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Now Retired, Water Polo Player Brenda Villa Helping Shape Next Generation

By Greg Bates | Jan. 28, 2015, 7:19 p.m. (ET)

Brenda Villa attends the 33rd Annual Salute To Women In Sports Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on Oct. 17, 2012 in New York City.

During her playing days, Brenda Villa was constantly busy.

Now that she’s retired, the most decorated international female water polo player of all time is enjoying some downtime, right?

Not exactly.

Along with coaching kids of all ages, Villa, 34, is running a nonprofit organization she co-founded, and she was recently named to the executive committee of the Union Americana De Nacion (UANA) through the 2019 Pan American Games.

“It’s crazy, because I recently got engaged and my fiancé is like, ‘You’re done playing, but I still never see you,’” Villa said.

Villa was shocked she was even considered to be a member of the UANA, which is the highest authority for aquatic sports within the Americas.

“It’s another way to help me stay involved in international water polo, because I love international water polo,” said Villa, who medaled at all four Olympic Games she competed in, including gold in 2012.

Villa knew she wanted to stay involved in the sport after retiring from competition, but the UANA position provides her with more avenues in which to do so.

“You wonder which way you can make the most impact,” she said. “So I’m thinking that checking out this side of it will give me a good sense if I want to be on a pool deck at that level or if I want to be on the committee side somewhere making things happen with policies and other things that go along with it.”

Villa’s four-year term with UANA will start after this summer’s Pan American Games. She believes one of her main roles on the committee will be trying to develop water polo at a grassroots level in a lot of countries that aren’t aware of the sport. She is also eager to learn about the other aquatic sports and share water polo expertise in emerging countries.

“I’ve played in Europe, so I’ve seen how strong Europe is and I can only imagine how much stronger the U.S. and Canada can be if we can help develop Central and South America,” said Villa, who is of Mexican descent. “It’s exciting for me, and I’m excited to use my Spanish and just anything that I can do to help.”

Villa will continue to juggle her UANA duties with coaching. In 2010, she became the water polo coach at Castilleja School, an all-girls high school in Palo Alto, California. Villa coached one season, took a year off to concentrate on the 2012 Olympic Games and then has coached the last four seasons.

Brenda Villa looks to play a pass in the women's water polo quarterfinal between Italy and the United States at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Aug. 5, 2012 in London. 

Castilleja School senior water polo player Anna Yu was coached by Villa for four years of her career and absolutely adores her coach.

“Brenda’s one of the best if not the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Yu said. “She’s always fun and engaging. She’s always able to keep a smile on her face, but at the same time she’s definitely serious and ready to get down to business when we need to. She helps the team focus a lot, and is all-around a great coach.”

With Villa’s Olympic credentials, she seems to garner more respect from her athletes.

“She’s the kind of coach that makes players want to bring out the best in themselves as athletes and as a person,” Yu said. “You want to try hard not just for Brenda, but for yourself.”

Giving Back

Growing up in Commerce, California, Villa was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play water polo because the city paid for all youth activities for residents. Villa always knew she wanted to model a program after the city.

When Villa met teenager Skylar Dorosin in 2009, the young athlete had an idea to help the area she grew up in, a low-income neighborhood in East Palo Alto. The two like-minded athletes collaborated and started Project 2020 in 2011. Since East Palo Alto didn’t have a public pool, Project 2020 decided to run its program in the nearby Belle Haven neighborhood in Menlo Park.

Villa and Dorosin’s goal was to give young girls the chance to swim and play water polo free of charge.

“To see a community that had never heard of this sport really buy into it and support their daughters, and seeing even the girls that I started with in the shallow end, not comfortable in the water, and now they’re in the deep end playing water polo, it’s so rewarding,” Villa said. “The bonus I think is when I get parents that come up to me and tell me, ‘They’re doing so much better in school. I noticed their confidence is different in themselves.’ It’s great.”

Yu always sees so much passion from Villa when she’s working with young athletes.

“Project 2020 is something that Brenda’s so dedicated to and she spends so much time on,” Yu said. “Even during high school season, she’s still involved in Project 2020.”

Villa is still working to make Project 2020 — which now includes working with young boys — even better by trying to acquire grants, donations and fundraising. She says the organization is off to a good start, but there is plenty more to accomplish.

Working with young athletes is keeping Villa in the game. That’s what she wants.

“Brenda and water polo: the two things always go in the same sentence for me,” Yu said.

It amazes Yu how Villa can continue to juggle so many activities in her life. She hasn’t slowed down a bit since retirement.

“Brenda is a superstar,” Yu said. “I don’t know how she does it, but she keeps it together. ... Maybe it’s all the coffee that she drinks.”

Greg Bates is a freelance writer who has covered Green Bay Packers games for a number of media outlets for the past eight seasons. He has been a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc., since 2012.

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Brenda Villa