My twin, Peter, and I joined Watford swimming club when we were seven or eight. The water polo club used to train directly after our swimming sessions, so one day we stayed behind and joined in. It was so varied and dynamic, and I was immediately drawn to the team nature of the sport, as opposed to just repetitively swimming lengths. Ten years on, Peter has been selected for the England squad, and I’m president of the University of Warwick water polo club.

Water polo is an aquatic version of handball; you score goals by throwing the ball into the opposition’s net. Each team has seven players in the water and, other than the goalkeeper, everyone attacks and everyone defends. Each team gets only 30 seconds to attack before the other is given the ball, so every 30 seconds you’re sprinting the length of the pool. It’s incredibly fast-paced, intense and tiring.

You’re penalised if you touch the sides or the floor. We’ll do two-hour training sessions where treading water is your rest state. The exertion is in the swimming, and kicking up out of the water. The higher you can get, the more powerful your shot will be: the best players can lift half of their body out of the water just by kicking their legs.

Water polo is defined as a non-contact sport, but it’s difficult for referees (standing on the side of the pool) to see what’s going on underwater, because there’s so much splashing. Players deploy tricks – including trunk-pulling, wrist-grabbing, head-dunking and scratching. Passions run high, and it’s not uncommon to see punches thrown. But everyone who plays understands the physicality of it, and everyone enjoys it.

Swimming, throwing, catching and trying to pick out team-mates amid the chaos is a challenge. But I love the intensity, team spirit and going away for weekend-long tournaments with my team-mates. And most of all, I love being in water. I don’t even smell the chlorine any more.

My weekend workout

How often do you play? At uni, we’ll have four or five sessions a week, plus I’ll swim and go to the gym.

Most goals scored? In our Varsity game against Coventry last year, I scored 10 goals. We won 25-1.

Five ways to get started

1 You really do need to be a strong swimmer to play water polo. The technical and tactical knowledge you can pick up later, but if you can’t comfortably cover 60 lengths in an hour, this might not be the sport for you.

2 You’ll need to be able to handle a bit of rough and tumble. You will get pushed, and your head will get dunked underwater.

3 You have to keep your head out of the water as much as possible to see what’s going on. The main swimming stroke, therefore, is a version of front crawl where you take short, sharp strokes with your arms, keeping your elbows high.

4 To raise your body out of the water, practise the so-called egg-beater kicking motion. It’s a little like a vertical breast stroke, but kicking with alternate legs, rather than both together. Keep knees wide to create a stable base.

5 To find your nearest pool or water polo club, visit and enter your location into Swim England’s poolfinder.

Steve Chambers, team manager, Watford Water Polo Club.

The essential kit

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