This Penguin100 Story is by Lize Crone, a player with our Hillingdon junior water polo section.
I first started playing water polo in 2017, when my parents introduced me to the sport as a way to get active after my swimming lessons had ended. I had always loved swimming and could be found in the water on any family holiday. So with the encouragement of my family I decided to attend a trial session at the Hillingdon juniors’ section of West London Penguin, and fell in love immediately. Though my speed, ball skills and strength left a lot to be desired, I immediately felt a passion for the game that I had never felt for any other sport. I returned home on a high and could hardly wait for the next session.
Part of the reason I felt so at home was because of the way us girls formed connections with each other. As there was only a small number of us compared to the vast amount of boys who sometimes overshadowed us, we instantly banded together and made sure to always lift each other up and support one another. The tight group we formed often helped me be more confident and secure.
As more girls joined and we welcomed them into the fold, secretly I hoped our number would one day grow to be enough for a competing squad.
One of the most important developments for girls at Hillingdon Penguin came at the end of 2019, when we received funding to start a once a week training just for girls, to improve our strength, fitness and skills. This helped us all to gain confidence in ourselves and our ability. Unfortunately, COVID halted much of the exciting growth we were making as girls. When we were finally allowed to return to the pool for regular training, girls’ training was unable to return with it until the end of 2021.
However, over the years our group of girls had grown, and we had the numbers to form a squad, albeit a rather bare-bones one. As captain of the team, I am extremely proud to say we were able to bring together enough players together to play at two U16 girls’ tournaments in the London Water Polo League (LWPL). It was an incredible experience to be able to play together for the very first time. While we have definite areas for improvement, we all agree that we performed amazingly and to our utmost extent.
Yolanda says, ‘Having my first tournament be a girls’ tournament has been an amazing experience, because I know that getting a girls’ team together was such a long process I am extremely happy to help towards creating this awesome squad.’
Development for girls
In the last year or two, the way I play water polo has changed from being just a hobby, to being an ambition too. I first realised I could take water polo further when I was offered the opportunity to trial for the London Regional Academy in September 2021, along with fellow Hillingdon Penguin girls Sophie, Thalia and Órlaith. This helped us to improve our fitness, ball-handling skills and tactical knowledge, as well as providing us an extra night a week to simply enjoy the sport. Our fellow Hillingdon Penguin girl Zahra has also joined the Academy this May, and we are very excited to see the progress she will make.
Sophie, Órlaith and I went on to represent the region at the 2021 U16 Inter-Regionals in Walsall and the 2022 U18 Inter-Regionals in Blackpool, which were very exciting opportunities to play with and against some of the best players of our age.
In November of 2021, some of us also had the opportunity to play together with the Penguins from Latymer at the annual South-East Inter-County Championships for U16 girls, from which we came away with silver medals.
Sophie says, ‘I think it’s awesome that we can go and compete together as we help each other grow as a team. As someone who has competed at a higher level with the London regional team, being part of development at my own club is really nice as I can help newcomers and younger girls with the knowledge I have picked up but also develop my own skills such as communication and leadership. In general it is great to be involved in a whole team of girls eager to participate in (and get better at) such a physically demanding sport. I hope we can recruit more girls to expand our little water polo family into a big one.’
Personally, I think it is amazing that as a regional player I have the opportunity to pioneer a pathway of development which will hopefully allow many girls like myself to improve their skills and achieve their water polo dreams.
It is clear to see that not only my development, but the development of all the girls at Hillingdon Penguin is down to the amazing nurturing environment that is created by Sue and the coaches and the opportunities that they offer, so a big thank you to all of them. We all know we would be nowhere without their support.
Young and old
Looking back at my initial months of water polo, seeing older girls at training was really important in allowing me to be confident in my identity as a girl playing water polo. Now that I am one of the older girls, I feel inspired to look after and nurture younger and newer players. It is an incredible joy to witness the passion for our wonderful sport grow in younger girls.
On the occasions that I have been asked to coach at our girls’ session because Shaun, our usual coach, wasn’t available, I have found it an absolute privilege and it has increased my love for the sport even more than I thought possible.
Coach Shaun says, ‘I’m very grateful to have such a wonderful group of athletes at Hillingdon Penguin. It makes coaching so rewarding, I look forward to seeing how far we can take these players. They have so much potential and talent considering we only train once a week. It’s been a privilege seeing them grow through my program. I’m so proud of all my players.’
Elizabeth (one of the U12s) says, ‘My time at the girls water polo trainings are great, I love training with the older girls to learn new things, and girls my age too. I always look forward to it.’
Robyn says, ‘Joining a male dominated sport was always a daunting task but due to the support and kindness of others it quickly became a very enjoyable weekly activity. Personally I think it is such a great way of joining in with a fun sport. The skills developed can help with future life skills and improve our understanding of teamwork. There are many ways you can take part and take up roles to help younger girls enjoy the sport as much as I do now. Joining a girls team was an exciting change and a challenge to take part in. The training is great for younger girls as the older ones can help pass their knowledge onto the next generation of players.’
Once more, I’d like to extend a thank you from all the girls at Hillingdon Penguin to all the coaches and others behind the scenes who support us to be the best players we can be. We would be nowhere without you!
This post is part of our Penguin100 series; stories from Penguins past and present, sharing what being a member of the Club means to them as we celebrate our Centenary.