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The footballers come to Britain, the Water Polo players go to Europe

July 2010
Last summer British Water Polo was forced to think of a radical way to keep the Men’s squad running on a small budget while ensuring they continue to improve. The results have been impressive, says Water Polo World Class Programmes Manager Joanna Wray, in her regular blog.

While in football many foreigners relocate to Britain for the football leagues in this country, we are sending our players to the hotbed of water polo in Europe.  The plan to the British Swimming board and UK Sport was approved last summer and we can now review it as we step into the final phase: Phase 3.

Last year was tough for the men, with little funding and their position uncertain it was challenging for them to understand what they needed to do.

In short, the plan was that the Men’s squad would continue in a part-decentralised state through to the Olympic games in 2012, progressing through three phases:

  • Phase 1 – Men stay centralized in Manchester through to the European B Championships in September 2009.
  • Phase 2 – Athletes available to play overseas in September 2009 to obtain positions in Australian clubs to play the competitive club season and then to centralize for major competitions as Great Britain.
  • Phase 3 – Athletes available to play overseas in September 2010 to obtain positions in European clubs for the competitive season and to centralize for major competitions for Great Britain.

Last year was tough for the men, with little funding and their position uncertain it was challenging for them to understand what they needed to do.  What struck me was that regardless of this uncertainty the boys went in and fought everything.  The team went to Turkey and beat the French in a great nervy match.

They were down by a few goals right from the start but just kept coming back and back until we beat them by one to win the game.  We had excellent training camps against Macedonia and Holland and after the first matches against both we started to beat these teams which is not something that has happened too often previously.

Then came the big tournament: the European B’s in Lugano.  Our group was tough with Georgia and our now regular playing partners Holland, but in our first match we got one up on the Dutch beating them 8-7. 

The only match we lost was against Georgia but we still went through as top of the group giving us a good rest before the next match.  The Turkey match was gruesome and there is little else to say about that, and then came the bronze place play off against those Holland boys. 

To be honest they, wanted it more and played better, our boys were tired from the trip and having achieved the objective of qualifying the pressure was off.   The boys qualified in fourth, bettering our position at the last Europeans of sixth but proving we still need to keep fighting and get that mental toughness.

With the plan approved by The Board, Phase 2 kicked in. Seven athletes obtained places in Australia; Alex Parsonage at Adelaide Jets, later followed by Glen Robinson, Rob Parker to Wests, Scott Carpenter to Victoria Tigers, Mike Bourne to Freemantle Marriners and Jack Waller and Jake Vincent to Brisbane Barracudas. 

The weekly reports from the players in Australia showed they were doing well and getting some good match experience under their belts.  Those committed to Manchester continued on a part-time basis whilst working or going to university with the focus the European Qualifiers in April.

April came around quickly and preparation for the European Qualifiers was short with little time for those players from Australia to fit back into the British set up.  On reflection we needed more time, but with the Australian league still continuing they were not keen to work with us to release our players.  We also had a strong group; Romania, Russia and I think you can guess who the third team was...Holland!

 During the first match we were outplayed, the level was higher than we were used to and Romania were good.  We learnt from it and our match against Russia was much better, however, yet again, Holland tipped us on the important match.  The tournament highlighted the urgency to play at this higher level where the game is physically stronger and where playing as a team is crucial.

Since then, Phase 3 has begun and it has been full-steam ahead getting the boys to different European countries for trials.  They have flown to Romania, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Holland, France, and coaches from Holland and Germany have come to see our players. 

Cristian, the Head Coach, has liaised with a number of coaches from the clubs establishing a good relationship to help progress our players for the benefit of Great Britain and the clubs they will play at for the season.  We have 15 players that can go to Europe next season and most have already got at least one offer if not several. 

The prospects for the players are good and this is the start of stamping British players firmly in contention for positions abroad, not only for the period leading up to the Olympics, but as career prospects after as well as for our younger generations.

It is a huge commitment from the men to go abroad to play in a different country in new surroundings but the benefits are huge.  Their Water Polo will improve significantly playing with the world’s best day-in-day-out, they can make careers for themselves, and most importantly for Great Britain we increase our probability of hitting the Olympic qualification standard and playing competitively in 2012.  Good work this year boys, its hard work ahead but the future is strong.

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