Like Hockey…in Water

I never imagined any of my kids would play water polo. Mainly because none of them are particularly strong swimmers.

But one great thing about living in a smaller town is that sometimes you get opportunities to try things you’ve never considered before.

Almost as soon as we moved back to Oregon, a local friend who helps coach the high school water polo team asked, “Are either of your girls going to play?” I laughed it off at first, until our 14yo daughter Abby said, “Maybe.”

Because we moved in to the high school after all the other students had signed up for classes, there was no room for Abby in any of the music or drama classes, and she was left afloat with no established peer group to join. She went to observe just one practice of water polo, and I think she was looking more at the team dynamics than what was actually involved in the sport. She came home saying, “I want to be part of that team!”

Our high school boys and girls practice together, sometimes play together, and are a great group of kids. They practice two or three times a week for a few hours at a time, with the first hour dedicated entirely to swimming drills. I’m amazed at what a strong swimmer Abby has become in such a short amount of time.

abby after water polo practice

Abby, exhausted (but happy!) after her first water polo practice.

They also have games two or three times a week, and although hers is a young, rather inexperienced team (read: they’ve only won one game), they are supportive of each other and I’ve seen huge improvements in each of the players from week to week. I’m also frankly amazed at how each of the players comes in a different shape and size. As a plus-sized woman, I dread the idea of being seen in a bathing suit. And yet, there are larger girls and boys who go out five days a week in a suit, and are happy and active and unashamed. Even better, they are accepted by the others, and are great players. That has been a nice surprise to me.

One stumbling block we’ve had is the discovery that Abby has asthma. Once she was officially diagnosed, other things started making sense, including some difficulty she had during track and basketball seasons back in Texas. But she didn’t struggle nearly so bad in Texas – it was the move back to Oregon that really threw things into motion with her asthma. She uses a prescribed inhaler twice a day, and a rescue inhaler during games. She’s had some bad episodes during practices and games, but she’s been so brave to keep moving on, and has been motivated by several stories of athletes (even swimmers!) with asthma.

abby about to sprint in water polo

Abby, about to sprint off the wall at the start of a second half.

I’ve probably had the most difficult time growing accustomed to the rules of water polo, which basically allow for a LOT of physical contact. I’ve joked that it’s like hockey in water! My daughter has been forced under the water, had an opponent wrap her legs around my daughter’s torso, been elbowed and kicked countless times. She came home from a tournament last weekend with some pretty nasty bruises. I sometimes get very “Mama Bear” and want to take those other players aside and give them a talking to, but it’s all part of the game, and my daughter is learning to give as much as she gets.

I honestly never thought I would be a water polo mom, but it looks like I’m in for at least three more years of this! I’m proud of my daughter’s willingness to try something new, and grateful to be in a place that is giving her that opportunity.

Have you ever been surprised by something new your child wants to try?