S1E1 – Brenda Villa

Starting off strong as we spend some time with Brenda Villa, all time everything of women's water polo. Literally the most decorated women's water polo athlete.

She has seen it all, earned every color of Olympic medal and continues to push the sport forward.

Olympian, sport growth pioneer and incredible person.

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Game On Water Polo podcast.

Welcome thanks again, Brena Villa for joining us here on the Game On Water Polo Pod. Ganai, as our first guests, we're kind of starting out with a punch here. Don't you think? I mean, she's fantastic from a historical perspective. She's fantastic in the current and I, my guess is she has quite a bit to say about the future of water polo.

Yeah, definitely.

We should, we should have started with someone like totally random and not Brenda via, but I guess we're going to go for it here. So thank you so much, Brenda. Uh, you know, That's I guess the nice thing about starting with you is that you don't need much introduction. Uh, you know, you are one of the most dominant Waterpolo players of our generation, uh, participating in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the 2012 Olympics in, uh, London.

Right? What an incredible story. And I w I w part of what I really want to talk about today is, uh, both your background, but also, like I mentioned, what, where do you see this? Where the sport going, and as we kind of jump into this, like what. I mean, if you look at your history and your story, right, you started, uh, playing with the boys in commerce.

Uh, you I've, I read Sydney's silver lining and that super cool. That's a fantastic story of like just scrapping to get a team together. And how did, how, tell me what was the most different between participating. At Sydney in 2000 and that process of getting to London in 2012, right. Just kind of that development of women's water polo over that time.

Well, I mean, you think about Sydney, the women were put into the Olympic program December of 97, so you have two years to prepare for something, right. And something so new. There were so many, I think women coming out of retirement, like it was such a big moment for the sport. Um, and the way the qualification system works.

Strange. It was like the highest ranking America's team at the Faena being a world cup qualifies as America's representative, which you're like, okay, but there's so much that's out of your control, right? Because depending sometimes on the other bracket or who you play, who you lose to. So it was an incredibly bizarre experience now that I think.

To Sydney, but I think there were so many lessons learned in those two years. We didn't qualify. The first time we qualify in Europe, you know, there was a massive upset when hungry in Italy, two historically strong water polo countries. Don't qualify for the first ever Olympics. But I think that has set up, you know, the trajectory I think, of, of women's water polo and Olympic era.

And then you think about, I think about London, I think about a new coach and yes, the ending is a new Olympic coach guy baker had coached three Olympics prior. It was a new coach and not a new system entirely, but in you, I guess some needs philosophy, right. That Adam brought in and. It wasn't always roses.

And I mean, luckily it worked out because we all believed in one thing. So that was an interesting experience too. Um, but it was, for me, that was special because we qualified for the Olympic games at the pan American games and , and my mom is from Holly SKO. The state that . Like a perfect ending, right to my career where I finally get to play in Mexico in front of my two Mexican grandmas and that qualified us for London to the Cinderella gold medal I'm ending.

Uh, and how about like the support of the sport, right? From a brand new Olympic sport, being invited into the Olympics to a gold medal in the, at that time you want every color of metal, which is kind of a, uh, kind of cool thing. It did the, how did the sport change or get identified differently for women's water polo in that timeframe?

Well, I think back to those what, late nineties, that's when water polo became varsity right. In colleges. So there's more scholarship scholarships for, um, college players. So that just opened the door for just more talent to come through. Right. And then you think of the national team at, went from, I mean, our support.

It was so minimal back then. I don't even want to go into numbers, but it was so minimal where, you know, five of us living. No, like you think about it and it's like, So young that for me, it kind of worked right, because I didn't have all this, these other like real life worries to think about. But in some ways, like, as a first gen like lower, like coming from a lower income family, like there were times where I was like, Oh, like my parents are supposed to help me also, like, it was just this strange time, right.

Where a lot of my other teammates, some did have that, that parental financial support that I kind of had in different ways. Um, but now like going. To London, it was, it was so different. Or even the thought of you think about Sydney. We come back with the silver metal and there's prize money with that. If we were in college, we couldn't get it.

Right. And then that January of 2001, I think the U S LPC and NCAA figured it out. And they said, no, these athletes should be able to get that prize money. So then there was maybe not half the team, but a few of us, quite a bit of us on the team from Sydney that could have used that. Right. And it was. And you try to get it.

Good luck. Um, no huge change from Sydney to London. Um, a lot in the financial area from the U S OPC from USA Waterpool even, I would think from coverage even, you know, social media I think was just really kicking off. Right. Then there was some Twitter right in Facebook, but like Instagram was like starting to blow up.

So. I don't even know if that was, who knows, but I feel like that was the beginning of a lot of different opportunities for just sports in general. Right. And it, and in your, how do you personally feel about that? I mean, you've been such a huge influence in the sport. Um, and obviously now the women's team is absolutely dominant on the world stage.

Right. Um, and talk to me a little bit about the culture of how that. Change you how that national team changed from, from one Olympia to the next, uh, and kind of the, how is that something that you actively managed as a team captain or as coaches, uh, to kind of get into what is pretty cool culture seems like from all perspectives currently in the women's team now, I mean, I would just, I guess, right.

Like it's.

We lost you there for a second, Brenda.

Women. I think that I've represented team USA at the Olympic level, something like that. But if you think about, there's been six Olympics and only 41 women, like there's a lot of repeat Olympian. So that just means that the foundation, the story share the legacy. Kind of continues. There's still a connection from, um, if you think about from the first Olympics, right?

Like Mo coach Maggie, Stephan, right. Then I played with that Olympic team and then like PD and, and I then played with Mel Siderman and Maggie they're still now on the team. Right. They won gold medals. So there is still this cool connection that lives within, um, the women's water polo team. And a lot of it is.

The shared stories that we tell, like, we talk about the connected circle. You can't break our circle. Like we have each other in the pool. There's I mean, of course there's been some tweaks because then you think about guy coaching for three Olympic cycles. Now Adam coaching for three Olympic cycles cycles.

So there have been some changes, but there are still a lot of foundational things. And even if you think about it, Guy and Adam coach together. Right. So there's just a lot of, um, connections. And I think that is so great. And I think that the collegian system in the U S right NCAA, like being able to play in college really gives us an edge.

And then you think like title nine. So then you compare us to the rest of the world and all these things are in our favor. So I think that is embedded in the culture of, um, Our women's national team, like the gratitude and the work ethic and just that fire that is still. I have a couple of questions, like for the more normal person that doesn't go to four Olympics.

Right. Um, how they, how, what a piece of advice do you give a young girl or a boy starting off an S in high school? Um, that's maybe not an established program, but they want to help grow that program and create the own legacy the same way you women did with the women's national team. Great question. I think, I mean, you don't have to be an Olympian right.

To, to create a legacy in your community to help grow the sport, to make a difference. Um, I think one thing I tell kids a lot is. I talk about your dreams and your goals out loud, like dream out loud, like tell people what you have in mind, because you'd be surprised the, the support systems that can be out there to help you, um, follow those dreams.

I think a lot of times, like you write about them, or you might tell one person, but the more people you talk to about them, I think you will find especially waterfall, right? We're such a small community where it's like, Hey, you want to, you know, your goal is to go to ODP, like. I can help you like this.

These are the steps you need to do. Like, oh, you want to start a girls team? Like here are five people that I know that started, you know, their gross programs in their own cities. Maybe I'll connect you so you could have a conversation. So I think just believing in yourself and then talking about your dreams out loud, I think are small steps that could go a long way.

Um, in terms of that kind of back to the culture pieces, is that something that the coaches managed or did that come from the athletes? Right. We are going to have this circle of gratitude. You're in this circle. Where did that manifest from? Like, where did that vibe come from? It's it's mutual, right? I think it's this like, shared vision that, that you have, like, you can't.

I mean the coaches pick the teams, but I think in the water, you don't hear your coaches half the time. Let's see. I can, I can attest to that half. How about none of the time? I mean, I'm a coach now and I'm just like, okay, like at the end of the day, I'm yelling because I want to give you information, but you can't hear half the time.

So I think it's knowing that right, as, as Waterpool players getting in those tough moments and knowing. The trust that you have to build with each other, and then just you have this common goal coaches and players. So I think it was created, um, simultaneously. And I think back to the circle, like that started like with the 2000 team.

And if you think, if you ask. Um, though, like the women's now, like a lot of them will talk about the circle or there's pictures of the circle. And it's just like the one time before your game starts, where you're all connected coaches, all staff and players. Right. So I think that is something, it might've started with the coaches, like knowing that we needed to connect that way.

In the day, but I think that's something that as players, we're like, yeah, like this is the one time we could all be together. And we know we have each other's back, like whatever happens in the water. So I think, I think it. Right. So how do we, how do we translate that really kind of incredible vibe that the team has, uh, to attract more women and girls into the game?

Like I I'm here sitting in salt lake city, Utah, uh, obviously COVID had a big impact and our women's team is. Maybe a third, the size of our men's team. And we're trying to attract women all the time, doing clinics, trying to get it. How do, how do as clubs and coaches? How do we make sure that we feel like women have a place in this game and it as a place to find strength?

Right? Because I love it. My have three daughters, they all play water polo and they love it. I love it. They are super strong and confident and kind of growing off into college now. And that game has made a huge impact for them. How do we track more women into the game and girls million dollar question, but.

From a young age, if, if we're able to, um, promote the fun that you have in the friendships that you will, will, um, establish. And I think that friendship piece is really important to girls. So then how do we create like a, bring a friend, bring five friends? Cause I think girls would be willing to try new things if that was the case.

And then for me, I've done a lot of work in under-resourced areas. Or a lot of, um, areas that are underrepresented in our sport. And a lot of it. The parent piece, like how do we make parents trust us? And then how do we sell our sport to them? So they're like, sure, my kid will try this. So it's a combination.

But I do think that having like 10 and under teams that maybe you do offer girls only, right? Like, I know that a lot of the times when you're starting programs, you don't have enough. So you just kind of all put them together, but sometimes you do need the girl only. Right. So just being able to think outside the box and, um, it might be as simple as like bring a Brent to water bowl because there might be girls that are like, I want to try, but I don't want to go by myself.

So I know for college at a male, I'm a head coach and both national team coaches, you played for males. How important do you think it is of a female coach or representative to see themselves as for young girls on. Huge. So the other, I did a talk with CIF Southern section about title nine and coming up on the 50th anniversary.

And cause I played with boys on the high school team. Right. And one of the questions was like, who are your key mentors? Right. Or who were people that made an impact for you growing up? And one is my mother and the other one was my. Who was a female who was, you know, Latina, who I was. I identified myself in her.

And here's the support where, I mean, we hear about the tensions, right? Between seventeens and water bullet teams all the time. But that's someone, a mentor that had a huge impact on me. So I think back and I'm like, she was supporting me in the toughest times, right? Like high school, like choices. And for her, it was like swim because it's going to help you in water pole.

I know water pole is the sport you're going to choose. So to have somebody do that, right. And then we're really good friends, all this stuff, but it's. It's so incredible that I haven't had that many female coaches in my life, but she was a huge impact. And then I think back of my college coach, like Susan ort wine, like at the time, I didn't think about it, but I'm like, oh, she was, you know, a different support in college that I needed.

They didn't know I needed. And then on the Olympic team, like you think of like Heather Moody, who was my captain and old for a teammate in 2000 men on the coaching staff, um, 2008, 2012. And like for 2012, for me, she was a lifeline. Right. So it's, you need more, I mean, I've had conversations with Adam and USA water polo about the last two, like coaching staffs, right?

Like, they're great. And are we getting women in the pipeline? Are we asking them why we don't have women on those, those high levels and what we can do different now to start supporting them? If that is something that we think is important, which I think it is. Well, and, and Janai, maybe a question for you in terms of like that translation.

Like, I, I, we're trying to build a very, very active splash ball program at Olympus. Right. And one of the best weeks of splash ball is when I had 10, 12, and under girls show up and it was like, oh my gosh, this is awesome. And so literally I like. Didn't cancel because we have our women's program is working out at the same time as the slash ball kids.

And I said, okay, girls, you're going to come over here and you're gonna play against these splash ball girls. And we're going to take a picture of this because this is going to be generational type thing. And they came over and it was the best time we've had it in a long time. Like they played the girl at the splash ball.

Girls were scoring on them and it was super fun. But like, I think that whole idea of connecting generations is super important, whether it be. Senior in high school and 12 know 12 year olds or, you know, Brenda and Maggie and Maggie and whoever the next, you know, whoever the next Maggie and her or Brenda might be like next icon.

So, I mean, for your, your club specifically, Sean, how many female coaches do you have? We have, uh, we have one female coach, Alexis, Courtney who coaches the women. Um, and then we're actively looking for other coaches right now that are women in. So, and I'll obviously my daughter graduated in 2019 and she's coaching, not with us, but, uh, at college.

So, I mean, again, I think that's, to me is critical. Like I brought, I wanted a woman coach to coach the women. I think that's very, very important for them personally. So, and Brenda, I don't know if you know, they're actually, um, Coleen coaches, McKendree coaches, both the men's and women's had programs. So.

We're making progress. It's just slower than other that we'd like, but as we pull our sport together and grow our community, we will get full representation. Yeah, no, I think that's, I didn't know that. And thank you for sharing that, because even stuff like that, right? Like information where we can tell everyone, like, look a women's coaching, both programs.

It does it. And I didn't realize that at the Olympics. South African coach was the first female head coach at an Olympics. Right? Like, did we, have you, did you hear about that? Do you know about that? Right. Like it's one of these things where, where we have these milestones that are happening, that no one is aware of.

So we're not even sharing those stories. So I think you have to share those stories because then that might encourage other people to be like, oh, it can be done. And it could be a matter of, oh, why donate? Boys or men. Right. Like I remember I applied for the Occidental job, um, which would have coached men and women like Chris Lee.

And I did, and he ended up getting the job, but I, that was something that at the moment I was like, oh, I can do this. And then now that I think about it, like, I don't know if I want to do that, but why not? Like, why do I hesitate in coaching boys or men? Right. But I think because there's less women out there, so I'm like, wait, how am I going to divide my time?

But I just, I wish that. Just more people we're coaching both genders. Yeah. Yeah. Well, an interesting, like connection about women's coach and actually roundabout is that Joan Young, who, uh, was my high school water polo coach in salt lake city was the mother of Courtney young, also known as Courtney Johnson who played with you in Sydney.

So it was like, that was, uh, I, I just put those kinds of connections together of like, and Joan coach, Joe. Coached me forever and was a huge influence in my water polo development, but it was just kind of a fun connection there for back to that Olympic team. So yes. And who knew that Courtney's mom coach and without, without, without Courtney's mama, I'm not involved in water polo.

So it's a, it's a crazy world, small world that water polo is like one degree separation everywhere. Yeah, and that's obviously, it's kind of a problem. We always want our sport to go fast, fast as possible, but also it's nice because we have those human connections everyone's accessible. I remember when Sean, I saw you at jails this summer and yours on deck brought you down, introduced you the kids in the way they lit up to be able to live and breathe and connect directly with, you know, a goat as yourself, um, is very rare in other sports.

Yeah. Our dilemma, right? Like we want to grow, but we don't want to lose that. So hopefully figure out the perfect formula for that. So, Brenda, what is, what are you most excited about for the future of water polo? Part a of that question and part B of that question is what is, what do we need to address to create mainstream, mainstream, acceptance and recognition of our sport?

Like two parts there. What are the two things you think like the pros and cons of water? Well, I'm excited about the continued growth. I think that at the moment, there's some intentionality about being more inclusive and thinking about where we can help the sport grow. And I think that'll help with the diversity that I want to see in our sport.

So I think I'm really excited about. About, I know I'm excited about that. I know that will continue to grow. And I think there's great people in this sport and energy that is coming together for that. I think, um, I don't, I mean, I know. Confused as to why her sport isn't mainstream. Right? You talk about like a sport that's action packed.

It's it's a short game. Um, I think one of, I guess, one of the pro not the problems, one of our barriers or obstacles is how do we translate the live-action right. That you see it a game and that feeling to the screen, right? How do we get better cameras and more facilities? So when we do show it, it's. It's great.

Like I was watching, what is it? The SNR classic, the boys, um, in California, they're having like nor Cal and so counting his plane, it was Harvard Westlake again, sacred heartache coach, some of the boys at sacred heart, um, from a program I ran up north, so I was one of the moms sent me the link. So I was watching them.

And Harvard Wesley has like two camera angles and they were streaming it. For free. It was incredible, right. That I could, I couldn't make it to the game, but I could watch them. And they had one side camera or I think it was behind the goal or above, but one view was just amazing. Right? I'm like for the water polo fanatic, right.

You're like, well, I wish that I could see more high school games, more college games this way. So I think if we could figure out a way for more pools to be able to stream on their own. And have these angles. I think then we show the non-water pool fanatic, like, wow, this sport is really cool. There's, there's swimming and not touching the bottom and elevating that high.

Like people are always so incredibly surprised at how athletic, I think water players are and that they don't touch the bottom or the side. Right. So like, how do we showcase. More often and in a better way, right? Oh, that's Shawn's vision with game on life studio. That's right. So how many, how many games did you stream at junior Olympics over both or actual real three sessions?

We streamed over how many we did like over 200 hours of water polo streaming for junior Olympics. So we had the four days. The two championship courses at all three sessions. So I don't know how many games that was too many to count the we're on the same page here on the same page. That's what it's going to take.

Who's actually doing it. And this is exactly what it takes. We all talk about, you know, we're waiting for the ESPNs of the world and we have to just start ourselves from our own community. That's why. And I'll add that. I think who gave me the step, maybe Greg Moscow. I'm director of communications at UCR, but who's fabulous been, or what's his new title now?

Like he's, he's been around forever. He knows her sport. He knows other sports. Right. And I think the data of who is watching what we stream is disappointing. If our own membership isn't watching what we are putting out. Then what are we complaining about? What are we complaining about? So it's also like a call to action to people that love this sport and talk about wanting to see it grow.

But if we can't spend 10 minutes, 15 minutes watching what is being livestream, then it's on us. Yeah. Yeah, no question. And I mean, it was pretty amazing at junior Olympics. I think the, the streams that, uh, of, of those championship games, I mean, we have over almost approaching 20,000 views of that. So, I mean, it's one of those of people will watch it.

If you have quality production, that's been one of the big things that I've been trying to bring to the sport is let's read these athletes deserve to have their, a, their names, right. BB recognized for how awesome they are as athletes. And like you said, quality cameras and all mixed together into a production.

Um, I mean, Greg and I are working to do some college games this upcoming week, uh, this in the next couple of weeks, uh, game on live studios, doing the, uh, UCLA Cal game at Cal. So that's going to be cool. We've got a couple of tournaments that we're working to put together just to create more accessibility, right?

Because the nice thing about streaming is that it lives there and people can go back and see. Uh, and see it live, but also you'll be able to go back and see it. So we're, we're working, I'm on the same page. We got to show every game or close to it. So for people to be able to love it and go, go back to it.

So, Brenda, what are your own personal goals and involvement these days with Waterpool and life? Well, Interesting time right now, because I just moved from Northern Cal to so Cal state, I'm taking some time to figure out next steps, but it seems that water PO's always a part of my next steps. Right. I can never get away.

You know, I do like, as I say, the dark side of it, right? Like the admin side or the coaching side, like I do enjoy. Coaching and connecting with athletes. I was at a school that, um, I was able to coach middle school and high school. So I essentially. I was able to be a part of these athletes lives for like seven years.

Right. So that was like incredibly special to see them as middle schoolers and then high schoolers. So trying to figure out what my next steps are, but for the sport, um, I think there's more gross to be had and, um, I hope to be able to help USA water polo identify. Cities and places across the U S where we can maybe, um, do some intentional, um, community engagement to see our sport grow.

And I know you with the Alliance, right? And then me being a part of the, um, racial equity task force, um, we're doing work, but this is work that doesn't. You don't see it in fruition, like instantly, right? It's it's, you're putting in time and effort and connecting. So that to me is something that I'll continue to do because.

Because of commerce and the incredible opportunities that I was able to have. Like, I want to pay it for like, I, I can't step away. And like you do all this incredible work Jenaya with all these clinics. Right? So like, for me, it's all still being intentional about those clinics, right? Like where do I go?

Who do I connect with? And that goes back to having athletes, being able to see themselves in their coaches. So, you know, in all of this stuff, Trying to be accessible. And I mean, I love the sport so I will walk away. So those are like some dreams. I haven't one that's like out there. Control over, but it goes back to like this equity piece and, um, this other, you know, just things that I'm passionate about is, um, hopefully soon we'll have 12 women's Olympic team competing to the men's 12 Olympic men's team competing.

So I will see Faena if, if we could get working on that, that would be great. Yeah. So what are some of the, like the key from both of you? What the purpose of that taskforce, obviously inclusion diversity, but what are, what are the. What are the working points now that you've worked started in that committee that you guys are working towards?

Well, we, yeah, we'll, we'll have recommendations that we give to the board at the end of this month. Okay. Um, some of that is, you know, things we've already put in place is just identification and registration. Like who's in our membership. We want people to feel seen. And how do we know. Connect if we don't know who's in our membership.

So like even in registration, like how do you identify things like that? Where it was like these quick fixes that we could do, which gives us information. Um, we, we ran a pilot program, um, this past summer. So there was some learnings from there that we'll share. So it's not about reinventing anything, right?

It's like, how do we partner with other programs that have boots on the ground? Because we can't be everywhere. But how could we help others get going? And then it's also about, um, like where our growth, you see a little one, bring them in Brenda.

Because be talking about growth of the sport. This is

what you're learning to do right now. Yay. Fantastic training wheels or nothing. That's impressive. That's like learning how to swim, learning how to ride a bike. Those, those huge milestones. Okay, go practice.

So I bring him back to your daughter, come in the frame. And you're talking about how special was for you to play in front of both of your grandparents, your grandmothers, and in Mexico. Um, for me, you know, we keep talking. This community, but it's at home. It's not everyone that's in the pool. It's the family support that really helps make feel.

People feel supported and comfortable in their zones. Um, and trying something new. So it's not just saying, oh, here, we're offering up a camp in this area. That's never had a water polo before. Here's a scholarship. I think it's really more of a educational piece and cultural piece. I talked to some people that, you know, they had a lot of.

I don't push back almost like the beat at minimum, not supportive from their own community, because it wasn't a traditional sport that people are accustomed to plain. So we have a hundred thousand people right now playing, how do we reach the entire country and make it a more accessible and supported.

Um, but I think, you know, family and school is going to be a huge component of that. I agree. Right? It's like, it is like pairing education, like earlier, like connecting with the parents, like your kids are safe. Like, you may not know how to swim, but we will keep your kids safe, come and try it. And then sharing our stories.

Janaia like the incredible memories that we've made with teammates, the travel, the competition, and being able to share that with, with other communities, or you can tell them like these experiences, you get with soccer and you know it, but you also get it with. Yeah, well, and this is the additional things that you've got with water polo too.

Like you're learning a life-saving skill, like the life skills. So I think being able to pitch that I think is so important. I think sometimes we forget. And I would, I would love to dive in just a little bit about water polo in commerce, California. Like you started just doing the math here in 1988, playing water polo and commerce, California, which is, you know, uh, the appropriate way to say this is that you see the teams from Canada.

And they don't look like the other teams. Right. Which is fantastic. And, and so how did, how, and it's a, it is a culture thing, right? I think the culture of water polo is important and, and having that community involvement. How did, how is commerce, why is commerce so successful? What are the things that they're doing, uh, to attract kids into the program?

Uh, I mean, obviously you've had a critical role in that there's a building named after you it's incredible facility. Like what, what are some of the key things that they're doing in a community level to make water polo be such a viable option for their kids? So, I mean, you talk about like history and you think of commerce said, one thing is they have that historical.

Knowledge right. Or I guess institutional knowledge of waterfall in, in the seventies. Um, Sandy Nita who Olympic swimmer, um, works for the city, starts the program and the city at that point as decided to invest in its youth, provides all these, um, free access to all these teams. So a city makes an investment.

You start a woman who is very accomplished arts. Program. Right. And it just, it's just there, it's now a fabric of the city. Like everyone there knows that and it, and it started with, I think the free access to, or low costs, some lessons. Right. And the pool was such a focal point of the city. It was like such a nice building.

Like I talked to people that, that grew up in the neighboring communities like east Los Angeles Montebello, and everyone knows the commerce back that the. Yeah, cause it was this nice facility that everyone could go to. It was free for commerce residents. And if you weren't a resident, people tell me I paid 10 cents.

I paid 50 cents, but it was still so accessible. Right. And I think that pools usually are not accessible to, um, lower income or, um, marginalized communities in general. So I think that's one thing that commerce established really early on. And then. Everyone was having fun. And it's such a small city that like, oh, my cousin plays.

So then everyone just knows about it. And then you add on top of that, the success of the teams. Right? So not only does someone have a relative that's playing, then you're like, oh, they're really good. Oh, they travel. So then you start adding travel and then you have the support of the city where it's, um, vans to games, there's buses to gain.

So then working class families that may be. Don't put their kids in sports because, oh, I don't know if we can make it to practice or make it to games. Then all of that is taken all those barriers. The barriers are gone. So then why wouldn't you put your kid in? Maybe not Waterpool but there's softball and there's volleyball.

So why wouldn't you put them in a sport and then it's word of mouth, right? It's like everyone is so tight in the city that it's like, oh yeah, they have a great time. Let's do this. So. And I would say that commerce also back then, it was you couldn't, you did both. It was Monday, Wednesday, Friday. So I mean, Tuesday, Thursday, water pools.

So there wasn't this competition between sports. So that just added to all the different layers that have created this. Machine, I guess, for lack of a better word, right. Where everyone knows about it. And then you get into the era of like my age, where, oh, now you can play in college. Oh, now there's a potential like athletic scholarship where there was women before me that were on the junior team and were amazing national team, but they didn't have the opportunity to.

To play in college. So then that comes along and that is also another game changer, right? We're a communities where your parents are not going to be able to pay for you to go to college or help in a significant way. You have to find other ways. So that was then that created just another incentive. So, and then you have the night go to the Olympics, then another commerce resident, Patty goes to the Olympics.

So then it's like, wow, we have these champion fans. Like they can't try this sport. That's pretty cool. I mean, I think that little piece right there for those clubs and teams that are listening out there, you just laid out how to grow your team and club, right. Essentially make it free or low cost for your kids to be able to get in provide quality coaching.

Is there at that level, so that. Positive family experiences. Uh, I'm a fan of like travel, I think, as I have I'm into this 10 years now with my club and I've talked about with my older app, my athletes that are alumni now, it's like, what's the best part of what we did as water polo. And it's like, no one said like, oh, that one shootout when or any of us like, oh, it's always traveling with your buds.

You know what I mean? That's always the best part. And I think that's probably true whether you're on a 12 and under team, or if you're on the Olympic team, like the. Just go on and have it doing something different than most kids on the weekend. You know what I mean? Um, and now hopefully we can stream it and show it and see that and hopefully continue to create that flywheel effect of growth.

So great. That's that's perfect. I love that. So, so with your, with your own foundation, Brenda, um, how is that going and what information do you want to give any view? Yeah, no, I foundation. We last year, we, we pivoted, right. I had, um, I co-founded project 2020, and that was really to, to kind of mirror commerce in some way, right.

To run programming, um, in east Menlo park and to provide some lessons. And now we've pivoted where we're now. The Renova foundation. We're not necessarily creating programming. We're into like micro grants. Like who can we partner with? Who can we help me? And my co-founders Kylo Toomey and Kelsey Holzer.

Um, we have, I think 75 years, right. Of institutional knowledge between us. We've all played sports. We've all had different upbringings. Kyle is coached at the highest level is like Kelsey, uh, has played in college is, you know, helped with businesses. So we have like all of. This knowledge that we want to share.

So it's about how do we get you in front of a council meeting, right? If you need, you know, pull hours to extend or like, how do we help you create a, a splash ball program or, oh, you need, you know, a grant like apply for it here at our foundation. How do we, we wanted to amplify our previous foundation where it was in one area where we know that now we know that.

Need and a lot of places, right. Or that like need, and it's not always financial need. Right. It's also like, how do we do the coaches education? How do we help you with parents? Or how do we, how just, and how do we partner? It's not about starting something new. I think there's a lot of existing, um, programs out there that if they had some sort of like mentor or consultant or help.

That would go a long way. So that's what, you know, my foundation wants to do now, what we're doing now, and it's moving slower than we want because there's three of us. Right. And we had some great interns this summer, so it's, it's coming along and it was, it's been really great to partner with the swim for diversity that was created, you know, making waves, um, in light of George Floyd.

Last year, um, Stanford women's water polo team started this swim for diversity event. And we were one of the organizations that, um, they suggested, um, people could donate to. So they have been two years where we've been able to raise a lot of money. So now not a lot of money, we raised money enough to help mothers.

So now, yes. So now, um, we're hoping. Yeah. To find more, um, or it's to team up with like one org that I'll tell you about is his aunt in San Jose. And the thing that drew us to them is, you know, bilingual swim school, like how something that is, I think overlook. Often, but that can make a huge difference is if you have kids that can't speak the language of this important life skill that you're trying to teach, like how are they going to learn or how do we then invite a community in right.

Or they're like, we don't speak the same language. You want my kid in the pool and I can't swim. Like there's no way. So when we heard about this foundation or this some school and what they're doing, like, we want to partner with you. We want to make sure you get more kids in the pool. And my co-founder went on a site visit and he's like, Brenda, you would have been so amazed at the multi languages that were being spoken and like all the families that were there.

Just I'm so happy to have their kids in the water lane to swim. So we want to find more or things like that. So if there's anybody that comes to mind, please reach out to send us an email. Yeah. How do we, how do we connect with you? I'll be happy to put that in the show notes and in the description offer YouTube.

So what's the, what's the website or. But I, well, our socials aren't that great right now? I need to, we have, yeah,

but you can reach us through, um, yeah. Through our website, the Brenda via foundation.org. I believe I should know that. And then social media or to me, but there's an info, an email info at Brenda via or.

Posted for people like me, visual or even active links to click we'll post the links down in there and we'll find them. And as we close the show, close the show, we'll have it there. Very good. Well, fantastic. Um, Janai, do you have any closing questions or follow-up thoughts? I just want to say that Kyle's amazing as well now is he working with Brenda is working with Alliance with us as well.

And, um, you know, he has a wealth of information, you know, obviously silver lining is going back to the original, original, um, uh, female Olympic Walpole games that Brenda took part in with that silver medal, um, you know, hookup helping coach now, the Stanford. And just so, you know, choose supportive or sport and open-minded should be one of our next guests.

It sounds like. Yes. We can make that up and we can make that happen. Brenda, I truly, oh, one class closing thought that I've asked all of my guests, uh, and other groups and events, but we're going to continue to the tradition on this podcast. What's your favorite hype song? What's your song that you listened to right before the game or between that coaching moment?

Like, what's the song that's going to bring down the house for Brenda. Okay, I'm ready. Okay. One song I can't even, I put on for my city. Um, that's I think that's the title or not, I can find it for you, but there's um, um, I don't know all the titles though. There's definitely some, um, Jay Z and Kanye west that Betsy Armstrong and I would rock out to, um, When were we roommates?

Probably a lot of times, but let's see. I mean, sometimes there's Spanish in there too. Um, yeah, there's some one is in there. It just, it depends if. What like right before a game or on the bus drive before the game, there's, you know, you can't be too hyped on the bus too high hour. So I just need something there's, you know, Spanish always connects me to my family, to my mom, and they're always a strength of mine.

So there's always Spanish in there. Oh God, I wish I knew more titles of songs, but I mean, I would say an RMB definitely in Spanish. So your, so your job is to make sure we get the right link for the foundation and a couple of song titles. So then we can put them in there cause we're, we're gonna, we're going to build a song list on Spotify.

We're going to assign them to you so that you know that. So the kids can go out and have the ultimate hype list from there, from their heels. So can I get a game on you hear your best game on. Game on

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Contributor Details

Brenda Villa

Villa was named Female Water Polo Player of the Decade for 2000-2009 by the FINA Aquatics World Magazine. She is one of four female players who competed in water polo at four Olympics and one of two female athletes who won four Olympic medals in water polo.