Water sports are diverse and exhilarating. You can choose individual disciplines like swimming and diving, or team sports like water polo and synchronised swimming. But should athletes limit themselves to only one water sport?
Water sports enthusiast Marco Cheng Hei-man says no: he is team captain of swimming, lifesaving and water polo at Diocesan Boys’ School. But even this all-around star has a soft spot for one particular sport.
“Swimming stresses explosive power, speed and endurance. Lifesaving emphasises efficiency, because success is decided by the time it takes to complete rescues. But water polo combines everything. And because of its complexity, it’s my favourite,” says the 17-year-old, who was part of the Hong Kong squad which won the Panasonic 17th Asia Pacific Water Polo Tournament last year. He was also part of the team when it took part in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Marco says it’s rare to find a single sport that combines such a range of skills, including physical strength, speed, tactics, explosive power, and teamwork.
“Water polo is a seven-a-side team sport. It’s like football but instead of playing on a pitch, you play it in water,” he says. “Skills like shooting, passing and grabbing the ball are essential, but the most important prerequisite is to swim fast.”
He explains water polo players usually swim freestyle because of its speed. Breaststroke kicks are also common, especially for shooters, as it can help them to shoot more accurately.
At the Asian Games, Marco says he realised, despite all his success and experience, he hadn’t learned enough to compete against first-class international athletes.
“I remember when we played against Japan, their shooting skills were far stronger than ours. We were also overpowered by other teams like China and Kazakhstan with their physical prowess and effective tactics. We had to strengthen our defence, such as by using man-to-man marking, but sometimes we needed two or three members to target one powerful shooter,” says Marco.
“But the Asian Games was a good platform from which to learn where we needed to improve.”
As the school water polo team captain, Marco realises his priority is to strengthen the bonds between his teammates and encourage teamwork and communication.
“Thanks to my proactive personality, I like communicating and sharing my views with others. I don’t need to be persuasive, but good presentation skills still matter a lot as you need to let teammates understand you,” he says.
“The most effective way to boost team spirit is to have a final rally at school ahead of the competitions, which provides a good opportunity for us to shout slogans and set goals for the future.”
Marco says he has learned a lot from his position as captain. “It’s hard to balance when you need to be firm or friendly. When my teammates don’t practise hard, I need to push them. But pushing them too hard is not always good for us, especially when everyone is nervous before competitions. Then you need to relax a bit, perhaps make some jokes and chill out with them,” he says.
“The most important thing is to share my experience and techniques with younger players in preparation for any competitions.”
Marco is now preparing for the DSEs, but he has some big competitions this year, too. He will take part in the Panasonic 18th Asia Pacific Water Polo Tournament from August 19-21 and Fina Swimming World Cup, in Tokyo, on October 25-26.
If you could have a superpower for 24 hours, what would you choose and how would you use it?
Monkey Luffy’s rubber powers in the Japanese manga series, One Piece. Such powers would allow me to stretch my hands wherever I wanted; for example, to grab a glass of water without leaving my bed.
Who is your favourite athlete?
American swimming star Ryan Lochte. Even though he is now 31, he manages to take part in intensive training and competitions. Other swimmers at this age would probably give up.
If you could have an unlimited supply of anything, what would it be and why?
Mango juice. I remember when I participated in the 2014 Asian Games, the sports centre had an unlimited supply of mango juice. It tastes fantastic, and refreshes and really energises me.
What song title best describes you when you’re playing your sport?
One Direction’s Perfect. I hope to be perfect and “do whatever I’ve been dreaming about”, as they sing in the song.
Ten years into the future, you are a famous athlete. What company would you sign on with as spokesperson for, and what product would you promote?
Nike. I would promote their sportswear, which looks sporty and comfortable.