CANCUN, Mexico, February 27. THIS weekend, FINA, along with the Mexican Swimming Federation, has launched a World Water Polo Conference in Cancun with the motto of “Sharing the Magic of Team Sports.”
The most amazing part of the two-day event is that FINA has made sure executives from all walks of team sports have assembled to help discuss ways to grow the sport of water polo. Attendees include:
· NBA – COO
· NHL – Former President
· ICC Americas – Regional Development Manager
· NFL – COO
· Rugby 7s – CEO
· Beach Volleyball – Senior Director Beach, USA Volleyball
· BMX – CEO
· Brenda Villa, United States, Athlete
· Johanne Begin, Canadian, Former Athlete
· Slobodan Nikic, Serbia, Athlete
· Alessandro Campagna, Italian, Former Athlete
Swimming World caught up with Villa, an Olympic gold medalist from 2012, on her thoughts going into the convention, and will also hear from Villa after the two-day event.
How do you see your sport personally, and believe it is seen from the outside?
Personally, I see the sport of water polo as a very tough, passionate and bond-making team sport that introduces all to the water.
I think our sport from the outside is looked at as a very physical, and sometimes confused as a violent sport. I think it is hard for people who have never played the sport to understand it because of all the whistles.
People are immediately drawn to the sport when they watch it in person. It is fast-paced and played by very athletic people in a different element. By different element, I mean that because half of our movements are underwater, people are intrigued with what goes on under there.
Being in women’s water polo, even as a star at the top level, you’ve seen that it is a niche. Why do you think it is still considered niche, and how do you think that viewpoint can be changed?
I think in order for water polo to get out of the “niche” phase, we need to grow our numbers and we need to make it a true national sport. When people think of water polo in the USA, they think of California. We need to change that.
We also have to change how kids get involved. At this moment, most water polo members have a two-degree separation. You usually join the sport because someone in your family played it. We need new families to want to try out a new sport, our sport. That will help us move out of the “niche” phase.
But, on a higher level, we also need to find a way to promote our sport on TV and on the Internet. With more exposure, I believe we will get more youth trying it out.
Do you think that water polo can be marketed better to focus on the youth? If so, do you have any ideas? What do you hope to gain from talking to the other sport leaders like the NBA and NHL?
I’m really interested in hearing about the NHL’s pipeline. How they reach their youth and how they keep them involved. I think water polo is very similar to hockey.
I want to hear about all the promotional events the NBA does to keep the youth connected to their stars, and inspire so many kids to play the sport. I do know that a lot of it has to do with the professional leagues that those sports have but I think they do a great job of ensuring that they develop their youth to ensure that they will have talented athletes making it to the pros.
In this age of social media with immediate communication where people are overwhelmed, what do you think stands out that a sport like water polo could latch onto?
I think we need to use social media to help promote ourselves. I think we can use technology like Go Pros and show amazing video clips of practices and put it online.
After every Olympics, one of the comments I hear often is “The underwater footage is awesome.”
I think if we can find a way to show our sport in a more dynamic way on TV and Internet, and we can use social media to promote that. Hopefully, getting enough tracking to encourage bigger sponsors to invest in our sport and help with the development of making it a mainstream sport.
With you transitioning out of being a player, what’s your next goal within the sport? What are you doing now?
I love the sport of water polo, and I want the world to give it a chance. I know they will fall in love with it once they give it a chance.
I am currently coaching a few different levels but one of my missions is to try and help our sport grow.
One of my new dreams is to coach a clinic in every state in the U.S. I’m also a co-founder of a non-profit organization, Project 2020. Our mission is to give access and low cost aquatic programming to underserved communities. I want to make sure that anyone who is interested in a water sport has the ability to try it out without barriers. This all goes back to my love of the sport and wanting to help it grow.