While it might not feel like Fall quite yet, we are swiftly headed into the end of year — which doesn’t mean you should stop looking for new activities. There are still tons of options — such as with our next youth activity, which can be joined at any time of the year.

Noozhawk had the opportunity to sit down with Kelsie Hendrix and Connor Levoff, executive director and head coach, respectively, at 805 Santa Barbara Water Polo Club, to learn more about their after-school program.

Santa Barbara 805 Water Polo Club

Noozhawk: Which age groups are appropriate for your program?

805 Water Polo Club: We offer programs for athletes ages 5-18 years or up to seniors in high school.

Noozhawk: When was the program first started? Is it local to the area?

805 WPC: We were founded in February/March 2013. We train primarily at Dos Pueblos High School, San Marcos High School and Santa Barbara High School. We compete in areas from Santa Barbara to Ventura, and also through the national and international levels of water polo.

Noozhawk: What was the thought behind creating the program?

805 WPC: We wanted to start a nonprofit youth athletics organization based on developing outstanding athletes who embody a tradition of excellence in all facets of their life, from the community to the classroom. We wanted to develop well-rounded student athletes, and let them benefit from the tools that water polo offers and, ultimately, set them up to be great college students and student athletes.

Noozhawk: What are your goals for kids who participate?

805 WPC: The biggest thing, and hardest thing to achieve, is the sense of commitment and self-discipline, whereby there is a collective sense of responsibility and belonging to something that is bigger and more expansive than just individual athletes. We have a really strong program culture, there’s a team mindset in everything we do, and we push that, teach that and we expect that, as we watch kids matriculate through our program.

We really work on embodying the skills that make you as an individual successful, and also ;the skills that makes you as a part of a group successful. We really try to create people who are responsible, respectful and hold themselves to a higher standard.

Teams in the 805 Santa Barbara Water Polo Club compete nationally and are ranked among the best in the country.
Teams in the 805 Santa Barbara Water Polo Club compete nationally and are ranked among the best in the country. (Santa Barbara 805 Water Polo Club photo)

Noozhawk: Are all of the groups competitive?

Connor Levoff: We have a lot of different levels. The youngest groups are more at the PeeWee, instructional level, which covers the basics of how to swim and does not travel for competitions. Those classes reset every three months so that new players can get acclimated. But at every other age group we have a travel level group, a local competition level group and an instructional level group.

We want everyone to play and have a chance to compete, and to test themselves and apply the things that they’ve learned and focused on in training during game situations. That’s really big for us.

We’ll travel regionally quite often. We compete in a variety of national competitions and then, the culminating trip for us right now, is we take our 18-and-under teams to go play internationally and compete in Holland to play against the Dutch — that’s the highest level we offer.

We are ultra competitive nationally. Last year at the Junior Olympics, our five girls teams we took all placed, ultimately placing third, fourth, first, third and fourth nationally. That also includes our B-level teams, one of which finished 13th, one placed in the top 20 and another won the second-tier competition. On top of that, we also carried our C- and D-level competition teams that wanted to challenge themselves against the best teams in the country. So we offer a lot competitively.

On the boys side, our first 16-and-under team went and ended up getting 85th in the country. And our 14-and-under boys team, which was our first boys team to travel, placed 12th. So we are competing at a really high level nationally, and we have international level players in our club who also play for United States age groups’ national teams as well.

We want everyone to compete. I think getting them to those first games and getting them over that fear and anxiety and showing them that they can have success is a really, really big step for any new athlete.

Noozhawk: Is it the same way with the younger groups?

Kelsie Hendrix: For the younger age group, it is really about getting them out there and getting them in games that are competitive in spirit, but not competitive in the outcome. It helps them learn why we do the things we do in practice, but there is no pressure on them to win. It allows us to focus on hitting the goals we set as a team, and to make our team and individual level of players better.

Connor: The instructional-level competitions are really important as far as developing a little bit of an identity within the sport and learning how to compete, learning how to be close and, ultimately, then learning how to have success based on what the expectations and goals are for each group.

Sometimes it changes; we’ll have some supremely talented age groups and then we have some groups that are really on the young end, and instructionally, we just want them to play, have fun and love water polo. We’ll teach them how to win later, but the building blocks are I’m having fun, I’m not afraid, I’m competing and I’m doing this with my teammates.

Noozhawk: In general, how many members do you have right now?

805 WPC: Between 180-200. Numbers in fall and winter are affected by the school year.

Noozhawk: Which sorts of activities can parents expect their children to participate in?

805 WPC: We offer water polo training, supplemental swim conditional training, which begins as instructional and then turns into a competitive swim conditioning practice. We also offer some clinic-type training. Within those activities, we focus on instructional-level competitions, regional league-level competitions and national-level competitions.

Noozhawk: How often do you train?

805 WPC: It varies by age group, but the PeeWee group is twice a week for about an hour and 15 minutes, the 12-and-under train two afternoons of water polo and one afternoon of swimming. The 14-, 16- 18-and-under train about two days and an additional two days of swim conditioning to supplement their training. We try to scaffold each age group into the next so the progression makes sense.

Noozhawk: Can new members join at any time?

805 WPC: Fall is preferred as far as the curriculum goes, but there is no bad time to join!

Noozhawk: How is your program unique from other after-school activities in the area?

Connor: We offer an extremely high level of coaching. Our coaches are some of the very best in the country at what they do. I think our track record has shown that over time. Kelsie, myself and our other senior coach, have led this pipeline of really, really strong Santa Barbara girls water polo programs over the last almost 10 years now.

We are always changing, modifying and adapting what we do for each age group and as the game changes, but I think the ability to step into a sport and develop from the instructional level to really be a top-tier athlete nationally — and in some cases, internationally — is really unique and that is something water polo offers.

It’s a fantastic pathway to high school sports and collegiate sports. We have almost 30 players now competing at the college level who played in our program. And it’s not like we are a massive sport with 1,000 kids playing — there’s a really high college yield.

Kelsie: We also create a very unique environment. Water polo is a very physically and mentally taxing sport; you have to swim, you can’t touch the bottom, you’re at eye level with the ball and all the action, so it creates a group of individuals who are not only very physically fit, but also very mentally fit.

We’ve seen those skills really transcribe to their outside life with their ability to focus, be disciplined in the classroom in regards to their homework and in their other activities. We are very proud of the fact that not only do we have excellent water polo players, but we have players who are excellent at every part of their involvement with the community.

We have a full range of athletes who are dedicated, who are responsible, respectful and who shine no matter where they are because they have a strong foundation of discipline, a strong foundation of time management and being dedicated to whatever task they are doing.

Connor: There’s a lot of life skills required in balancing the workload between academics and what our program asks of our high school-level athletes, and it’s really great preparation to head on to be a collegiate student athlete.

Noozhawk: Is there anything else you would like to tell parents who might be interested in putting their children in your program?

805 WPC: We offer a free two-week trial though USA Water Polo to all perspective new members so they can come try up to two weeks, and in some cases more, to decide if they enjoy the sport. It’s really fun and rewarding and, for the most part, people try it, enjoy it and come back.

Kelsie: I think one of the real benefits of our program is that athletes spend a lot of time together so it creates a really tight community, and I know from personal experience, that the water polo community is always there to support each other no matter the case. Everyone really has a tight bond — we are like a family, so we get our athletes that come back from college and they are just as happy to see each other after six months, then they were when they had class with each other every day.

I think the bond that develops between our athletes, families and coaches, is overall the best aspect of our community. We are very tight close-knit group and it’s wonderful to be a part of.

Connor: We also had three women water polo players from Santa Barbara at the 2016 Olympics. All three of them were coached by members of our current coaching staff, and two of three are actually super actively engaged in our club. And I mean, those are superheroes Olympic gold medalists, those don’t grow on trees, especially in a small town like Santa Barbara, so it’s pretty cool to have that international reach for such a little program.

Click here for more information about the 805 Santa Barbara Water Polo Club.

— This article was sponsored by the 805 Santa Barbara Water Polo Club.

The 805 Santa Barbara Water Polo Club’s Under-14 team members make a celebratory dive after winning the 2016 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics national championship.
The 805 Santa Barbara Water Polo Club’s Under-14 team members make a celebratory dive after winning the 2016 USA Water Polo Junior Olympics national championship. (Santa Barbara 805 Water Polo Club photo)

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