Why I Play: Loh Zhi Zhi, water polo

Hannah Teoh, Sports Editor

"Why I Play” is a new column showcasing the stories of people who enjoy playing sports in Singapore. Want to see your sport featured? Let us know via Facebook, Twitter or email

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Loh Zhi Zhi, 26, has been a water polo player since his secondary school days. The data analyst is the captain of the national water polo team. Loh has participated in three editions of the SEA Games (2011, 2013, 2015), winning the gold medal for Singapore at every one of them.  

How did you get involved in this sport?
I’ve been swimming since young. My parents started us swimming since kindergarten. I’ve been swimming competitively all the way through secondary school. Swimming is not the most exciting sport to me. When I was in Raffles Institution, I go the chance to try out water polo, and I’ve never turned back since then. 

What kind of a workout do you get from playing this sport?
Water polo covers all areas - you need aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness. It’s a full contact sport as well, and very physical. So you need a lot of strength and stamina as well. It’s the sort of work out that gives you problems walking to the car after training. 

Most of our sessions are pool sessions. We train 2.5 hours every day, six times a week. Two days a week we have gym sessions. We do about an hour of gym before we hit the pool. Most of the pool time has swimming for aerobic fitness and sprints, and a lot of time is spent on the ball – passing, shooting drills and tactical play. 

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Loh Zhi Zhi (centre) fights for the ball in the middle of a friendly against Japan on 25 Jan 2016.

Biggest misconceptions people have of this sport?
People don’t realise how hard it is as a team sport. They see our success at the SEA Games level but don’t see how much effort it takes to get to the Asian Games level, especially as an amateur team where most of us are students and working, and not full time players.

In playing this sport, what’s been your most memorable experience? Your most heartbreaking?

The most heartbreaking was definitely the last Asian Games (in 2014), where we were playing against the host Korea. If we had won that game we would have gone through to the semis, but we lost by one goal. That’s one of the most memorable experiences as well – a lot of the team were still quite young, and for a lot of them it was their first Asian Games. It was years of preparation before that Games that we really came together as a team for two to three years before that. It really was the fruit of our labour.   

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Loh Zhi Zhi addresses the team during a huddle between periods. The Singapore national team played a friendly against Japan on 25 January 2016.

Share an inspiring story you have of a tournament or an experience with team mates that made you love this sport even more.
The history of the sport in Singapore, seeing the batches of seniors go before, and seeing their achievements at the SEA Games, as well as the blood, sweat and tears that the seniors and juniors have put in. It inspires me to continue playing.

Was there a time you felt like walking away from the sport? What made you stay?

Just last year, as I graduated from university, usually for us it’s quite a big milestone. It’s quite a big fork in the road when we decide whether to continue playing as we start work. It was quite a hard decision - there were a lot of things to consider - starting work, how soon I want to have a family, that kind of thing. But I think the young players who are coming up are an inspiration. There are still people fighting for a spot in the squad, and still believe in this, and that has kept me going.

Worst injury experienced?

I had a partial tear in my shoulder in 2009. We were all preparing for the SEA Games. I was in the last 16 being considered for the 13 that would go for the SEA Games, but the injury cost me a spot in the team.   

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Loh Zhi Zhi attempts a shot on goal during a friendly match against Japan.

How can people get involved if they’re interested in this sport?
The water polo scene has developed a lot over the past two years. Under 10s and under 13s have a chance to play an adaptation of the game called Flippa Ball. It’s not as much contact as the international version of water polo, but it’s a good starting point if they have some swimming experience or just like to play team sports. There are a lot of clubs such as Pacer Water Polo Academy, Chinese Swimming Club. Many of the affiliates of the Swimming Association have started Flippa Ball programmes.

My sport is unique because…
We get to eat dinner at 11pm every night (laughs). 

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