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Back You are here: Home Sports Waterpolo Kwa Zulu Natal Kelly Stevens: "Girls secretly like the rough sports"
Saturday, 13 June 2009 15:50

Kelly Stevens: "Girls secretly like the rough sports"


The game of water polo originated as a form of rugby football played in rivers and lakes in England and Scotland with a ball constructed of Indian rubber. This "water rugby" came to be called "water polo" based on the English pronunciation of the Balti word for ball, pulu. Men's water polo at the Olympics was among the first team sports introduced at the 1900 games, along with cricket, rugby, football (soccer), polo (with horses), rowing, and tug of war. However woman had to wait 100 years before they would compete in this sport at the Olympics when for the first time water polo became an Olympic sport for woman at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

“I used to practice with the boys teams”

In that context it is obvious to expect that this sport has not made great inroads into the mainstream sports offered to girl athletes and yet this is gradually changing with more and more girls taking up the sport and excelling at it. We caught up with St. Mary’s (Kloof) ace hole -guard Kelly Stevens and her coach Lee-Anne Keet.

“I was really quite fortunate that I got involved in water polo from a really young age,” says Kelly. “My dad was coaching the Westville Boy’s First Team so I used to go with him to the practices, games and the tours. Then one day they just put me in the pool and said ‘play’! Well from that moment I just sort of took to the sport easily, I was about 12 years old at that stage.”

Having the advantage of being able to go and practice with boys and a father who was a coach meant that Kelly Stevens developed rapidly as an exciting prospect for the future even though her primary school did not offer water polo as a sport. Things would change when she joined Clifton Water Polo club and started schooling at St. Mary’s. Under the tutorage of top coaches Brad Rowe and national player Lee- Anne Keet the young star soon started to benefit from their experience and has grown into one of the most talented players in the country.

Treading water for 5 minutes with a 5kg weighted ball!

We are very proud of Kelly, she is very dedicated and has worked very hard at the sport and she deserves to be in the position she is at the moment,” mentioned Coach Keet. Like any athlete who aspires to get to the top of their chosen sport Kelly Stevens has sacrificed plenty in order to play at the highest level although she excels as an academic student as well. “Yes water polo does require that I have to train a lot and it does require a great deal of training. I am training virtually every day in the week and it is vital that a water polo player keeps themselves strong and fit because it is a very physical game. The long hours of training creates a bit of a juggle to fit in the school work and it can be a little tiring,” says Kelly Stevens. It is just as well because her position in the team is a demanding one having to play hole- guard and defensively take her position in front of her own goal in order to guard the opposing center forward. “She has an incredible kick-off,” her coach adds and has been known to tread water for nearly 5 minutes whilst holding a 5kg weighted ball above her head!

It is well known that water polo as played in boy’s schools is a major sport and is the ideal sport for rugby players to play on the off season, this has made it into an exciting and competitive sport with a growing support base. What is the competition level amongst the girls? Lee-Anne Keat sums up the present situation by explaining that “at the moment if you are looking at the schools at the Top Ten Tournament in KZN is at a very high level and also the U16 level is very good. Here at St. Mary’s we are very competitive in the province but KZN water polo has always been very high because of the depth that we have.  For example at the U16 KZN trials we had 98 girls which is phenomenal because you can only choose two teams. Also a lot of the coaches that are coaching the teams are pretty young and enthusiastic and keen to train the girls.”

Sadly on a national level Swim South Africa hasn’t allowed the girls on a school level to play any international event which is a pity, the last event they played in was way back in 2001. This all means that without the proper exposure at an international level the sport amongst girls will struggle to grow and be competitive. Despite this the sport is thriving and one just needs to attend a tournament to see just how passionate the girls are about the sport.  “Durban Girls College is probably the top girl’s team in KZN at the moment and they are always the team we aim to beat or at least give a hard game. I would say that the competition amongst the schools in KZN is fairly good but I would have to say that the competition is a little higher in the other provinces.  For example at tournaments where we come up against girls from Grahamstown and East London we find that they play at a very competitive level,” says Kelly.

Having already been selected for the KZN provincial teams in the various age groups, Kelly Stevens has as a goal to make her mark on this growing sport. “I played U13 KZN in 2005 and then I played last year for U16 KZN and I have also played for the KZN Ladies Team. Now I have been selected for the South African U18 squad which is very exciting because the team is going on a tour this year to Russia in August and it will be a wonderful experience to play there,” adds Kelly. Listing as her proudest moment in the sport when she captained the KZN U14 team to the finals of the SA Schools Tournament, Kelly Steven’s has her eyes set on big prizes later on in her career. “I would love to make the South African Women’s Team that really is my goal and also to possibly go study in Pretoria that will give me an opportunity to go and train at the High Performance Centre there for the elite athletes. Possibly in time South Africa will qualify for the Olympics and that would be great if I could be part of the team and to play in that, but that is still some way off at the moment,” says Kelly Stevens.

“Girls secretly like a bit of the rough sports…maybe not the ballet girls though”

Make no mistake water polo is a tough sport which requires a strong passion for the sport and a real hunger to go for the ball in whatever circumstances. It also requires dedication because of all the time that is spent training. Also as far as sports played by girls it is most probably the roughest sport as both Coach Keets and Kelly Stevens admit. “Look there is physical contact 24/7, people are trying to get past you and get the ball so they will do anything to do that, sometimes people seem to want to hurt. Some weird people that is! Costumes get ripped!  You would actually need an underwater camera to see exactly how rough and physical it becomes. But that is also what makes it great fun. Maybe that is why some girls don’t like the sport but I think girls secretly like a bit of the rough sports, maybe not the ballet girls though! I apparently have an aggressive ‘kick-off’ but that is as far as I go with the physical stuff,” discloses Kelly. It is a view that is shared by Lee-Anne Keet too, “I don’t think girls are afraid of the sport but I think a lot of the girly girls will use that excuse not to play the sport, because it is a very physical sport. There is a huge stigma attached to water polo that it is very rough but I think that it is exaggerated and it is not really a sport that should scare any girl. For boys it is defined as “rugby in water” so for girls to play it is demanding, there is a lot of pulling and pushing but no punching.”

The future of both Kelly Stevens and water polo looks bright and with Swim South Africa now allowing the National Water Polo teams to go to the World League and the World Champs and with talks in the pipeline that qualification for the Olympics could become a reality there is much to be positive about for a girl water polo player. This is well summed up with Coach Keet’s enthusiastic approach to the future of the game, “I have so much hope for water polo and really believe that as a summer sport it has no equal for the girls. It gives you an opportunity to play in a team sport and there is of course the social side which is good so it is growing in leaps and bounds in the schools amongst girls. We have the interest we just have to get the structure right.”

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