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The University of Pretoria’s water polo men’s team, also known as TuksWaterpolo, is gearing up for the University Sports South Africa (USSA) Championships that will take place later this year. The team has been training hard in the pool, with five-day training sessions and rigorous drills, to get the players match-fit and ready to face tough opponents such as Stellenbosch University and Wits University.

The team has a history of success in the national water polo league, with impressive wins over some of the top teams in the country, such as Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg. The team also benefits from training at world-class facilities at UP, which boasts an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a state-of-the-art gym.

Water polo is a fast-paced and physically demanding sport that requires players to swim, pass, shoot, and defend while treading water. It is played by two teams of seven players each, who try to score goals by throwing a ball into the opponent’s net. The game consists of four periods of eight minutes each, with a two-minute break between each period. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins.

The captain of the TuksWaterpolo men’s team is Josh Schmidt, an honours student who is also a national representative of the sport, having played on an international level. Schmidt has been playing water polo for 13 years and joined TuksWaterpolo in his first year at the university. He said that water polo is both a social and competitive sport, making it a good choice for all age groups, mentioning that he knows 80-year-old adults who still play the game. He also enjoys being part of a team that shares his passion and mutual support, as well as the physical and mental challenges that the sport brings. PDBY asked him some questions about TuksWaterpolo and water polo in general, as well as his expectations for the future.

Can you describe the appeal of water polo to those who may not be familiar with the sport? What makes it unique compared to other water-based sports?
Water polo is physical, fast-paced, quick, and exciting. It’s a hard sport to describe, purely because it’s so unique. The real question is, how do you get into any sport? You just have to try it, and the more you play, the more you will fall in love with it, just like I did. From a university perspective, we encourage anyone to come, even if you’ve played for 10 years or 10 days. Come and join. We do take it very seriously; we train hard and pride ourselves in our commitment to achieve as best as we can, but we don’t forget the social aspect.

Water polo is known for its physical demands; with USSA Championships coming up, could you share insights into the
training regimen that you and your teammates follow to stay in peak condition?

It’s a very physical sport; the best way I can describe it is you can combine swimming with rugby, soccer, and netball as well. I mean, it is a round ball you throw into the net. There is off-ball and on-ball work depending on the level you want to play. With USSA, we are going with an attitude and mindset to compete; we do want to make the finals and hopefully win, and that does come with the right preparation. We train five times a week from 17:00 to 19:00, with social practices on Sundays.

Water polo is a tough sport in South Africa, as it is considered an amateur sport at the national level. Many players, including Schmidt, play for the national team without any financial support or subsidy, unlike rugby or football. “We have hit a brick wall,” he said.

However, water polo is very popular at the school level, with Supersports School hosting the South African College High Schools (SACS) Tournament in Cape Town recently. “It has gotten to a point where it’s a shock if a school doesn’t have water polo,” Schmidt explained. At the university level, the competition is fierce, with TuksWaterpolo facing rivals like UCT and Maties. Schmidt praised the aquatics facility and the coaching staff at TuksWaterpolo, saying they have the best in the country. He admitted that the club has taken a dip in the past few years, but he is confident that they are rebuilding into a better club.

Though Schmidt has been playing water polo for so many years, he said he will never get over it. “It’s so dynamic, so quick, and you’ll never get over it.” He recalled one of his best memories from his water polo career, when he scored against New Zealand at the World Champs in Hungary. It was his father’s birthday and his first time representing South Africa at the U18 level. He believes that this sport has so much potential for growth in this country.

Schmidt invited all first-years to join TuksWaterpolo next year, whether they have previous experience or not. “We are in a rebuilding phase, so we would like as many first-years as possible,” he said. He assured them that they will train hard but also have fun and make new friends. “We do train hard because we demand excellence, but for the first-years, I’d say to them to come out and just experience it, and you’ll find yourself in a unique community outside of your friend group that will be there for you.” he says. Schmidt added that he still keeps in contact with people he met in his first year who are now in their 30s. “If you want something new or you want to continue playing a competitive sport at a high level, then TuksWaterpolo is what you’re looking for,” he commented.

Josh Schmidt is a dedicated and experienced player who leads the men’s water polo team with pride and enthusiasm. He encourages everyone, regardless of age and ability, to come and try out the sport. You can get in touch with TuksWaterpolo via the University of Pretoria website. You might discover a new passion and community.