ZUMO Interviews Olympic Hopeful Kindred Paul

Kindred Paul hails from Alberta Canada where she grew up swimming and playing water polo. As a young player, she first represented Canada internationally in 2011 at the Youth Pan Am Games. Kindred was recruited to play for UC Berkeley where she earned her degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. After graduation, she played for UVSE Water Polo Club in Budapest, Hungary and she now plays for the Canadian Women's Senior National Water Polo Team which qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru.

Kindred Paul playing water polo

In our interview, Kindred shares with us what she’s learned from growing up playing water polo, what she loves about the sport, and what her experience has been competing internationally.

1. How were you introduced to water polo? What hooked you onto the sport?

I was introduced to water polo at a time when I was starting to become disinterested in swimming. I think I was drawn to the dynamic nature of water polo in comparison to swim practice. 

Kindred Paul

There are three main things that hooked me onto water polo; the pace, the lack of “specialization”, and the team defense. Although newcomers to the sport often comment on the number of whistles, I find that the pace of water polo just flows without major interruptions in play and the game is consistently moving back and forth. I love that in water polo, with the exception of the goalie, no player can specialize in one position alone. Every player must play offense and defense, and be able to hold their own in every position in the pool. Finally, I love the tactics and team aspect of the defense in water polo. When I watch other sports, I usually notice how defensive plays are generally limited to one-on-one battles, and although those are also common in water polo, the team defense is critical in every game.

2. What was the transition like playing in the U.S. for Cal? Were there any notable differences between playing for a school vs. a club? What about the style of play in Canada vs. the US?

The biggest transition I first had when I went to Cal was the difference between referee styles of international water polo versus collegiate. The refereeing in the NCAA looks for a much cleaner game. Body positioning is critical at all times, whereas I had experienced internationally that referees would allow the play to unfold more and see who came out on top of each battle. This style of refereeing tends to reward individual strength and skill, over the body positioning and intuition that is rewarded by collegiate referees. 

For me, the biggest transition after leaving school and playing professionally was the amount of free time I had. During college, I was so used to balancing schoolwork, water polo, and other activities that when I went to Hungary, I was blown away by how much time I had to just read and enjoy cappuccinos!

3. What is your favorite aspect of participating in water polo that is NOT sport related? (i.e. team, travel, etc.)

I think my favourite aspect has been the self-discovery I’ve experienced through water polo. That must sound like a cliche and corny, but it was what came to mind first. Growing up within a team sport, I learned so much about communication and being able to work within a team. As I grew older and water polo brought new experiences such as living abroad and now possibly the Olympics, I’ve learned even more about independence, mental strength and dealing with pressure. I find that Canada, the United States, and Australia all play a pretty similar style of water polo. This style is based more on the 6 on 6 game, both defensively and offensively. This is juxtaposed by the more European styles that really focus on individual skill and beating the other team in 1 on 1 battles.

4. Who do you most admire in the sport of water polo and why? (could be a teammate, coach, etc.)

I was fortunate to have been exposed to Heather Petri for my last two years at Cal, and she quickly became the person I admire most of any water polo player. Firstly, Heather Petri has been to four Olympic Games, which is an astounding athletic achievement and testament to her perseverance. Beyond her athletic prowess, she brings an infectious positivity to every team she is a part of. Often when I find myself down in training and I can tell I’m in a rut, I have to remind myself that isn’t the type of teammate I want to be, I want to be a Heather Petri.

5. What does it mean to you to represent Canada?

It’s really interesting for me because I don’t outwardly show patriotism and national pride as much as others. Representing Canada internationally has given me the opportunity to really reflect on why I’m proud to be Canadian and opened my eyes to experiences that have made me even more grateful to be Canadian. Now,  I often get emotional when they play the national anthem before games. As a team, we made a pact to all sing the anthem, and those couple of minutes always give me the chance to take a second to breathe and remember what an honour it is to represent my country.

6. What are you most excited about related to the prospect of playing at the Olympics in Tokyo?

Making this team and qualifying for the Olympics means the world to me because of the women who will be by my side. In all honesty, I'm not sure if I would have been as motivated and inspired to reach this level of athletics if I had not been introduced to, and grown up beside my best friends. Accomplishing this dream with them, and representing Canada are two of the greatest achievements of my life.

7. How have you handled the recent developments surrounding the 2020 Olympic Games?

The last few weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster for myself and, I’m sure, all the athletes striving to compete at Tokyo 2020. Although the postponement of the Olympics this summer is unprecedented, I’m glad to have this time off to be at home with my family while I continue training. Just like everyone else, Olympic athletes have been working from home through COVID-19. We have resumed training twice a day through virtual workouts as a team, tactical preparations and individual workouts in whatever way we can manage. 

With all the uncertainty circulating the 2020 Olympic Games, I am focused on what I can do to keep myself both mentally and physically fit. Approaching this postponement as just more time to prepare for the highest level of sport there is.