The Morning Swim Show, Oct. 22, 2012: Polo in Every Pool, Partnership with USA Swimming Priorities for Chris Ramsey

PHOENIX, Arizona, October 22. USA Water Polo is enjoying a healthy rise in interest in the sport after the women won gold in the Olympics, and on today's edition of The Morning Swim Show, USAWP CEO Chris Ramsey talks about how he's using that victory to spread water polo across the country.

Ramsey, himself a former water polo player, discusses his plan for “Polo in Every Pool,” which he says is difficult because of the logistics of running a water polo team. But Ramsey said he is working with USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus on ways to connect the two sports and grow both together. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.

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Jeff Commings: This is The Morning Swim Show for Monday, October 22nd, 2012. I'm your host, Jeff Commings. Chris Ramsey is our guest today in the FINIS Monitor. He is the CEO of USA Water Polo, which is celebrating the Women's Team victory at the Olympics after three previous attempts to win gold. And Chris joins us now from Huntington Beach, California. Chris, good to see you. How are you doing today?

Chris Ramsey: Great, Jeff. Another beautiful day in Huntington Beach.

Jeff Commings: Is there ever a bad day in Huntington Beach?

Chris Ramsey: They're rare. We even prize the rainy days because we don't get them too often.

Jeff Commings: I imagine the office there at USA Water Polo is still just buzzing about that gold medal from the Women's Water Polo tournament.

Chris Ramsey: Well, it really had everything that you love about sports in it, from my perspective. It had a team that overcame adversity not just over a season but actually over many, many years in the Olympics. The history of our Women's Team was a very, very tough loss. In Australia, in 2000, the first year that water polo had been a sport, a bronze medal in Greece, and another very tough loss to The Netherlands in the last minute. Both of the games where we lost the gold medal, in 2000 and 2008, were lost in the last 90 seconds of play. So for us to finally be able to put a cap on it and get the gold was meaningful. We had a bit of a hiccup against Australia where our coach called an illegal timeout and we got pushed into overtime in a game that we probably should have won in regulation, and our women dug deep to win that game. And then the other thing that was fantastic was we had the breakout rise of a young star in Maggie Steffens, a player who hadn't even attended college yet, and kind of burst on the scene scoring 21 goals over the course of the tournament, 5 for 5 in the gold medal game against Spain, and it just, it's a wonderful thing to see someone reach their potential, and I think Maggie was somebody that had people all over our country waving American flags and being proud to be an American.

Jeff Commings: Yes, it definitely was the perfect storm of everything just coming together. Were you actually able to be there in London and watch it all happen in front of you?

Chris Ramsey: Oh yes, I was there. I was down on deck to celebrate after, and it was an incredible feeling to be at the venue. Again, I do think sports reveals character, and I think that the way that the women persevered and won that was just, was inspirational to everybody, and I know many of our international friends also told us how pleased they were for that team because they have been the dominant program since water polo was introduced to the Olympics in 2000. But to see them finally cap it off and get the prize was something very special.

Jeff Commings: Yes, I'm sure there was a lot of support around the world for that. Now, kind of going post-Olympics, you always say swimming talks about a post-Olympic bump that they see every four years in their membership. Is that the same for water polo?

Chris Ramsey: Yes, we're getting a lot of anecdotal information about people calling up and saying where can they play. This kind of coincides with a broader effort we've been making to try to get polo in every pool. And we think that polo is a great complement to swimming. Obviously, for competitive swimming, it's an alternative. A lot of people on the swimming side of it find that somewhere around the age of 12 or 13, they're kind of capping out their times and figuring out where they fit in the hierarchy. Of course, the great thing about a team sport like water polo is it's not necessarily if you're a 10th of a second faster that makes the difference in your performance. There are a lot of other factors that go in to a team sport that's dynamic like water polo. So we would like to have polo in every pool, just like you see soccer on every football or track and field stadium around America, and we've put some people on in different states. We've got a full-time person in Indiana now trying to kind of make it possible for parks and recs departments, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, other places that have pools to offer it, and we've seen some nice take-up on that.

Jeff Commings: So I've talked to a lot of water polo players over the years, and they've said the same thing, that they are looking for, as you said, polo in every pool. What do you see is the biggest challenge to making that happen?

Chris Ramsey: Well, I think one of the challenges traditionally has been the popularity of swimming and the fact that you can get more bodies into swim lanes typically than you can on a water polo course. So it's sort of a more financially sound investment.There are actually a lot of facilities that are looking to fill up additional time and space, and so water polo has a good economic model behind it as well as being something that I think is a lot of fun for people to play. We had really a groundbreaking thing happen about six months ago. A group of swim coaches in the state of Tennessee contacted us, high school swim coaches, and said, “We have additional time in our high school year where the pool really isn't being used. Could you help us figure out how to launch water polo?” So this spring 2013 in the state of Tennessee, water polo is becoming an official state high school sport. They've been in partnership with USA Water Polo with that, and we are helping the swim coaches get up to speed on how to run water polo tournaments and coach water polo, and it's really a collaborative effort. And we're going to have water polo at the high schools in Tennessee. I think Georgia is close to following in their footsteps, and we're hoping that we're going to be able to launch that in more states around the nation.

Jeff Commings: Yes, it must be a really big feat to have had that happen. I mean Tennessee, you don't think of water polo, but I would imagine in maybe four, five years that we might see the next Maggie Steffens come out of there.

Chris Ramsey: Well, I do think the bigger message here is for those who are in the Olympics sports business, and that includes swimming and synchronized swimming and diving, we're still a relatively small sliver of sport activity around America. And I think that we can be bigger, but I think one of the ways that we can be bigger is by collaborating and working together. And I know my good friend Chuck Wielgus at U.S.A. Swimming agrees with that principle. It's just figuring out how we can do it collaboratively so that we actually are working together to enlarge aquatic sports across the U.S.

Jeff Commings: Yes, it definitely is something that you have to work at hand in hand, especially since, as I said, I've talked to a lot of water polo players, and they've said that they were swimmers and they became water polo players. Or I've actually talked to a few swimmers who said that they started young as a water polo player and moved to swimming, so there definitely has to be a lot of synergy between these sports.

Chris Ramsey: Well, I think traditionally, where water polo is in recruiting more people in our sport is that typically, you learn to swim by swimming people and then you often, at the same facility where you learned to swim, might get recruited for a junior or a very young age swim team and you're sort of launched in that. So we have come up with an alternative to that called Splashball, where we want more kids at the beginning level to sample water polo at a very elementary level, passing, catching, having fun, just getting in the water with a ball, and we are hopeful that more kids trying it out mean more kids will want to continue the sport as they continue along in their own athletic pursuit. So in the past, we really didn't have an option for kids that were very young. We waited until they finished their swimming careers or decided that they wanted to pick up swimming in addition to it. My youngest son plays water polo at the college level, but he certainly started in swimming. And we have to swim to play water polo, let's face it. You want to be a good, strong, fast swimmer. I think the other change though is there used to be a perception that water polo might harm your swimming stroke, and there's been a lot of research and a lot of work on that over the years, and it's really not true. The reality is that swimming and water polo help one another. They make you a stronger swimmer. They give you a nice cross-training alternative, and the two sports should be working in partnership

.Jeff Commings: You have a water polo background yourself as a player. Tell us about that.

Chris Ramsey: Well, I played water polo in high school. I was a goalie in high school. I played at Temple City High in California. I went to University of Redlands, lettered and started playing water polo my freshman year there. And I actually went to England for a year and picked up a Half Blue playing basketball in Cambridge as a switch because the pool there was so dreadful in England, they called it The Dungeon, and I just couldn't bear, after being in California and being outside, to have to go inside this terribly ventilated facility. But then I came back and I actually ended up playing 2 meters at Redlands my last years there and still actually jumped in and played the Masters sometimes at Corona del Mar. Sometimes my kids drag me down there. It's a lot of fun. I still love the sport. But it's not for the faint of heart. You got to be in shape, I will say that.

Jeff Commings: Yes. I played a semester in high school, and I agree, it's definitely — we stay stuff like the 1500 free and the 400 IM are harder. One quarter of water polo definitely outdoes that.

Chris Ramsey: I think what is great about it though, and what I appreciate and I think our masters players do, is it's great to have an aquatic sport that's a team alternative. And a swim team is great, but still, it's essentially individual elements that come together for a team result. And I do think the dynamic of water polo and the kind of friendships you make, playing a 3-D sport like water polo does create a lot of great opportunities for friendships, and it's just some something — some people like that dynamic, and it's nice for us in the aquatic world to have that option.

Jeff Commings: Before you were CEO of USA Water Polo, you were heavily involved in ballet. Now, are there any kind of similarities that you would see between ballet and water polo?

Chris Ramsey: There are so many similarities you would be stunned. Great ballerinas and dancers are fabulous athletes. They are unbelievably disciplined in what they do, so they are athletes in both sports as well as artists. I think one of the best things you can say about an athlete, I always think about Lynn Swann and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and people used to say as a wide receiver that he was balletic in the way he made catches. So they are athletes in both sports. There is a tremendous emphasis on international elements, like international travel, international relations, international competition. There is touring in ballet all over the world, so that's similar. They are ticket, they are spectator sports. They're fundamentally entertaining to people who watch them. So there are a lot more similarities, frankly, than there are differences. Of course, in ballet, we don't keep score.

Jeff Commings: And nobody ends up with a bloody nose usually at the end of it.

Chris Ramsey: Yes, exactly.

Jeff Commings: Well, Chris, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on expanding water polo through the United States. I'm sure it's going to continue to expand with you there. Best of luck to you not only this coming season but through the next Olympic quadrennium.

Chris Ramsey: Well, thanks for taking the time to talk, and we'll try to see how to get some more gold medals next time.

Jeff Commings: I'm sure you will. Thanks for joining us, Chris.

Chris Ramsey: Take care.

Jeff Commings: All right. So that's Chris Ramsey, joining us in the FINIS Monitor today, and that's going to do it for today's show. We invite you to join us on, on Facebook, or on Twitter to keep up with all the latest news in aquatic sports. I'm Jeff Commings. Thanks for watching.

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