You could say that water polo was somewhat of a family tradition for Brett Foster. Originally from South Africa, Brett’s grandfather Richard was known as Rhodesia’s* “Mr Water Polo” and represented the nation 102 times (capped — he also excelled in swimming and rugby and was recognised as a “legend in his own lifetime”). Brett’s father Des had played 132 international games before retiring, and his uncle Peter also represented Rhodesia, before going on to claim the South African heavyweight boxing title. Brett’s brother Lloyd has represented the Northern Territory in water polo and Brett himself has played his whole life, and now coaches when he’s not working away.
So you can imagine how chuffed he was when his two sons showed interest in the game.
“Trent (9) and Coben (11) started playing when we came back to Townsville in 2013,” Brett tells, with both Cathedral School students also playing Rugby Union. “We didn’t force them into the sport, but they were keen to give it a go because of the family history, and they love it.”
Being both under 12 years old, Trent and Coben are playing a modified version of water polo called flippa ball, which is designed to get younger children comfortable in the water and with certain skills before progressing to the contact-version of the sport. Flippa ball is played with straight-forward rules in the shallow end of the pool so kids can stand if they get tired, plus the format is structured to develop ball handling skills, build strength, and — importantly — make sure they have fun releasing lots of energy with the other kids. It’s also a fantastic way to build swimming ability.
“Both of their swimming skills have improved significantly,” tells Brett, whose grandfather was also known as ‘Mr Swimming’, attending over 32 international championships. “The boys were reasonable swimmers before, but their confidence in the water has excelled and they’re both doing really well at swimming carnivals too.”
Townsville Water Polo Association’s Rachael Symington says flippa ball is designed for children aged eight to 12 and gives them a fun, non-contact introduction to the essence of the sport. Twelve-year-olds are eased into the next level above – Juniors — and then they progress through the various age divisions until they reach the adult squad.
“You can start from a little guy or girl and go all the way through,” Rachael tells, adding there’s plenty of local talent who’ve done just that, including Ashleigh Southern who’s representing Australia and Elle Armit who plays for the Australian Stingers — our national water polo team.
“It’s not tough on your body so you can play for a long period of time. It’s also the perfect sport for summer and great cross-training for Rugby Union and Rugby League.”
Rachael and the club are keen to see the sport reinstated to the popularity level it enjoyed in Townsville in the 1980s and 1990s. A key message she is keen to spread to parents is that — while flippa ball can certainly lead into the more competitive channels of water polo — it’s really all about getting kids to have fun in the water during the summer months.
“The focus is on getting them in the water, getting active and learning new skills with their friends, and then they can be introduced to the competition later should they choose — we’d like them to appreciate and enjoy the game first,” she says. “A large part of the club is also socialising — the kids and adults love the post-game barbecues.”
Give the kids a chance to try flippa ball at the Townsville Water Polo Association’s free Come and Try day on Saturday, October 29. There are only 60 places available so you need to be quick. Find out more and register here.
If you’ve missed this event, find out more about the Townsville Water Polo Association here and how you can get involved. The season officially starts on October 10 for seniors, juniors and masters, but new players are welcome throughout the season.