To provide inspiration for Penguins during lockdown, we had the idea of inviting some top water polo players to join us via Zoom to talk about their motivations and training, and the share tips and advice.
Our head water polo coach, Claudio Palumbo, reached out to his contacts and our Chat with Champions series was born.
To kick off the series, we were excited to meet Italian water polo legend, Carlo Silipo.
Carlo won gold with the Italian team in the 1992 Olympics, played in three other Olympics, is a World and European champion and now coaches the Italian junior teams. (Read more about his career and long list of achievements here.)
Over 70 Penguins, a mix of junior and senior water polo players and some of our masters swimmers, tuned in to meet Carlo. As the coach of the GB U17 Boys, Claudio had also invited his national squad to attend.
Claudio hosted the conversation using questions that had been submitted Penguin members. Here’s how it went…
Welcome Carlo, thank you for joining us today.
Great to meet you all. I’m honoured to be here.
Carlo, a lot of our players have asked what is the best workout during lockdown?
It’s difficult at the moment, but don’t stop.
It’s important to work on your shoulders and adductors. Use resistance bands and do simple movements. Also work on your core for stability. And do metabolic work for your cardio fitness.
Many coaches have started using Tabata – 20 seconds of intense work and 10 seconds recovery. In fact, our national team just started doing Tabata this week.
It’s also key to manage your nutrition. The current time is dangerous because when we are training we use lots of energy but you must be careful not to over-eat in lockdown.
How much did you eat when you were playing at the top level?
We used a lot of energy because we were training two sessions a day. We trained four hours in the morning – 1.5 hours in the gym and 2.5 hours in the water – and three hours in the afternoon, all in the pool.
It was important to have a balanced diet.
How old were you when you started playing?
I started to swim when I was four. I was a good swimmer. I had my first experience in water polo when I was 13 years old.
When you were on the national team, how difficult was it to combine school and water polo?
By the time I was on the national team I had left school, so I could focus just on water polo by then.
However, when I was younger it was tough doing both. For me it was sacrifice but also an opportunity.
Fundamentally I loved the game and I saw it as an opportunity that could take me to the Olympics.
My message to you is not to live thinking that it’s a sacrifice, play with happiness and if you love it you can achieve all your dreams.
All the friends, the people you played with, your clubs, did they help you be more focussed on water polo?
Water polo doesn’t just give you victories. The special friendships are the most important thing that I achieved. You give a lot to the sport, but you get back a lot of friendships too. One of the most beautiful aspects of water polo is your teammates – at any moment you can call on them to help you – for all your life.
I agree, when we travel, we can always find a friend in the pool.
Now you are the national coach for the Italian U18 and U19 teams, you must see a lot of teams around the world. Do you think there is space for some new nations to join the top ranks of junior players?
Last year we played Turkey in the quarter finals. There’s not a strong tradition of water polo in Turkey but we had to work for the win. After the match I spoke to their coach who explained that a former Yugoslavian player has been working with the Turkish teams so the skills in their country have improved. So yes, it is possible for new teams to get to the top.
It’s important to watch and study the strongest teams, then new teams can achieve results.
What about the new water polo rules?
I think the new rules are very valuable, and they are improving the game. It’s become faster. Before, the game needed big, strong, physical players. The new rules mean you have to understand and think about the game more, and smaller players can play and win.
I tell players that defence is the most important aspect of the game. You were a defender yet you also scored over 500 goals. What is your secret?
I came from a swimming background so I was fast. My placement was important and a lot of goals came from my speed. I thought quickly and I read the game to take advantage of my speed.
Agreed, I played against you and you were hard to mark because you were so fast! (You are also very tall!).
I think the secret is for young people to play against good teams. This will present the correct challenge for improvement.
There are a lot of good goalkeepers here with is today. What advice would you give them, and what should they tell their fellow players in the pool?
I played against some of the best keepers in the world and it’s a hard position in the team. For a few seconds you have to be on top form, then the activity goes onto offence and you have to keep your concentration to be ready to spring into action again. This is very difficult to train for.
When I train my goalkeepers, I make them practise focus and concentration as well as agility. You can do this out of the water during lockdown too.
You were a great centre back – what tricks can you teach players t steal the ball?
Water polo is a special sport. As I said before, you must really understand and anticipate the game so you must use your brain.
It’s important to know where to make contact with the opposing players, where to place your hands, where the ball is, where your opponent is in relation to you, the position of your own body, and how to read their movements.
Study your opponents to understand their preferred moves and their strengths. Good knowledge is so important.
For a defender, the hardest thing is to break a left-handed centre as they have a different position in the water. In training you mostly practise with right-handed teammates, so you will struggle if you have to block left-handers.
As a player you were in the Olympics, World Championships, European Championships… how did you feel before the matches?
I experienced different moods. Sometimes I was very excited and had to try and reduce the excitement. But sometimes I had to increase the anticipation.
If I was too excited, I would try to relax – talk to my friends and share the emotion with them, or sometimes I would stay alone or with music.
To increase the tension one of my coaches taught us to visualise the match beforehand.
You played in your first Olympics aged 19 and won gold. This was in Barcelona in 1992 where you played the host nation, Spain, in the final. How did it feel to have 10,000 spectators in the arena, mostly all against you?
I remember that we warned up in another pool so we didn’t know what awaited us. When we went into the main arena, with so many people watching, it was an amazing experience. But in our preparations for the Olympics our coach had put us in pressured situations in every training session so we knew how to control our nerves.
You also played in a local match where the pressure was high… tell us about that game.
We were once goal down against Barcelona in overtime and we scored two counter-attack goals, the second one with 30 seconds on the clock. Spain had the opportunity to score but hit the bar so we won.
You had some other strange matches…
Yes, I’ll tell you about one of the most beautiful games I ever played…
In the 1996 Olympics we had been unlucky to lose against Croatia in the semi finals in overtime. This put us in the bronze medal play-off against Hungary (they were a really strong team that later went on to win gold in the next three Olympics).
We were stunned to be in this position, highly disappointed and feeling very low. We started the match like zombies – we couldn’t swim and we couldn’t think.
In the last four minutes of the match we were four goals behind and I called the guys together and said let’s forget defence and just go for goals. We scored from the next four attacks bringing it to a draw. Then on the fifth attack we scored again putting us ahead with one second remaining on the clock!
In celebration one of our players leapt into the water from the bench but because the match hadn’t actually finished the referee awarded a penalty to Hungary who scored. This took us into overtime and we won the bronze.
To this day journalists say that it was a good as the gold medal match!
And the final question. From your career is there one thing that is burned in your memory, something that you will never forget?
Yes, I always remember a match in 1988. It was a play-off and we lost with 5,000 people watching. I was 16 or 17 and the defeat hurt a lot. But this suffering prepared me for the future. I grew up a lot.
Losing is as important as winning. You win, you celebrate, you don’t question your mistakes. But when you fail you ask why. You analyse your errors and think about your weaknesses. You improve.
After lots of ‘thank you’s from our audience, Carlo closed by saying I hope I will come to London and play with you in the water.
Carlo you will be very welcome.