Water baby grew up to persuade more Māori to play water polo

By Michael Cugley

By Michael Cugley, Te Rito journalism cadet. 

A Hamilton-based water polo coach is pushing for more Māori in the sport she loves. Roana Paterson (Ngāti Ruanui), has a goal to build up Māori and Pasifika participation within water polo.

“Ko toku tino tūmanako is to grow the sport because it is very pākehā orientated.”

Paterson, winner of the NZWP Rookie Coach of the Year 2020, says she has been in the water her entire life.

“I grew up in the water. I was lucky enough that my whole whānau swam, and my younger brothers played water polo when we were younger.”

Paterson says she has had a love and passion for the sport since she was little. Now she has moved to the coaching arena for rangatahi.

She says she enjoys being able to teach life skills such as swimming, “and being able to pass that on to kids” is what motivates her as a coach.

Fostering the next generation

As a coach Paterson has seen success in the water but her achievements go beyond the pool.

“When I left high school here I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to play basketball in America, and I stayed there for three years.”

Although Paterson says she is grateful for the opportunities sport has given her, she is now content with fostering the next generation of athletes.

“Sport has taken me around the world, and to be able to give back to the kids and to the places that gave me those opportunities is crucial.”

Paterson says the sport is fun but can be seen as pricey for Māori and Pasifika people.

“I would say it is an elitist sport in that it costs so much. It's really hard for anyone to do this, let alone we Māori and Pasifika who struggle with that type of stuff.”

Paterson also says Māori and Pasifika see success in the water because of the collective approach people of the pacific take.

“One of the most crucial things is that water polo is such a collective sport, and in the Māori and Pasifika worldview collectiveness is essential.”

 Paterson’s goal for the near future is to make water polo attractive for Māori and Pasifika.

“That is my goal is to work out how we can make it (water polo) accessible because it's currently quite hard to. But I do know that there are opportunities to work with that, reaching the right people and the right places.”