Tommy Patten, a 21 year old from Irvine, CA, attended Mater Dei High School and played for their club team, Regency.
He currently plays polo at orange Coast College and plans on transferring to a Division 1 school this year to continue his career. He has traveled to Kotor, Montenegro on three separate AWP individual water polo training trips and plans to return to Europe again soon.
1) What made you want to travel overseas to train?
The main thing was the quality of water polo in Montenegro compared to American water polo. Water polo in Montenegro is like football in America- almost everyone has played it and knows everything about the game. I learned that as a child living in Montenegro, you can either play water polo or soccer. Most children choose water polo and start playing at the age of 5. Every player in Kotor practices at the same pool, even if they’re a paid professional. So this allows children to have the chance to practice with some of the best players in the world and grow up learning from them—and this gets passed on from generation to generation. Also, I knew that Europeans were the best at water polo so I wanted to actually train with some of the top players in the world and become a better player from that experience.
2) What was your first impression of Kotor and Montenegro?
My first impression of Kotor is “Where am I?” I was picked up at the airport by the team driver who didn’t speak one word of English. As I was driven from the airport to Kotor, I noticed the roads were built right along the sea and surrounded by mountains. Even though I was pretty nervous about what I had gotten myself into, I trusted Tony Azevedo and my coach Genai Kerr to place me with the best family and get the best training possible.
3) Tell me a little bit about your living situation in Montenegro. What did you think of the lifestyle? The people?
Living in Kotor sounded horrible when I first arrived there because it’s very different from Southern California. After meeting Tony Azevedo, Tony’s wife, and some other professional players for lunch in “Stari Grad” (old town kotor) I settled in with a guy named Mata. Mata is the 18-and-under Men’s Team Head Coach and Junior Team Coach. Fortunately, he speaks excellent English, along with most of his family, except for his parents. After lunch we went to Mata and his brother’s apartment where I would be staying, which was actually amazing. I loved everything about it because it was so different and it was also in the middle of the Old Town where all the cafés, bars, and clubs are. The lifestyle there is amazing. First off, there really isn’t a social class there like there is in America. Relationships there are based on true love and friendship or on how good of a water polo player you are (haha). The people are very interesting and were very friendly and welcoming because, like every country, they think they’re the best and they wanted me to enjoy myself.
4) Where did you train and whom did you train with? What was the pool like?
I trained at VK Primorac’s training pool. I thought it was one of the coolest pools I’ve ever seen because it was an indoor stadium, had so much history there, and so many amazing players grew up and practiced there. Also, the funny thing is that it doesn’t even look like a pool from the outside of the building. My first two times going to Kotor, I trained with the 18-and-under team that had a few kids on the Junior National Team, which was great. My third time, when I stayed for almost three weeks, I practiced with the VK Primorac Kotor professional team which was hard but amazing because I was in the best water polo shape of my life. It took a lot of work to get to that point, but I had so much confidence once I arrived back in the states that it was completely worth it.
5) Describe a typical day while you were living in Kotor.
It depends. My first two trips I had one practice per day but my third time I practiced with the professional team, which consisted of more practices and harder training. A typical day in Kotor would be wake up at 9 and have breakfast at home or at a café. After we had breakfast, we would go straight to practice from 11:30 to 1:30. The pool and ocean were about a mile away which was convenient. After a good morning practice, which consisted of swimming and passing, we then had lunch at a café or at home. Once we ate lunch, we went to the beach for a few hours. Once we had enough of lying out or swimming, we went back home to take a nap. After the nap we would have a snack then go straight to the pool for night practice from 8 to 10:30. At this night practice, we would do a swim set and do a lot of legs. After we did about 45 to 60 minutes of legs, then we would pass, shoot, do drills, and then sometimes scrimmage for about 30 minutes. After practice, we would go home and eat dinner. Once we ate dinner, we would either go to the café, bars, or go to the local club “Maximus”. Furthermore, we had two-a-day practices Monday thru Friday and a morning practice on Saturday morning. And almost every night we would go to a new bar or café, so it was pretty exciting seeing everything and meeting people.
6) Did you get to travel anywhere from Kotor? What did you learn about the country that most impressed you?
We were able travel a little to watch Tony play in Budva and go to Tivat, where Mata’s girlfriend lives. What impressed me the most about the country are the food they eat and the water polo of course.
7) So you like the food?
I loved the food. In America, people are affected a lot by fast food because it’s easy and tastes good, but it’s horrible for you. In Montenegro, they don’t have fast food and everything they eat is organic and fresh. Basically they eat a lot of meats, vegetables, cheeses, pasta, and fruit. The only American drink is Coke. I didn’t love the food when I first traveled there, but I ended up loving it by the end of my first trip. I missed fast food and In-N-Out, but I understood that eating healthy is so important to training hard and being healthy. If you like meat, then you will like Montenegro.
8) How did water polo in Kotor differ from what you were used to in the states?
Water polo in Kotor is so different from water polo in the states. Everyone in Kotor started playing when they were 5 years old, while most kids in the states start at around 12 to 14 years of age. By the time the kids in Kotor are 13, they’ve been playing for eight years. Kids in Kotor are also influenced and are able to practice with some of the greatest professionals in the world that have played with Primorac and other neighboring teams. They’re able to learn from them and get advice about anything on a daily basis. Also, water polo in the states is heavily influenced by swimming and not water polo tactics or skills like it is in Montenegro. Don’t get me wrong, we had a morning swim practice, but it consisted of water polo swimming, which isn’t 20 200’s on the 2:20. It’s some yardage but it also consists of sprints and swimming-with-the ball kind of swimming. We also did a lot of passing and outside shooting which we really don’t do in the states. Most people in America don’t even know what water polo really is.
9) What was the most important thing you learned while you were in Kotor playing-wise?
Confidence in the water and how to slow down the game to make better decisions.
10) What else did you learn while you were abroad? Were there any aspects of living abroad that were especially hard?
I learned a lot of Serbian and how to live on my own independently. On my third trip to Kotor over the summer I stayed for almost three weeks and it was the first time I had lived on my own without my family for and extended period. One thing that was specifically hard on my first trip was communication. It was hard to talk and communicate at practice because no one really spoke English other than Mata and a few others.
11) Do you see yourself eventually playing water polo professionally overseas? If so, what are your favorite teams?
I definitely see myself playing professional water polo overseas. My favorite teams, of course, are VK Primorac Kotor and Pro Recco. I wish to one day play for VK Primorac Kotor and possibly play for teams in France, Spain, and Australia.