Craig Figes ‘excited for the future’ after successful season for water polo

In a year that has seen Great Britain’s senior teams return to European competition for the first time in a decade and a restructure of the national academy system, Swim England water polo programme lead, Craig Figes has reflected on a successful season for British water polo.

It’s been an exciting year for the sport, which was highlighted by Great Britain’s senior women topping their qualification group to reach January’s European Championship finals in Israel.

The result was a major achievement and it’s something that Figes hopes can inspire both those on the pathway and those wanting to take up the sport.

He said: “Our commitment to enter the European Championships has had a big impact on the senior teams this year.

“Having that target to aim for every two years was important and it’s given both the men’s and women’s sides some big experiences in the past six months.

“As well as the European qualifiers we’ve had the World Cup events where a lot of the players got the opportunity to represent Great Britain at a major event for the first time.

“The men missed out on European qualification but gained some valuable experience in a really tough group against the likes of double Olympic Champions Serbia. The women however played incredibly to top their group and reach the finals in January.

“It’s a team that looks in a fantastic place and I think it’s amazing to have a female team sport in aquatics doing so well.

“In a period where we’ve had the success of the Lionesses in football as well as in cricket and hockey too, it’s great that we have a successful women’s team of our own that can be an inspiration to young girls and boys too.

“We hope that their success brings more people into the sport and we want to use it to inspire those already on the pathway to want to play to that level and help get us back to the top end of water polo.”

Increase in engagement

The year has also seen the Swim England Water Polo Talent Centre initiative has also completed its first two terms in operation.

It’s first goal was to improve the frequency of high-quality training and coaching that is available to the younger talent of water polo players by offering elite coaching to U14 and U16 players from a team of international coaches.

The work has seen squads from each of the talent centres created, coached and then compete against each other at the first two Swim England Talent Games events.

“I’d like to thank Andy (McGinty) and Rose (Younger) for their work with the revamp of the national academy setup with the talent centres.” Figes added.

“The work has led to us increasing our engagement with athletes by around 250% and has allowed for the opportunity of the talent games which was needed for the athletes.

“Having those four centres to start the programme meant that the quality of matches at the talent games has been really high which has been vital for athlete development.

“There’s still things we want to work on to improve this even further but it’s been a huge undertaking and we’re excited to be expanding the programme.

“We hope that it has brought a higher expected standard of those wanting to reach our junior squads as we look to create a clear pathway for those wanting compete internationally.

“Our U17 junior squads recently competed in European competition too with the boys just missing out on reaching the finals and the girls performing very well to finish 13th.

“They proved that they were right in the mix with those teams in the 8th-12th bracket in their first experience of an international competition so it’s another team with plenty of promise.

“A lot of that squad will be ready to go again in the U19s event next summer and we hope that those athletes from the talent centres can bolster our junior squads in the near future.”

Growing the sport

With the increase in engagement of athletes and the success of the senior teams as they compete back on the major stages, Figes is looking to forward to the future of the sport.

“Going forward we want to continue what we’ve been doing now as well as improving that competition structure and developing the training available to athletes at their home clubs.

“We’ll have our first set of graduates from the Talent Centre programme and we can’t wait to see how they will develop and flow into Great Britain’s junior squads.

“We have some excellent coaches and team managers to support them and we’ve been introducing more sport science, nutrition and strength and conditioning workshops to support the athletes too.

“As well as that we of course have those European Championships in January and plenty of competitions coming up so I’m really excited for the future and the focus is to continue to develop throughout the rest of 2023 and beyond to grow the sport further.”

“As part of growing the sport – we have started to engage more with the home nations, and will continue to do so. We have seen England, Scotland and Wales recently take part in the Home Nations competition, excellently hosted by Ireland.

“It’s great to see athletes from all our Home Nations teams preparing for competition at the EU nations later this year and we’re excited to see how this will help to prepare all the athletes for future ventures into the Europeans as a combined GB team.”