By Karen Billing
Del Mar Water Polo Club coaches are hoping to get more young athletes to take a dip into the sport of water polo. Now with programs for players ages 5 to 18, the club offers plenty of opportunities for kids to soak up a new sport, develop their skills with Olympic-level instruction and compete on a team.
“For kids that like water sports, they are going to love water polo if they try it,” said founder and head coach Brett Ormsby. “It’s a fun, dynamic sport.”
Based out of the Cathedral Catholic High School pool, Del Mar Water Polo Club was founded by Del Mar resident and Olympic water polo player Ormsby in 2008. His wife, Thalia Ormsby, also a water polo Olympian, is one of the coaches on a very talented roster.
Ormsby started the club at age 25, after accepting a position at Cathedral Catholic as water polo coach, and algebra and U.S. history teacher.
Initially, Ormsby started the club to keep his high school athletes in training year-round but he couldn’t block the club level from growing.
“Within the last year, we’ve just exploded,” Ormsby said.
Last year Del Mar Water Polo Club sent its first two teams to the Junior Olympics—this year they are sending five.
New for the club this year is the addition of girls’ teams. Another new feature of the club is its younger age group teams for 12 and unders, and 10 and unders.
“That’s huge for us as a growing club to start developing athletes young,” Ormsby said.
Ormsby knows the value of starting young. As a child he was always around the sport as his dad Greg Ormsby is a longtime San Diego water polo player and coach. Greg Ormsby coached at Hilltop and Poway high schools, in addition to becoming an assistant coach for the U.S. Cadet and Junior National teams.
“I was introduced to the sport at birth, but I really started playing at 10 years old, ” Ormsby said
Water polo wasn’t always his sport— he also played a lot of soccer as a young athlete and, uniquely, did not come to water polo from a swimming background.
“By the time I was a freshman in high school I realized that water polo was where my future was, it was my strongest sport and I was getting better and better at it,” Ormsby said.
He excelled at Valhalla High School and went on to star on UCLA’s team, racking up 240 career goals, second all-time in UCLA’s history. While still at UCLA he became a member of the U.S. Olympic Water Polo team and competed in the 2004 Athens games as a 19-year-old.
“For water polo players, there’s no professional league so the Olympics are what you dream about,” Ormsby said. “It was great, a lot of fun and we had a really young team at the time so it was a very neat experience for all of us.”
After college Ormsby continued to play, but was slowed by injuries, eventually turning to coaching. Before returning to San Diego he was an assistant coach at UCLA, coached at Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood, and found great success with the Los Angeles Water Polo Club, leading his girls team to the 2007 National Junior Olympics.
“This is a good area for (the club),” said Ormsby of Del Mar and Carmel Valley. “We figured out there’s a real void we can fill here.”
Ormsby said once kids get in the water and give the sport a chance, they usually pick it up quickly. There are the challenges, of course, of treading water (egg-beatering), catching and throwing with one hand and getting used to the flow of the game, which includes a lot of whistles.
The littlest polo players, ages 5-9, play Splashball with smaller balls and two hands in the shallow end of the pool to ease them into the game.
A summer Splashball camp kicked off on Monday but a second session will be offered this summer from July 11 to July 21.
Ormsby has put together a very talented staff of coaches to introduce players to the game and develop their strengths. Club players have the unique opportunity of Olympic-level instruction from Brett and Thalia Ormsby— the club also has a third Olympian, coach Gubba Sheehy who was a women’s water polo silver medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Understanding the value of his time playing overseas, Ormsby also offers his players the chance to learn the game on an international level. In July, Ormsby will take players to Eastern Europe, a “hotbed of water polo.”
The kids will visit and play against teams in Dubrovnik, Croatia, where it’s water polo players that star on the billboards and people play pick-up games in the Adriatic Sea.
In just three years, Del Mar Water Polo Club has already been successful in sending players off to play college water polo at UCLA, UC Berkeley and USC, which, along with Stanford, represents some of the top water polo programs in the country. That kind of progress only makes Ormsby excited for what the future can hold, especially if they’re able to get kids in the pool earlier.
“We’ve come a really long way in a short amount of time,” Ormsby said. “Our main focus is the younger players…We really want to get kids in the area to come out and give it a try. A lot of opportunities can come out of the club.”
To learn more about Del Mar Water Polo Club’s teams and year-round offerings, visit delmarwaterpoloclub.org.