Summers in our lives are rarely golden. As the midyear heat prepares to hit you hard, all you're thinking about is simmering down in the pool. This year, instead of doing frantic laps or splashing aimlessly in the water, try out water polo. It's a fun sport that only requires you to be a good swimmer with average fitness to begin with. But by the end of the season, players promise that apart from being in top shape, you'll also have picked up some great social and personal skills.
Water polo is considered a difficult sport due to its strict rules and gameplay. According to Ajay Apte, chief coach of the Indian men's national water polo team, all water polo players are good swimmers, but the inverse isn't true. "You need to time your shots and jumps to perfection as water doesn't allow for free movement. It requires a combination of speed, strength and stamina," Apte says. That's also what the sport helps you build, putting you through a regimen of tough sessions in the pool and strength training and smart eating outside it. Treading water is a major aspect of the game. The most common method is the eggbeater form where you swivel both feet in circles in opposite directions in order to stay afloat. Another method is heads-up swimming, where players swim with their heads above the water while guiding the ball in front of them. The method requires immense strength as players are also continuously thrashing their legs underwater and propelling themselves with their arms.
WATER POLO DIET
To gain shoulder strength and chest power, players often have to focus on eating foods that are high in essential nutrients. "We practice for three hours at a go and at times need an instant surge of energy, which comes from carbohydrates. The strength comes from proteins and fats," says Apte.
Strength training, too, is recommended as burly players tend to have an edge over diminutive ones. "Unless you have muscle and fat bulk, you're going to be bogged down by bigger players who intimidate you," Apte adds. Players at the centre- and fullback berths need to be well-built as they handle defence, and those playing at the forward positions handle attack and are required to be lean and agile. Deval Modi, a goalkeeper on the HR College team, Mumbai, does some running, push-ups, squats, crunches and pull-ups to develop strength and stamina.
According to the 16-year-old student of commerce, the least he can do to remain fit is stay off junk food. His diet mainly comprises chapatis, vegetables and dal. He trains with his team in the evening at the PM Hindu Bath Trust, Girgaum Chowpatty. "After a day's practice you just can't refuse the food you're given at dinnertime. But when eating outside, I keep a check on what I'm having and in what quantities," says Modi.
TRAIN BODY AND MIND
But that's not where matters close. The game is as much a battle of minds as it is of bodies. "With practice, you can train your mind to counter harsh tactical offences such as elbows and nail scratches," Modi adds. Swimmers as young as 15 years can start training in the sport and it ranks high among the disciplines swimmers graduate to. However, unlike free swimming or synchronised diving, water polo isn't individualistic.
To become successful, you need to perform in a team. Furtive communication skills are required and teammates have to work together strategically. "Observation is paramount since game tactics have to be imbibed; they can't be taught. It's entirely a watchand- improve sort of sport," says Apte.
General techniques of throwing the ball and treading the water come on field. "We work a lot on improving our behaviour, temperament and interpersonal skills so everyone on the team performs in sync.
And in terms of physical fitness, swimming in itself provides a full body workout," says Arjun Kawle (25), a senior checking staffer with the Western Railways who's played at the national level and now coaches local college teams. But he doesn't stick to swimming only. Kawle also enjoys playing football and volleyball. Staying active also negates the need for a diet regimen. "You won't find too many players taking protein or creatine supplements; most stick to homemade food," Kawle says.
Lessons learnt in the pool are implemented in real life, as well. While some have learned to work in a group, others find they grasp information more easily. Sayali Gudhekar, ex-captain of the under-18 women's Maharashtra and India teams, says that players from the rival team can get mean at times but you need to keep your cool.
"I employ the same technique when working on projects with stubborn classmates." This 19-year-old student of Sophia College, too, doesn't believe in sticking to a diet. Instead, she couples her warm-up exercises with short sprints on the beach. "The running makes me agile in water as it strengthens the leg muscles," she adds.
Modi says he's developed a fighting spirit. "I don't panic easily and can work under pressure. Water polo's also a great stress buster," he says. Adds 16-year-old Yohan Samel, a first year student of science at KC College, "You learn to direct your anger only towards those who've underperformed. And after the match, you learn humility and the importance of apologising!"