Steve Knights and Emma Collard. HB Water Polo Club

In 2022, the Hawke’s Bay Water Polo Club consisted of half a dozen kids splashing around the pool at St Joseph’s School.

Now they boast over 700 members and are celebrating being named club of the year at the New Zealand Water Polo awards.

“The water polo world in New Zealand has recognised how quickly we’ve grown and the culture we’ve created,’’ Hawke’s Bay Water Polo club development officer Emma Collard said.

Recruited from Otago a year ago, Collard “couldn’t get over the fact it was brand new’’ when she arrived in Hawke’s Bay. By “it” Collard doesn’t just mean the club, but the sport itself in this region.

Water polo simply wasn’t on the Hawke’s Bay sporting map.

Word of mouth helped rustle up a few players, but that’s not enough to sustain a club. So that meant getting into schools for have-a-go sessions. Establishing age-group and adult leagues, training programmes, coach and referee education clinics, you name it.

“One of our biggest things is making sure that anyone who comes and tries the sport walks away happy and wants to come back. That’s essentially how it’s grown,’’ said Collard.

From part time, Collard’s role quickly became a full time one as the playing numbers grew at an incredible rate. Having the Hawke’s Bay Regional Aquatic Centre, which Collard calls “the best pool in the country’’ has helped sell the sport.

But, as water polo increases in popularity, a big challenge for the club will become booking the required pool time to move athletes from participatory to high-performance level.

Collard is assistant coach of the New Zealand boys’ under-16 team, while playing peers from her days in Auckland are now on water polo scholarships at colleges in the United States.

She’s ambitious for the Hawke’s Bay Water Polo Club and, particularly, its age-group players and the potential pathway that’s ahead of them. That means developing Hawke’s Bay representative squads and more secondary schools’ leagues, as well getting kids at primary and intermediate age to simply give water polo a go.

Most of all, Collard and the club want all their members to enjoy their involvement and show everyone else that we do things a bit different in Hawke’s Bay.

Other clubs didn’t know what to expect when Collard and company started attending tournaments, but they do now. “The chanting that we bring, the laughter, the costumes; we like to have a bit of fun with it,’’ Collard said.

It’s all been driven, Collard says, by club chairman Steve Knights and a committee determined to bring the joy of water polo to as much of Hawke’s Bay as possible.

Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air


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