Great Britain’s emerging water polo sensation Connor Carpenter is preparing to make even greater waves in the sport next year after ending 2017 on a high. The 17-year-old, recently crowned men’s water polo’s ‘Emerging Athlete of the Year’ by British Swimming, played an instrumental role in England Under-19s winning the EU Nations competition in Manchester earlier this month.
Connor, who either plays on the left wing (position one) or at left flat (position two), also captained the Great Britain Under-17s team in the Manchester Qualifying Tournament for the European Water Polo Championships back in May. He revealed it was a ‘dream come true’ to lead his country and sing the national anthem before competing on the international stage in front of a home crowd.
Connor received support from SportsAid in 2016 and 2017. This year he has been the beneficiary of a financial award from Backing The Best, a programme delivered by SportsAid for Sport England, to help him and his family meet the costs of his sport. He balances water polo with his education and is currently studying for ‘A’ Levels in maths, physics and art at the Thomas Rotherham College.
What have been your key highlights in 2017 both with your club team, national team and on a personal level?
"At club level it is great to be playing Division 1 men’s water polo with Sheffield. Despite narrowly missing out on the men’s super 5s, our team is shaping up to be a strong force in British water polo and I’m excited to be part of this team for future seasons. Nationally, recent success in the EU Nations and playing in the European Qualifiers in front of a home crowd as captain has been amazing for me this year. 2017 has been great for me personally, nationally and at club level, and I am proud of what I have achieved this year."
How much did it mean to win the recent EU Nations? Were you happy with your own performances?
"It was fantastic to win the EU Nations. As a squad we really wanted to perform well in front of a home crowd and I feel as though we achieved this. In the first game, which was our closest and toughest, we secured it by one goal. I was extremely happy with my performance in this game and feel like I had a very good game both defensively and in attack. In our second game we won by a far larger margin and were solid in defence. For our final game we played Denmark. We managed to break them down and run away with victory to claim the EU Nations title. I was very happy with my performance throughout the tournament and the games we played highlighted things that I can continue to work on, as well as the team, in the build up to our European Qualifiers."
What does it mean to you to captain your country? Do you enjoy having the extra responsibility and what qualities do you feel you bring to the role?
"When I was selected to be captain of the Great Britain Under-17s side, it was a dream come true. Right when I started playing I always wanted to be part of a national side and being captain at the age of 17 was an amazing feeling. I also really enjoyed the extra responsibility that it brings and it is such a proud moment to step out to sing the national anthem as captain. I was able as captain to listen to my teams ideas and opinions as well as keeping my team mates calm despite the immense pressure we were under. This allowed everyone to play at their best."
You were crowned the Emerging Athlete of the Year for men’s polo at the British Swimming Awards at the beginning of this month. How happy were you to receive this accolade?
"It was such an honour to win the award. Being recognised for all the hard work you put in as an athlete is a fantastic feeling and I couldn’t have done it without my coaches, parents and friends who have supported me along the way. The event was amazing, to be there with so many top athletes was great both for me and water polo. It has given me a massive confidence boost and has inspired me to do even better in 2018."
How did you originally get into water polo?
"I originally got into water polo after school swimming lessons in year four. I started at my local leisure centre before quickly moving to Ponds Forge to continue my training with City of Sheffield. I still train there today. My club coach Martin Kelly has been there right from the beginning and his experience and ideas have been so valuable. I am also grateful for all the guidance each and every coach I have played under has given me, whether this be at club or national level, so thank you to all those who have helped me along the way. For years, I have been playing in many different positions. I think my versatility has been great for me as it has allowed me to develop in a number of positions. Recently I have been playing more on position one and two where I plan to continue developing in the future."
Do you have any specific goals for 2018?
"2018 is shaping up to be another great year. One of my biggest goals for next year is to be part of the Great Britain Under-19s squad playing in the European Qualifiers and qualifying. Playing for my country is always an honour and it is great to have this opportunity. At club level, staying in Division 1 and getting into super 5s next season has to be the goal. We came so close this year and achieving this would be great for me and for the club. I am constantly trying to improve my own game through the hours I spend training and certainly I want to continue bettering myself throughout the upcoming year."
What does your typical training week look like?
"My training week is different every week depending on the circumstances. On average I will spend around 15-16 hours a week training. This is a mixture of water polo, swimming and gym, with around two-thirds of the time spent in the pool. I train a lot outside of timetabled club sessions in order to better myself each day. Currently I am getting the balance between training and academic life right and I feel that so far I am achieving a high level in both of those aspects."
How big a support are your family and friends? How have they helped you since you started in the sport?
"My family have been fantastic ever since I started playing water polo. I am so thankful for all the hours my parents and younger brother have given up to get me to training sessions and to support me at competitions - this has helped me get to where I am today. All of my family have been fantastic in supporting me on my journey and my friends, both in and outside of the sport, are always there to help out. Thank you for everything everyone does to help me."
Finally, you’ve received help from the Backing The Best programme through SportsAid and Sport England – how much of a difference has that support made? Has it helped with any specific costs? Does the recognition give you a boost?
"The Backing The Best award this year has been a massive help both for me and my parents. It has helped me to get to multiple training camps both in this country and abroad. I am very grateful for the support and belief that SportsAid and Sport England have in me. It has helped with the costs of training, transport to training and competitions, as well as other key areas such as competition costs. The recognition from SportsAid and Sport England is a huge boost for me as a player because it tells me that the hours of training are really paying off and it inspires me to continue training hard and continue performing at a high level."
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Connor can continue receiving the backing they rely on. You can make a regular donation to the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future.