It's been extraordinarily challenging but plenty of good work has gone on in 2020

Toby King, the chair of the Swim England Water Polo Leadership Group, reflects on a challenging but nevertheless busy year for the sport.

Well, here we go again!

As I write this end-of-year update, I am conscious of how many water polo clubs have sadly just found themselves plunged into the tougher Covid constraints of tiers three or four, which is so frustrating.

However, I have been hugely impressed by how the water polo community has pulled together this year and made the best of a very bad job.

It has been particularly striking how regional managers and clubs have started sharing best practice and ideas to get us through this, which is so encouraging.

This is something that, from the Water Polo Leadership Group perspective, I am keen to build on, and I hope you will support this as I think it will benefit us all.

Some pool operators have been helpful, trying to accommodate clubs as much and as soon as possible.

However, some clubs have not been able to get in a pool since March but others, particularly those with junior sections, have managed to play pretty much throughout the non-lockdown periods.

Even when all the pools have been closed, there have been innovative reports of clubs training in rivers and lakes – we enjoyed a few sessions in the sea in Bournemouth.

Obviously now it’s winter, this is rather less inviting, but most people have been imaginative with drills in sixes and on their own, and are being positive about what is possible, rather than seeing their glass half-empty.

Long may this attitude continue…

If you can, get outdoors to run or do strength and conditioning work – even a simple quick abs/core session is far better than nothing – just stay within the guidelines.

If you can exercise with one other person it might help keep each other motivated. And if you are in tiers one or two, and can get in a pool, make the most of it – even if just for lane swimming and eggbeater!

Sadly, organised senior and national competition is still not possible for most players but I would encourage clubs with a junior section, if they are in an appropriate tier, to make the most of the fact that U18s can play.

Good work going on

Set up training/friendly matches within your club or against other local clubs.

For the Water Polo Leadership Group, 2020 has been an opportunity to think about strategy and do work behind the scenes that often gets overlooked when everyone is busy playing and competing.

We have new online content developed for Levels 1, 2 and 3 coaching courses, trained more tutors and more than 100 people have already completed the online sections.

We are engaged in a strategic competition review and are about to roll out a referee grade structure to encourage new young referees.

We have also received Swimming Trust funding for state schools to apply for financial assistance in setting up water polo, and we hope several new mini-polo initiatives will be rolled out next year.

And we intend to launch a new virtual water polo competition in January, which should provide some competitive fun for clubs and help keep players motivated.

I know many people were disappointed that the recent application to UK Sport for water polo was unsuccessful, but our submission was strong and UK Sport was very complimentary about it, so we remain positive.

We are one of about seven Olympic ‘progression’ sports bidding for a share of a £3 million pot – anything we get is better than we have now, and may allow us to leverage extra funding from elsewhere.

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been extraordinarily challenging, but a lot of good work is going on and there is much to look forward to.

Whatever tier you are in, I hope you had a good Christmas and have a happy new year.