The Unstoppable Laura Aarts: Dutch Waterpolo's Golden Goalie

The Women's Dutch Waterpolo team has been on terrific form heading into the Paris 2024 Olympics. SportsBoom sat down with goalie Laura Aarts in an exclusive interview to discuss their incredible run.

Wade McElwain
Wade McElwain

Last Updated: 2024-03-06

Umaima Saeed

An Unlikely Start

Laura Aarts didn't come from a waterpolo family or even dream about the sport growing up. "It was a coincidence actually that I get to know what is waterpolo," she said. It wasn't until age 11 when a teammate invited her football team to try waterpolo that she discovered her true calling. Immediately falling in love with the physicality and competitiveness, Laura pleaded with her parents: "I went straight to my parents after this practice that I want to play waterpolo."
 Laura claims that starting at 11 is considered ‘late’, as many young girls are already full immersed in waterpolo at 5, even though it’s not a big sport in Holland.  Due to her background in judo, and being a dominant goalie in football, Laura knew that she had the skillset to thrive in this niche sport:  
“I was a goalie at the football, so not scared of the balls or anything, just very playful and, uh, yeah, a little bit rough because I did judo, so the wrestling part and fighting for the ball, it was not a problem either.”

A Waterpolo Renaissance Woman

What makes Laura such a defensive force is her rare blend of physical talents and mental acuity. "You have to be strong, you have to be fast, and you have to be smart. And you have to see, you have to have the view of the game," she said. With the build of an elite swimmer, the grit of a judoka, and the fearlessness of a goalkeeper, she has the complete toolbox to dominate in the intense waters of waterpolo. But it's her brilliant mind for strategy and tactics that elevates her game to world-class levels. "I'm speaking a lot. If they are blocking for example, I have to tell them that go to the left, go to the right," Laura quarterbacked.

The Dehydration Battle

As a goalie, Laura has to do egg-beaters to keep herself afloat during the game, as she is sadly not allowed to hang on to any part of the pool or goal during a contest. In a waterpolo game that has four by eight minute quarters, keeping your head above water isn’t the only thing players have to worry about. Despite being submerged in water, players expend incredible energy and easily get dehydrated. "It's a really, really difficult sport because you are in the water and every single body part of you is moving and you're fighting and it is kind of warm," Laura said. To combat this, the Dutch trainers offer the women isotonic drinks and even eat jellies between quarters: "We have jellies, like it's full of isotonic sugar and carbs, for us to take in and hydrate us.” And yes, some of them do pee in the pools during matches, it’s part of the game. 

The Brutal Physicality

Waterpolo may be played in the pool, but it's one of the most physical, combat-like sports around. As Laura describes, pretty much anything goes when fighting for the ball: "If your opponent has the ball in her hand, you can actually do almost everything. Like you can pull on the swimsuit, you can try to grab on the arm and everything just to get the ball."
She reveals some of the dirtiest moves: "A really dirty move is when two people are swimming next to each other and they kick up the elbow right in front of the face. It's something you don't really see so often, but it can happen." Laura herself has used some unintentional headbutts: 
"Sometimes I save it with my head. Okay, sometimes not on purpose.”
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Mastering Technology

Video analysis and prep work are huge parts of the Dutch team's approach. "We use a lot of video and we even analyze it and make a big document of players," Laura said. This allows them to gameplan for opponents' tendencies: "We know which players are the fast swimmers or the good shooters.” During games, the referee video review system provides a new level of fairness: "This is something really great because sometimes the balls really go so fast. And the referees cannot see because it goes too fast.” she said. Tech is an emerging key in all sports, as is AI, as waterpolo looks to expand on competitor analysis. 

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Of course the greatest thing is that I come home with a gold Olympic medal. This is my, our only goal

on the singular vision of the Women's Dutch Waterpolo Team

The Greatest Comeback

Just making the 2024 Paris Olympics is a triumph for Laura after missing out in 2016 when the Dutch failed to qualify, and 2020 when she temporarily retired due to the pandemic postponement. Now 27 years old, Laura admits "Finally I can go! Finally I'm here." Her goal is clear: "Of course the greatest thing is that I come home with a gold Olympic medal. This is my, our only goal." After the harrowing ups and downs, an Olympic coronation would cap off one of the greatest redemption stories in Dutch sporting aquatic history.  
After the highs of winning the 2023 World Championships and lows of a disappointing 5th place finish recently, the Dutch are re-focused on one goal - Olympic gold. "For me, of course the greatest thing is that I come home with a gold Olympic medal. This is my, our only goal, this is my only goal” Laura stated.
Many of the Dutch players still have club obligations, giving them only 6 weeks of Olympic prep time, as they look to stay competitive, but also healthy for their national team.  
With a team of veterans ready to splash their way to gold in Paris in 2024, Laura Aarts knows what she needs to do, and how she needs to do it. 
Everyone loves it when a plan comes together, and we look forward to cheering on the Dutch Women’s Waterpolo team to Olympic podium golden glory. 

Wade McElwain
Wade McElwainSenior Sports Writer

Wade McElwain is our Mr. NFL, a bona fide North American sports nut who knows about NBA, NHL, MLB, PGA plus MMA boxing and more. Originally from Canada, Wade is also an international award-winning stand-up comedian; host of numerous TV game shows; and a TV producer & writer. He also runs NFL in London-the largest NFL fan group in Europe, and has hosted NFL events at Wembley and around the world. Yes, he lives alone and does nothing but watch sports.