Interview with British canoe polo athlete and World Champion Alex Lowthorpe

"There is a lot more to achieving Gold than the seven players on the pitch."

By Tom Noble | – Interview with Alex Lowthorpe, a GB Canoe Polo player who recently competed at the 2016 Canoe Polo World Championships in Syracuse, Italy. The team won Gold and I am excited to have had the chance to ask him a few questions about his Polo Career.

  • Name: Alex Lowthorpe
  • Age: 19
  • Where are you from: Kingston Upon Hull
  • Work/ Education: Sport Science Undergraduate Student
  • Team/s: Kingston Kayak Club & Great Britain U21 Men

Start off by telling us a little bit about how you started your Canoe Polo career?

I started canoeing at Kingston Kayak Club (KKC) around the age of nine with my brother Andy, who started a few years before me. My brother took up Canoe Polo and from then on I was exposed to the Polo environment. I became hooked playing Polo and I developed a weekly routine of going training, it just naturally became part of my life! I started competing in Canoe Polo from around the age of 10, and I used to compete in a U16 regional league with and against Shivan and Suryan McCutcheon (now team mates of mine in the GB U21 Men’s Squad). My motivation for playing was that I enjoyed it! In my opinion, this is the most important factor for anyone playing any sport. Without the enjoyment, there is no motivation.

You clearly know your way around the pitch, tell us a little about the way you play?

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Thankfully, our coach set no limits on the way we play. We run certain tactics that act as a platform to express natural ball playing ability and there is a great emphasis on playing what is in front of you. Playing a repeated structure of polo becomes predictable and easy to play against.

I generally play on the right “wing” during attack which is my preferred position, as it opens my dominant hand for throwing and shooting. Everyone, obviously, will have different strengths and weaknesses to their team mates and by slotting into the team and applying those strengths, it overall adds to the collective strength of the team. I believe that no player will ever reach a stage in which they consistently make no mistakes and perform perfectly, therefore there is a weakness in every aspect of a player’s game.

Until the 2015 season, I played “off the front” in a defensive set up, however the GB U21 Men’s coach saw my strength in a “side man” role, which is the role I generally adopt now.

When you aren’t representing GB where else do you play?

I generally do most of my training on the River Hull, but our home pitch is at Kingston Kayak Club, also based in Hull. I represent KKC A in National Division 1 and also Regional North West Division 1 and in previous seasons I have represented KKC A in Yorkshire and Humberside Division 1.

Now for the question everyone wants to hear the answer to! What was like to play at Worlds and what was the event like?

To be honest, it was the one of the best experiences of my life! Playing at the Worlds, you’re in such a pressured environment, as all the training and preparation boils down to one event, with a judgement being made on your result. Before play commenced, we (the team) talked about seeing the Worlds as 10 boxes that we had to tick. Rather than going for Gold, we ticked 9 boxes of those boxes and managed to come out on top (losing only one game to Germany, who we met again in the final). Being around the boys was one of the most important factors for me, being able to take your mind off the pressure and games and just to be able to relax as mates was vital to our success. The support and the fans were unreal, to think that kids wanted your autograph and fans lined the street during the opening ceremony, just blew me away. Before the start of the games, you felt a little bit of added pressure but when the games started, it just felt like seven mates going out there to do a job, knowing that each and every one had each others back. Despite playing teams in ECA’s (European Canoe Association) throughout preseason, you can never let past results affect your mind set going into the game and you must view the opposition as capable of beating you if you played bad but beatable if the team performed at their best, and that’s what we were there to do! The quality of teams was high, which we fully expected but I think we gave ourselves a little bit of a scare during the Russia game, we came out on top but that game was a bit of a roller-coaster.

The final all seemed a bit of a mental blur until I got a chance to watch it back. All I can say is that everyone in the squad stepped up in that game, all the boys played their part in securing that Gold. I think a lot of credit needs to go to David Edwards for being a “balls out coach” and defending on the front foot and not being afraid to play risky ball, also to Charlie Birch, who made the final feel like it was just another box that needed ticking and that we were facing no one superior to us. To think about it, the final game was madness, from having fine margins between putting the game to bed and almost throwing it away. There were chances for both teams to win it in “golden goal”, but you make your own luck and it fell our way in the end. When the final whistle went, it was just pure emotion, a mix of tears and elation, these are memories I will never forget!

In the moment, being World Champion means everything to you, it is something you have wanted ever since a you were a kid. However, as time passed, you switch your attention to the next box that needs to be ticked, in a hope to attain the European Championships. This Gold is only a stepping stone onto becoming something more. One Gold is nothing compared to the several held by the likes of Alan Vessey and Max Gohier, players who you aspire to be like.

The last and most important thing that needs to be said, is that there is a lot more to achieving Gold than the seven players on the pitch. From family and friends to coaches, sponsors and backroom staff, each one deserves to take their own portion of this success.

The weather is starting to get a bit nicer which means that summer tournaments are almost here! Which ones are you going to be heading to this year and which one is your favourite?

The summer has to be the best bit about playing and competing. In previous seasons my club side have competed in Ghent International, DePaddle International and then the UK tournaments of London, Liverpool and Hull – however due to a busy calendar this season, I will only be competing at Hull International with KKC. For the U21 Men, we attend the ECA Cups and often go to a pre-championships tournament at DePaddle. In previous seasons my favourite was the ECA Cup of Mechelen, as it marked the start of the summer season as well as the end of School/University. Dependent upon selection with the GB U21 Men, I could be competing in the ECA’s in St. Omer, Mechelen, and Ghent. I think that overall my favourite has to be Ghent. It generally attracts good quality teams, the set up is great and the town centre of Ghent is magnificent. I am yet to attend the Essen tournament, but it definitely a must for the future.

What’s your preferred kit?

As much as I get stick for it, I paddle the Force Xm Nomad, a traditional British boat. In terms on Paddles, I am fortunate enough to be in Partnership with CPS, whose blades are the best out there on the market. I prefer a rashvest without a neck (I used to hate wearing the O’Neil style rash vest) and I swear by Peak UK strides.

So what’s next?

In terms of what’s next, for my domestic club side, it all about trying to secure a top two placing in the National league, in order to qualify for the European Club Championships. In terms of the U21’s, our long term focus is on been successful at the European Championships 2017, St Omer but also on developing a side capable of competing in the World Championships 2018, Canada. In terms of personal development, it’s all about developing your game, focusing upon weakness’ and continually improving.

Any tips for beginner to intermediate level paddlers out there?

The biggest tip I would give is to listen, observe and ask. There are so many people out there that are willing to help you develop as a player, whether that’s from sharing training plans or to point out things that you need to develop. Observing what other players do can help you to see what you’re doing wrong and to develop your skills. Another major tip of mine is to not let yourself get left behind, make sure you get out there in a boat and train!

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