Here’s a fun activity: Go to your nearest pool and start swimming. Swim around until your arms get tired, your legs go numb, your lungs burn, and your heart feels like it’s going to burst. Then, swim some more. This is essentially the experience for most people the first time they play water polo. However, for anyone out there who loves competition, wants to get in shape, or thinks they just look amazing in a Speedo, you could give water polo a try.
I met up with a local water polo team at Laugardalslaug at a Monday night practice to get a feel for the game. There were eight men and women of various ages and skill levels practicing that night. We started out with some warm-up drills. One drill involved the team lining up and treading water while they passed a plastic chair to each other above their heads. The team spent the rest of the practice doing passing and shooting demonstrations. I spent the rest of the practice trying to catch my breath and re-evaluating my diet and lifestyle. Despite my physical limitations, the team was always very encouraging.
At the team’s next practice, another water polo team showed up to scrimmage. From the instant the game began, the players never stopped. Each player charged though the water on a mission: swim, pass, shoot, score. Whenever possession of the ball turned over to the other team, everyone raced down to the other end of the pool. Watching them all surge toward the goal looked like a school of sharks moving in for the kill. The match was hard-fought on both sides, but always friendly.
A WORK IN PROGRESS
The Reykjavík water polo league is relatively new. Founded only five years ago, it is admittedly still in a developing phase. There are only two official teams, and games are tentatively held once every two or three weeks. Glenn Moyle, a friendly Kiwi in his mid-thirties with long blonde dreadlocks, played water polo for years in Reykjavík before becoming head coach of one of the teams. I spoke with him after practice to learn more about the sport and how it’s developing in Iceland.
Glenn tells me he played many different sports growing up in his native New Zealand, and was an especially avid swimmer. He got bored, however, simply swimming back and forth, so being able to toss a ball around in the pool made water polo a natural fit. “What I love about sports is the competitive side, the physical side, the mental side. And water polo combines everything that every sport has into one,” says Glenn. He goes on to tell me he began playing at age twelve, and soon it became a major part of his life.
After ten years of playing he put water polo on hold in order to travel the world. His travels brought him to Iceland, where on one visit to Laugardalslaug four years ago, he found a water polo team practicing. He asked the coach if he could join in, and after years away from any official leagues, water polo was suddenly back in his life. He continued to play in Reykjavík for the next few years, as well as work to progress the league. His work to develop the sport in Iceland led to the first official league championship game last year, which Glenn’s team won 4–3.
RIPE FOR THE PICKING
Although it’s a small start, it is a start nonetheless. But Glenn thinks Iceland is ripe for a sport like water polo. He cites the high quality of Reykjavík’s pools and the success of handball in Iceland (since water polo is “just an aquatic handball” as he puts it) as reasons the game could be very popular. “The best facilities in the world combined with one of the best handball teams in the world, it should be one of the better water polo teams in the world.”
Glenn’s involvement with the team reached a new level when he became head coach at the start of this season. Though he pushes his players to be their best, Glenn’s coaching style is supportive, and very involved. He spends most of the practices in the water with the players.
He encourages anyone interested in taking up the sport, or just looking for a great way to get whipped into shape, to come give it a shot. “We have had people come play who can’t even swim. But there’s no arrogance in the water. It’s not just about the competitive side. It’s also about the enjoyment, the social aspect. It’s about getting a workout. It’s about a lot of things.”
Glenn still cites some of his best friends today as the people with whom he grew up playing water polo. The game’s social aspect can be seen in the camaraderie among the team he coaches.
For an exciting and fun way to compete, get in shape, and make some new friends, head down to the pool and dive on in.
If you’re interested in playing water polo, you can find the team at Laugardalslaug on Mondays and Wednesdays, 20:00–22:00, or check out their website, www.waterpolo.is