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Exclusive: Water Polo NSW Makes Waves With New Participation Program

W
ater Polo New South Wales (NSW) vice president, and Girls Making Waves founder, Suzanne Ramke, spoke with Ministry of Sport on re-imagining the sport to encourage participation among young girls.

The program, aimed at girls aged 7-12, doesn’t focus on a full game of water polo, but instead emphasises basic skills and fun mini-games to boost confidence and increase participation.

Ramke told Ministry of Sport Girls Making Waves was a modified ‘come and discover’ program for girls in regional and metro NSW which introduces basic skills and team building in a fun environment.

“Its not the traditional game of water polo with four quarters,” Ramke told Ministry of Sport.

“It’s about creating an enjoyable water polo experience for girls that may not have previously considered the sport, with the goal to give them the confidence to join a club.

“Girls Making Waves will increase the visibility of water polo, nurture social inclusion and enjoyment of all levels of participation and address barriers to participation such as swimming ability and appearance.

“We encourage girls to wear any type of swimwear they feel comfortable in, it’s not necessary to play in a water polo bodysuit and the sessions are held in shallow water, so they can stand and not have to eggbeater.

“We want girls to leave our Girls Making Waves session with basic water polo skills sure, but more importantly they’ve made some new friends, had a bunch of fun and feel confident,” she said.

According to Water Polo Australia’s annual report for the 2019/2020 season, NSW had the highest number of full active members with a total of 6,016, and came in close second to Queensland with the number of youth members at 2,501.

Ramke said it was rewarding to see the first year of the program already having a positive impact.

“73% of participants had never played water polo and a further 13% had only played once or twice,” Ramke said.

“The girls are clearly enjoying themselves, the mums and dads and caregivers who attend on the day come up to us and thank us and ask when there’s an adult version.

“Inspiring the girls is our chief fun officer (traditionally known as head coach) Mel Rippon, triple Olympian and dual Olympic bronze medallist and current NSW U19 Women’s coach, who brings phenomenal energy to the sessions and the girls have a blast.

“Having a chief fun officer and ambassador that is passionate about water polo and introducing new participants to the sport is key to the success of the program,” she said.

Also helping Girls Make Waves achieve this success, is the NSW government’s Her Sport Her Way grant program, an initiative the NSW office of sport said provides over $2.5 million over four years to “assist NSW state sporting organisations to develop and deliver new initiatives to increase participation of women and girls in sport, on and off the field with a focus on diversity and inclusion.”

After witnessing the program in Albury, Water Polo NSW CEO, Alex Godbold noted the success of the program in engaging new participants.

“Water Polo NSW is extremely excited to see our Girls Making Waves program proudly supported by the NSW Office of Sport reach and engage communities across NSW,” Godbold said.

“COVID required a few tweaks to the program but I was personally stoked to see the excitement and smiles of the girls who participated in the Albury event.

“With around 80% of participants new to water polo it shows the program attracts people to get involved in a community sport that promotes water safety, confidence, and fun,” Godbold said.

On being a recipient of the program, Ramke told Ministry of Sport the funding is incredibly important for Girls Making waves.

“Water Polo NSW initially became involved with the Her Sport Her Way grant program to break down barriers of participation for women and girls such as appearance and swimming ability, but due to the COVID pandemic, it evolved into targeting participation and engagement in regional areas where resources like pools, equipment and coaches aren’t as readily available,” Ramke said.

“[The Her Sport Her Way grant program] enabled Water Polo NSW to design and deliver an inclusive experience specifically for girls.

“Water Polo NSW are enthusiastic about the Girls Making Waves program and expanding the reach of our sport – specifically with providing more opportunities and making it more inclusive to women and girls,” she told Ministry of Sport.

After a successful first year, Girls Making Waves is launching its second season this spring with sessions being planned for Tamworth, Orange, Coffs Harbour, Wagga, Griffith and more.