Water polo: it’s a sport that takes extreme endurance, agility and swimming skills, played seven aside including a goalie, and it’s making a splash at pools in Saskatoon.
The local water polo community has seen growth this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic, something that has only served to better promote a lesser-known sport and league in the Bridge City.
“We’re doing great with some recruiting and our club has grown since last year with the pandemic, by probably about more than 50 per cent,” club president Jennifer Boutin said.
Boutin has only been around the sport for four years, but in that time she and her family have dove head-first into the community, her four children all active players in Saskatoon.
“Over the past four years it has had an amazing, positive impacts on our family life,” she explained. “(It’s) just a really fulfilling feeling getting to see your kids participate and have fun and grow in their athleticism.”
Her son Leo was immediately hooked and has been in the pool ever since his first exposure to the sport.
“A bunch of my friends wanted to play water polo so I was like sure I’ll try it, and I loved it as soon as I got into the water,” he said.
“It’s lots of fun. You might as well try it; it’s challenging and rewarding.”
It’s a similar sentiment shared by one of Leo’s mentors, 15U Saskatoon Pirates head coach Ben Guest, who represented Canada at the age of 17.
“I saw it on TV during the 2012 London Olympics and I decided one day, hey, lets come to the pool and try this out and I fell in love with the sport,” Guest said.
The sport has seen ebbs and flows of growth in Saskatoon since Guest began competing, but the registration rates and provincial competitions have him optimistic for the future of the sport in Saskatoon, as well as throughout Saskatchewan.
“It’s grown so much, it’s just that a lot of people don’t know about water polo,” he explained. “It’s a lot bigger in other countries like Europe, but it’s been great for people to see the sport in the Olympics, see it in the news and come down to the pool just like I did and eventually fall in love with the sport.”
“It’s kind of surprising,” the young Boutin added. “(When I started) there wasn’t a lot of people here, but now we have a full on club and teams and everything.”
It’s that environment that has the athletes excited to come to the pool and compete, something that Guest is proud to have helped cultivate in Saskatoon.
“It’s such a wonderful feeling to give a lot of my knowledge to the boys, and I’m trying to grow these young men into fully-grown men who know responsibility in the world,” he said. “Of course we’re here for the sport, but I’m here to make you a good person as well.”
“It’s amazing, because with all of his skill he’s like putting it on to us, so we know what he’s capable of and he’s teaching us everything,” Leo echoed.