Strength Training for Young Water Polo Athletes

Me with the guys at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Me with the guys at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

By: Kenny Schroeder

As the trainer for US water polo from 1993 to 2008, I’ve seen many changes in the sport regarding injury prevention and strength conditioning in both the men and women’s programs. Today there is more of a focus on dry land conditioning—this recent combination of dry and wet training has been developed in order to optimize the athlete’s ability to excel in the sport.

Traveling the world with the US team over that 15 year period and being exposed to the techniques of various other countries has given me the opportunity to see how the most successful teams approach the sport in regards to training.

In Eastern European countries, athletes begin to build a foundation in wellness and fitness at a much earlier age. It is not uncommon to see children as young as 7 years old involved in a comprehensive fitness program designed to create a solid base for their progression in the world of sport.

The exercises at an early age are generally low impact in nature– they involve elements of static and ballistic stretching, cardiovascular endurance and strength conditioning. At an early age the children are lead through exercise routines by their age group instructors which involve exercises that utilize gravity and the child’s body weight as the main element of resistance. This can be achieved by a combination of activities that make the training less boring and more exciting for the younger athlete. The lower impact exercises are performed at a high repetition and include a variety of exercises to make the overall training more enjoyable.

They may also involve elements of competition to further enhance the element compliance. For instance, the kids may be split into groups of 5 at the edge of the pool. The first participant may perform 10 pushups, 10 situps and 10 jumping jacks and then sprint a lap. When he or she touches the wall the next kid will perform the same routine. The whole time there is a lot of cheering, screaming and encouragement until the 5th and final participant touches the wall. The teams may be changed up and repeated 5 times.

To add a higher level of difficulty, the children are asked to wear cotton sweat pants with a speedo type swim trunk over the sweats to add additional drag in the water. This is one example of training for the younger athlete that makes it fun and competitive as well.

Me and the some of the USA guys climbing the Great Wall.
Me and the some of the USA guys climbing the Great Wall.

When Tony was a 15-year-old sophomore in high school, he approached me at the dinner table at his family’s house and asked if I could train him. He said he was going to try out for the National Team and needed to get more fit. I agreed and we began to work out in the gym 6 days a week, 80 minutes a day. The program included abdominal work, stretching, cardiovascular and strength work.

I felt I didn’t want him to be the strongest kid in the pool, I wanted him to be the fittest. If there was an emphasis I would have to say it was to strengthen his legs. Over the years I had seen many international athletes with large upper bodies and little thin legs. With my background in Kinesiology, I believed that the legs were most important element to enable the water polo athlete to remain stable in an unstable environment (the water).

Our program has lasted through Tony’s HS, College and international career. He still emails me to ask questions about his exercise program or how he should tailor it for upcoming games or tournaments. The game has grown and so should the athlete. Staying stagnant in the sport will only grow barnacles. Stay ahead of the game. Keep progressing so you can become the player you want to be.

AWP Note: This summer, Tony and Kenny will be co-publishing a book titled ‘Strength Training for the High School Olympian’. It will include a comprehensive fitness training regimen for high school aged water polo athletes, complemented by over 100 pictures of Tony in the gym, as well as supplemental material on diet, cross-training and more. The book will be available in both print form and as an e-book and sold directly through this website. To get updates about new content posted to this site, please sign up for our AWP Newsletter.