To celebrate the Club’s centenary we are publishing a series of stories from Penguins past and present, recoding what being a member of our Club means to them.
This post comes from our men’s first team and GB U19 water polo goalie Elliot McHugh.
I joined West London Penguin back in 2018 as a young junior, having progressed from Ealing SC – the club had undergone some staffing changes and there was good pool time on offer at Penguin, which was only 20 minutes away. At the time, there was also the opportunity to compete in the senior national league which had, and still has, some great players.
As a young goalie, I was thrown into the deep end (literally) and I gained experience playing with seniors at an early point in my career. This was something that really helped my development and something I really like about the Club, because it’s so critical to have that exposure to a higher standard when you’re in the early stages of development.
For young juniors, there is always an opportunity to progress your game and, while it’s tough at first, there is often support from the older guys who can steer you in the right direction. I remember my first national league in in division 2 in Sheffield and all of the team where very supportive if I ever made a mistake during a game – after matches they would check to see I was in a good place psychologically, which of course is crucial for goalies. In my opinion, if a player is committed and really wants to improve, there is an opportunity for most juniors to play comfortably at national or international level when training at Penguin. Our team experiences outside of the water during national league weekends were also great fun, with memories probably not suitable for this blog!
After lots of hours training, in 2019 I was selected to be part of the Great Britain U19 squad. This involved many training weekends around the country, usually in Manchester, and a number of trips abroad, including training camps in Croatia and Barcelona. I also travelled out to Serbia with a friend from the Club (Andre) and trained under some of the best players and coaches in the world – later our GB team visited the same place and were coached by Dejan Savić, who led Serbia to Olympic gold in 2016. These trips were a great opportunity to develop as a player, and were experiences I won’t forget.
In early 2020, I was selected to be part of the GB U19 team and to compete at the European Qualifiers in April 2020, which had been my goal since I started playing polo. It all seems quite surreal looking back now – I had never been a swimmer or football goalie, and started from scratch at around 16 years old. I think my successes are down to a combination of great coaching, a motivating environment, hard work and persistence. It’s great to see some of those qualities coming through in the younger players at Penguin.
What makes West London Penguin special? I think for me, it’s the sense of community and the people that make Penguin a great club. Water polo isn’t just about the skill or the fitness – it’s also about the experiences and memories you share with teammates over the years, and the games (good and bad). What’s interesting about Penguin is that it attracts such a wide range of cultures, and you meet so many different people, from special unit commanders operating in Bulgaria to Italian chiropractors in London!
I think the future is bright for water polo – it will be interesting to see how the recent £375,000 funding injection from UK Sport will influence the direction of the sport, and how the water polo development strategy will change in the coming years. On a personal level, whilst COVID-19 disrupted my opportunity to play at Europeans, I still remain positive and will endeavour to represent GB and Penguin at the World University Games in China next year, as well as the Commonwealth Games tournament. I also hope to pass on some of my knowledge and experience to younger goalies, and continue to support Penguin growing its talented pool of players.