Sean King’s blog on the ESSA team and the forthcoming Malta tour

The English Schools’ Swimming Association (ESSA) water polo coach Sean King talks about the ESSA team and the forthcoming Exiles International Invitational Tournament which starts in Malta on Friday (July 17)…

I’ve been involved with the ESSA team since last October when, along with Bolton School’s Andy McGinty, we were asked to coach the squad with this summer’s tournament in mind. That was just before the Duke of Cambridge Cup, which was held at Cranwell and we selected the team from that competition.

There were three teams made up of players born in 1997, who were all eligible to play in the Malta International Invitation Tournament, and Craig Figes’ 1998 Great Britain squad.

The standard of water polo on show was very good. There were nearly 40 players and we had to narrow it down to 16, which was hard as the talent was so high and we had to make some difficult decisions.

These boys all train hard and they will have to continue doing that to reach the top. Most have spent three or four years training with the England Talent squad or Great Britain, so a lot of them already had good backgrounds.

The 16 we chose have been working intensely for the past few months with their schools, clubs and the England Talent and GB teams. We then all got together at Northampton at the weekend [July 11/12] for a final training camp before we fly out to Malta [July 16].

Once we arrive we’ll play a few training games with some local teams in the sea pools, which will be good preparation.

In the tournament [to be held July 17-21] we’ll face the Dutch junior champions, two teams from South Africa and a Malta representative side.

They will all be the same age as our boys and I can imagine the South Africans and the Dutch side will be very strong and physical, and the Maltese will provide tough opposition for us as well.

Every game will be very competitive and it will be a great experience for the players who haven’t had the opportunity to play in an international water polo tournament.

The Malta teams always get big crowds, so for them to also experience that and play in front of a packed stadium will benefit them all.

We will be going into every game to win, but what’s most important is that we want to see progression over the tournament. We want to show this country is competitive as a schools’ team.

One of the strengths of our squad is that a few of them have experienced Malta before as they played in the European qualifiers last year, so they know exactly what conditions to expect.

After the tournament, I’d like to see these players play at the highest level and reach the very top. This tournament offers them the chance to play abroad and it places them in the shop window.

Ultimately, we want them to go on and play for the senior national team. If we have a bigger pool of players who have experienced these environments, then it will mean more competition for places and it can only improve the sport in the long term.

They have the talent and I know some are interested in playing professionally and they definitely have the ability. If they continue to train and work hard, each and every one of them could make it.

The London 2012 Olympics did British water polo the world of good. It proved this country can compete at the very top and there are several players, such as Matt Holland, Ciaran James and Sean Ryder, who are still playing professionally and they are athletes this ESSA team can aspire to.

The international water polo community now knows this country has talented players playing here and with the standard of juniors coming through so high, there is a lot to look forward to for England water polo.

  • Click here to download a Media Guide for the travelling ESSA team which features fixtures, features and player profiles