© Gertjan Kooij / Beeldboot

Tony Azevedo - Idols

Growing up in the United States today, most promising young athletes strive to be basketball, football or baseball players. And it’s not that we as Americans are pre destined to play these specific sports; they just happen to be the ones constantly in the spotlight. They have also created larger than life public figures, idols that every athletic kids looks up to and strives to become.

In our social media driven society, it’s hard for kids not to be bombarded by the likes of Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez. But unless you grow up in a family with a water polo history (in my case my Dad was a former player and coach) then there’s a good chance you will have no idea what water polo is, because it’s rarely visible on large-scale social media platforms. The same goes for other smaller and lesser known sports.

Water Polo is hugely popular in Serbia, Hungary, Croatia and Montenegro. In these countries water polo players are the stars of TV commercials, featured in gossip magazines, have their faces plastered across billboards, newspapers and the internet. All athletic kids strive to be like them, just as our athletes strive to be like our football, basketball and baseball players.

I can remember the moment that changed my life. I had the opportunity to be a ball boy during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, which allowed me to sit behind the Spanish team’s bench for the Gold Medal Game. I can remember watching Manuel Estiarte throughout the tournament and looking up to him because he was small (like me) and because he was an incredible player and athlete. I vividly remember the Spaniards celebrating the Gold medal and I was greatly moved and inspired by their passion. It was at that specific moment when I decided that I was going to do everything in my power to represent my country at an Olympic Games and win a Gold.

Photo: Gertjan Kooij / Beeldboot.

Kobe Bryant idolized Jordan, Messi idolized Pablo Aimar and just like the greats, most professional athletes work hard and succeed because they have idols to look up to and public figures to strive to emulate.

In water polo, we focus so much effort into changing little rules here and there to improve the game, but give relatively no thought into creating more idols worldwide. The NBA, FIFA and other top sporting organizations do an incredible job of utilizing their athletes and promoting their images. They make sure people know who their best players are. I believe that if all the NGB’s and FINA and LEN did a better job of creating strategies to make water polo players well known and popular around the world, we might actually get more kids idolizing and striving to be water polo players.


 Share this