Baris Akay is a promising young swimmer, water polo and Octopush player who hails from Hook and so this week Bill Carne chatted to the 14 year old about his total commitment as he makes a name for himself, especially in water polo . . .

Baris Akay swims for Haverfordwest Seals Swimming Club after starting out under the watchful eye of Tracey Parkes at Milford Haven when he was nine years old. He took to it like the proverbial duck to water and now trains for almost five hours a week, including a six o’clock start on one day each week, under Richard Thompson and the other club coaches at Haverfordwest Centre.

His strongest stroke is undoubtedly the freestyle and at the end of last year competed in the British Gas Swim Wales National Championships at the Welsh National Pool in Swansea, reaching the final of the 50m Freestyle in a good time of 28.78seconds.

Baris began his interest in water polo started when he was 11, after he went along to a taster session at Haverfordwest Leisure Centre. As Baris was a strong swimmer and tall for his age, he was then asked to join the senior club, who play on a Thursday evening and it was from here that he was spotted by John Evans, the Head Coach of Carmarthen Water Polo Club, and invited to train with their juniors.

“It is a very physical sport,” Baris said, “with all the players, apart from the goalkeeper, as attackers and defenders.

“It means a lot of swimming under pressure and a pass or throw must be made one-handed, often with an opponent scrambling all over you to stop you.

“You can be shown the equivalent of a yellow or red card like in other sports, for being over-physical, and it is called a ‘brutality’.

“But it’s is brilliant to play and I love taking part!”

Baris now also attends a weekly GB Water Polo Regional Training Centre at Carmarthen Leisure Centre on a Friday evening and a monthly Welsh Water Polo Clinic at Cardiff International Pool on a Sunday, usually from 11am until 2pm and including poolside training for extra fitness.

With all of this going on there is inevitably a great deal of travel involved and Baris would readily admit that he owes a great deal to mum Rita, who is the family chauffeur for him and younger brother Erol (9), who has played football at Hook CP School and is currently learning to swim.

Baris played rugby in Tasker Milward School for a while and also likes playing football, as well as taking part in cross country for school – but they had to take a back seat for his water sports, so eager is he to do well in them.

His commitment certainly paid off because he was chosen to attend Millfield Water Polo Academy in 2013, staying at the school for four days and receiving coaching from top BSA coaches – and being filmed on a video of the event. Needless to say, Baris is hoping to attend again later this year.

Baris also represented the Welsh Youth squad in Manchester for the ASA National Age Group Championships last October against strong teams from Manchester, Liverpool and county squads like Essex, all a chance to gain further experience. He was also selected for the ASA Academy Boys Inter-Regional Championships at Walsall earlier this month against teams from Ireland, Scotland and England, which meant a 5.30am start from Swansea Swimming Pool on the Saturday!

Throw in the fact that he also plays for the Carmarthen Juniors against the likes of Aberdare, Swansea and Cardiff and it is easy to see the commitment Baris has to show.

Moving on to Octopush, which is a form of underwater hockey played on the bottom of the swimming pool with a leaded puck and push sticks. It demands physical endurance as well as skill but with little opportunity for people to watch the match unfold from close range! Baris started out with Haverfordwest, who are looked after by Andy Davies but they train on a Friday evening, which clashes with his water polo, so he also plays for the Pembroke team coached by Tim Dyson.

“Haverfordwest hosted the Welsh National Championships on in December at the Haverfordwest Leisure Centre,” Baris told us. “We were against Aberystwyth, Pembroke, Newport, Llwchwr and Bangor.

“This was my first national competition and it was great fun.

“Later this month we will be competing at the Junior Regional Tournament at the Newport International Sports Village,” added Baris, “and I am really looking forward to taking part in that as well.”

Back on the Water Polo front, Baris was one of 400 boys and girls who were invited from throughout the UK to attend trials for GB Talent Development at the Cardiff International Pool. He was successful, one of only four Welsh Boys in his age group (under 15 born 1999), so Baris will now be attending the GB Talent Development Water Polo programme for one weekend a month for the next five months. These camps include training in the pool, injury management, nutrition, strength and conditioning. The objective for Baris’ age group (Under 15 born 1999) squad is ‘to produce a competitive performance team and qualify for the Junior Men’s European Championships in 2017’.

Baris is also hoping to be selected for an International competition in Czech Republic this Easter. He has been asked about availability so must have a chance of being in the squad of 15 to travel. If he does make it then it will be no more than he deserves because of all his hard work and total commitment to the cause.

We wish Baris Akay every success because he really is flying the Pembrokeshire Flag with distinction in his chosen sport of water polo – and long may he continue on the road to the very top!