Swim Team? No Thanks. Water Polo Is More My Speed
After moving from Connecticut to New Jersey, Sindhu and Ajay Kumar looked for a place for their 5-year-old son, Varun, to take swim lessons. They signed him up for group lessons, but there wasn’t much progress.
“There were always at least five or six children in each class,” Sindhu said. “The instructor would take each student, one at a time, for a lap while the rest of the kids waited. There was too much watching and not enough doing, which is especially difficult for beginners.”
The Kumars decided to try private, one-on-one swim lessons and registered Varun with Making Waves Swim School at age 6. He knew the very basics, but wasn’t fully comfortable or confident in the water.
“Varun had some experience swimming, but was still very much a beginner,” said Eric Wembacher, a Making Waves swim instructor since 2008. “We started with basic strokes – freestyle and backstroke – as he gained confidence and learned to swim on his own.”
Varun was a fast learner. He picked up the basic strokes quickly and progressed to the breast stroke and butterfly. To keep Varun challenged, Eric taught him how to perform each stroke faster and with more precision.
Varun wanted to get beyond taking swim lessons and incorporate what he learned into a competitive environment. Eric began timing Varun as if he were on a swim team.
Varun didn’t like that very much.
“He loved to swim and loved the water, but he didn’t enjoy swimming in a straight line back and forth,” Sindhu laughed. “He thought it was boring. Eric suggested trying water polo, so we found a team for Varun to join.”
Varun started playing water polo at age 9 and never stopped. Now age 14, he hasn’t missed a single season. He plays in high school and plans to play in college. He made the Northeast regional team last year and played in the Junior Olympics in California over the summer.
“A lot of the basics you learn for a swim team carry over to water polo,” Eric said. “With water polo, it’s more about being efficient with your strokes than being fast. Varun is a goalie, so he does a ton of treading water.”
Could the Olympics be in Varun’s future? It’s too early to tell. For now, he’s having fun while playing at a very high level for boys his age. The plan is to join as many competitive teams as he can and see how far he can take it.
Varun’s younger brother, Vivek, had been paying attention. His motivation was to follow in his big brother’s footsteps. Vivek started swim lessons at age 4 and at age 8 is already playing Splash Ball, which is essentially entry-level water polo.
“Both boys have always loved taking swim lessons with Making Waves,” said Sindhu. “Not once have I ever heard them say, ‘Aw, I don’t want to go today.’ Eric and the other instructors are very encouraging. They push the kids when needed and tell them what they need to work on, but it’s always in a positive way.”
It wasn’t long before Sindhu and her husband, Ajay, decided to take lessons so they could keep up with their sons in the pool.
“We knew the very basics, but neither of us could swim from one end of the pool to the other,” Sindhu said. “With both children in water sports, we wanted to become better swimmers. Now we’re comfortable enough to enjoy the water with them.”
Swimming has become a family activity and a competitive outlet for the Kumars. Varun and Vivek are making their marks in water polo, and their proud parents are able to swim confidently.
Will we hear the Kumar name during the 2024 Olympics in Paris, or in Los Angeles in 2028? Stay tuned.