo. I note one key area on the US programme is having character as a central tenant of the sport: that’s a good way to be perceived.
I would argue that countries like USA and GB, where children have such a wide choice of what they do with their time, can provide the best examples of how to engage young people in water polo.
As the Assistant Coach to Great Britain's Men's National team, you have your finger on the pulse of the British talent pipeline. Can you tell us which men's players we should keep our eye on for the Olympics and beyond?
Given that most of men’s team is away at clubs around Europe, we need to place a huge emphasis on having a team ethos. I suggest keeping an eye on our team and how we play as a team: it is a young squad with several born-1991 players breaking through and born-1989 players becoming increasing core to the team’s effort.
These are talented, much improved, and improving, players who have shown great perseverance and pride in representing their country though various up and downs of funding (the men’s squad are much more subject to financial vagaries given that the team is ranked further from the podium than the women).
Having spent last weekend at a training camp for national squads in age-groups ranging from 1993 to 1997, I know the standard was very good, (particularly the standard of conduct). We have recently been looking at how to invigorate further the regional development system.
Profiles of the men’s team are at: http://www.swimming.org/britishswimming/water-polo/mens-senior-squad/.
I know you are also involved with the British Water Polo League and have seen most of Great Britain's top women's players. Which ones do you see doing great things in both London 2012 and in future international competitions?
The most impressive thing in the GB women’s recent 26-1 defeat of Israel was the solid teamwork on display. Shots were taken at the right time, not when a pass to a better-placed player was available. Again it is young team with a bright future.
Profiles of the women’s team are at: http://www.swimming.org/britishswimming/water-polo/womens-senior-squad/.
There are a number of former and current Junior and Senior National team players from countries like Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Italy and Turkey currently competing at various American colleges in our NCAA system. With the number of British expatriates in cities like New York, Boston and Washington D.C. has there been any thought of encouraging players to come to the United States for college?
For the national squad, probably the costs of flying players home regularly make this difficult. For men particularly, there is a gap between age-group and senior polo that can be filled effectively by college polo, so maybe this option could be considered in the future. I would suggest that college water polo is an under-used resource in the UK itself, because of its fiercely social nature.
I know you are associated with Otter Water Polo, which I have been told is likely the oldest water polo club in the world. Can you tell us a little bit about Otter and why American players should consider the club if they find themselves living in London?
Otter was founded in 1869: there may be older clubs, but we are one of the oldest, Trevor. The Otter women are thriving, the first team finishing the highest placed London club in the British water polo league in third place: with the lowest exclusion count (http://www.bwpl.org/Results/Womens Div1.html). The club as a whole has a unique, cosmopolitan atmosphere, excellent for making contacts in London. It was the Otter dinner last
Friday: quite a grand, multi-national, but quintessentially British, event. So there are both performance and social reasons for considering Otter as the “go to” club in London, if not the UK (see http://www.otterwaterpolo.com/).
With that our interview ended. Let the excitement begin as the plans for the Olympic pool look to be remarkable. We will also keep a keen eye on the Great British National teams and their hopes for not only competing in 2012 but becoming a contender on the world stage. People often forget that the sport of water polo began in late 19th century Great Britain with the first rules being developed by a Scotsman in William Wilson and the first games being played cities like London and Glasgow. Great Britain water polo has a glorious past which includes winning four of the first five Olympic Gold Medals contested in our sport. While they have not medaled since 1928, perhaps that situation can be rectified in the near future as it sounds like our friends across the pond are building momentum once again.