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Blog: A hectic start as we begin to devise a new five-year strategy for water polo

In the first of a series of regular updates, the new chairman of the Swim England Water Polo Leadership Group, Toby King, reflects on his first month in the role.

It’s been a hectic three weeks since my appointment was confirmed at the beginning of the year.

I have had numerous discussions with various stakeholders and would like to update the community on where we have got to and what to expect in the next few months.

Composition of the Leadership Group

The Group so far consists of Ian Mackenzie, Swim England Sport Operating Committee Discipline Liaison, Andy Fuller, Swim England Water Polo Development Manager, Norman Leighton, Swim England Talent Development Officer Water Polo, and myself.

I am delighted to announce that Mike Hesketh, recently recognised for his long-term dedication to English water polo, has accepted the role as competitions lead.

We are also advertising for the lead roles in volunteering and technical officials, while coaching and communications positions will be published shortly – please keep an eye on the Careers in Aquatics website for more details.

Five-year strategy

We have started working on devising a new five-year strategy for water polo in England.

Whilst it is clearly early days and we are not yet in a position to set numerical targets, the consultations led by David Meli last month have been hugely helpful.

Our vision is that, by 2024, many more people are playing water polo at the right level for them. We think the key strategic themes will be:

  • Widening participation
  • Competitions
  • Coach and officials development
  • Talent pathway

There will be an over-arching theme of improved communications to, and from, the water polo community at large – historically a major weakness.

The strategic themes will be accompanied by a series of specific actions and measured against a set of objective metrics.

We plan to achieve this by delivering a series of ‘enablers’ to support the clubs, players, coaches, officials and other volunteers to deliver our mission.

We are, of course, also aware of the significant financial burden put on players and parents, especially at the performance end of the sport, and will be looking at how to better promote our sport to secure revenue of various different sorts to try to reduce this burden.

We hope to complete recruitment of the Leadership Group by the end of February and publish the full strategy within a further six weeks.

England senior men’s team

As an example of how we are starting to develop the strategy, I have held discussions with Dave Taylor and Dave Edwards about continuing in their roles as head coach and team manager of the England men’s senior water polo team.

I am delighted that they are both very committed to creating a meaningful and aspirational programme.

Although still at an early stage, we would like to build quickly towards playing and challenging some of the teams that qualify for the European Senior Championships (Malta, Netherlands, Turkey) as well as supporting Commonwealth fixtures and perhaps gaining support from British Swimming through the home countries group for a British entry to the European Championship qualifiers.

Their early thoughts on a programme include the following:

  • 2020: England v Scotland and perhaps England v Wales; EU Nations in the Czech Republic in June. Training weekends and fixtures in Belgium or northern France or Portugal, as well as some Manchester weekends.
  • 2021: England v Scotland and perhaps England v Wales; EU Nations in the Czech Republic in June. Ten to 12-day tour of South Africa or shorter trip to Turkey or Singapore. Training weekends and fixtures in Holland and Belgium in addition to Manchester weekends.
  • 2022: Possible Commonwealth (or similar standard) water polo tournament and Malta or Hungary mini tour and fixtures.
  • 2023-24: LEN European Championships qualifiers (GBR) if results are worthy of entry and British Swimming/Great Britain water polo support that entry.

The World University Games will also be pursued if an invitation is extended to Great Britain for qualification, subject to BUCS agreement.

If any England eligible player would like to be considered and they have not yet been in an England or Great Britain U19 or senior squad, please could they email [email protected] with their name, date of birth, club and coach contact details.

England senior women’s team

Recently appointed head coach Nick Buller and assistant coach Peggy Etiebet are also strongly committed to working with our players to produce a sustainable and internationally respected programme.

They have drafted a ‘Blueprint for Success’, incorporating a strategic analysis of the pathway needed to fulfil the aspiration of a British entry into the 2024 European Championships (subject to British Swimming support), including entry into the World University Games in 2021 and 2023 (subject to an invitation and BUCS agreement).

The coaches would be delighted to enter the squad for a Commonwealth water polo, or similar standard, tournament in 2022, and are also considering entry into a European league.

The programme is currently securing pool time for training, expected to be monthly weekend sessions with two training camps for this year.

The initial weekend will include an information session for the players about the four-year programme.

Information about the selection process will be sent out shortly by the coaching team.

And finally…

Please do share any thoughts you have on how we can develop the sport we love with your Swim England regional manager or Andy Fuller or Norman Leighton.

Thank you for reading this!

Toby King – chairman, Swim England Water Polo Leadership Group