Why you should dive into Illawarra Water Polo

As the summer sun gives way to chillier autumn weather, many people tend to pack their bikini and goggles away and bid farewell to swimming.

But for water polo players, the change in season is prime time to jump in the water, test their stamina and strengthen their swimming skills in a team environment.

Water polo has been played in the Illawarra since the 1930s, attracting swimmers keen to get in the pool all year round.

Competitions have run across the region but now Illawarra Water Polo has found a permanent home at the University of Wollongong's pool.

Illawarra Water Polo president Patrick Steele said the weekly competition had already brought in a solid mix of experienced players and those just wanting to test the sport.

"Our main competition, which caters to more experienced players, is basically full so it's great to have a lot of demand," he said.

"We've also had interest from those just wanting to come down and try it out and we're keen to get a junior competition going too ... it's really appealed to a lot of different people."

A hybrid of basketball, soccer and European handball, water polo requires players to swim, tread water and shoot a ball into the opposition's goal, using a single hand.

The game is played in a deep pool, forcing players to use a technique called the "eggbeater" to stay above water.

"When you combine treading water with swimming and throwing the ball, it ends up being a full cardio workout, you build up a lot of stamina playing every week," Mr Steele said.

"People don't realise how much of a workout it actually is - you build up a sweat but unlike swimming laps or running track, you don't notice that you're getting fit."

Mr Steele said participants often used water polo to strengthen their swimming and ball skills, as well as developing their tactical ability.

"There is a lot of positioning involved, it's an element that people don't see," he said.

"Once you get to a higher level, you almost end up setting yourself up like in basketball -you want to get towards the key so you'll use different plays and positions to score."

Improved swimming technique is another key selling point for would-be players, especially parents wanting to build their child's confidence in the water.

Illawarra Water Polo is keen to launch a junior competition, using a modified version of the game, to foster a life-long love of the sport.

"The junior competition is known as 'flipper ball' - it's a little bit different but it's still a great team sport," Mr Steele said.

"Everyone gets to have a turn, it's not as competitive as other sports and kids develop skills, good fitness and lots of confidence in the water".

Despite the sport's violent and aggressive reputation, Mr Steele believes players focus more on the social aspect of the game, rather than dominating the opposition.

"Anyone that's played knows it's not a non-contact sport but there's not too much roughness - there's no more contact than in basketball," he said.

"I think people get scared by watching it played in the Olympics but we have teenage girls playing and we make sure everyone feels welcome.

"It's very social - even at the top level, people are friendly."

Illawarra Water Polo's competition runs on Monday and Wednesday nights from 7.30pm.

A national league game will be held at the university on March 30 from 4pm.

Visit www.illwp.com for more information.

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