At the recent FINA World Water Polo Conference, Beach Water Polo was mentioned more than once. The team at Beach Water Polo Fours thinks of it as a great way to brand our sport as a fun, social game and a fantastic opportunity to grow water polo at new locations.
It all began with Scott Nicholson (29 years old) in Sydney, Australia. He’s been playing water polo since he was 11, and just now he finished his 12th season of the Australian National League.
In 2013, he also picked up a second sport — Beach Handball — which is the modified version of the traditional European indoor variety. He was fortunate to be picked in the Australian team for Beach Handball and since then, he’s been traveling with the national team for the last five years. By working in the sport for a number of years and preparing for tournaments on the beach, it was inevitable for Scott to linke the two sports.
He brought that idea to the sporting world and was lucky enough to work with Water Polo NSW on their very successful Sydney Youth Festival last year. During that time, his team internally worked out a lot of ideas on how to make a tournament more fun and memorable for all participants. That was the moment in which Beach Handball turned into Beach Water Polo.
It was a perfect concept for the summer time in Australia. Last year, the team launched the inaugural Beach Water Polo Fours competition in Australia, with the goal to make water polo more accessible to players and to bring the sport in front of spectators. They made it happen by holding the event at public beaches rather than hidden behind council pool walls.
The Beach Water Polo Fours format is a unique concept, making Water Polo accessible to everyone. The unique rules are a little different to the official Fina rules, but they are purposely designed to level the playing field among all players.
Some of the rules include being able to substitute at any time and anywhere along your sideline. This is important because restarts after a goal are automatic and the clock is always running. Also, it allows for weaker swimmers to be just as influential as strong swimmers throughout the match. A lot of the rules have drawn inspiration from Beach Handball, which Scott has personally found to be a great example of a sport modifying itself to make it more attractive to a wider audience.
In his experience with water polo, he says that there is a huge problem with player retention after U18s with many talented players not being in a position to commit to weekly games and training. With that in mind, Scott emphasizes that the experience his team has come from various sports, which helps a lot with handling the Beach Water Polo. Therefore, Beach Water Polo tries to provide one or two days of water polo that anyone can work into their calendar.
The first event was held in December 2017 was a great success attracting over 100 players, 15% of which were not connected to a water polo club. The team wants to continue to build on this success and help grow the sport of Water Polo by providing a unique water polo experience and a great day at the beach for players, families, and friends.
In the future, the team wants to continue to create memorable events and help bring Water Polo into the spotlight of Australian sport. By doing this, they aim to attract more sponsors and new
players. That allows the national and state bodies to focus on the elite pathways and improve the team’s performance at a national level. Compared to big Sydney events, such as The World Rugby Sevens Tour, Scott believes that they could rival it:
The team is working closely with the state and national bodies to ensure that the event compliments the long-term strategic plans. Being a small event team with a clear vision, they strive to create a cool brand to attract even more people.
In regard to the FINA Conference and the whispers of Beach Water Polo joining in at the World Championships in 2019, they support it.
In Australia, they already play water polo in summer, which is to match the international cycle in European summer. So, moving European club water polo to summer would probably have one of two effects. Firstly, they would move their championships to winter to match the international cycle. Secondly, more national team players will head to Europe during the Australian winter to play and will then need to match up with national teams during the summer, negatively impacting the quality of the domestic league.
Since they already play the domestic seasons in summer in Australia, beach water polo is trying to carve out a niche in a highly competitive water polo environment. And that is why they want to focus on bringing people back to the sport. They also want the committed water polo community to have an event where they can enjoy the sport and not have to be in a hyper-competitive environment – kind of a like a holiday within the sport!
At the moment, Beach Water Polo Fours are working on having 8 events in 2018 and 2019. You can follow them on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and see their website for more info. Also, they are starting a podcast called Treading Water coming soon!