US water polo star Maggie Steffens is in her first season playing for UVSE in Budapest – the top women’s team in the Hungarian professional league. The two-time Olympic gold medalist offers her advice on acclimatising and ultimately succeeding in a foreign domestic league.
Powerful, creative and intelligent with the ball in hand, Steffens is arguably the most dominant female water polo player in the world. At the age of just 25, she has already won back-to-back gold medals in four different major championships with the US National Water Polo Team – the Olympic Games, the World Championships, the FINA World Cup and the Pan American Games.
Steffens was instrumental at both the Olympic Games London 2012 and at Rio 2016, netting an Olympic record 21 goals in London and leading her team with 17 tallies in Rio.
The Californian sensation is currently showcasing her potent offensive skills at Budapest-based UVSE, helping the Budapest-based team to a fourth successive Hungarian championship title in May.
“I never thought I’d play in Hungary – I didn’t know it was much of an option,” Steffens tells Athlete365. “I came to Budapest for the Worlds in 2017 and obviously we had a great experience winning gold, but for me it was also the atmosphere and environment. There is a heartbeat for water polo here and I just love that.”
“I thought this would be a cool opportunity and huge challenge for me.”
Here, Steffens offers her top tips to fellow athletes who are either playing abroad or considering a career overseas…
Be a follower
Be a student of the culture, game and people. Something that really helps me is that I am very eager to connect with people to learn from them. I ask a lot of questions, and watch and learn how they do things so I can acclimatise. Being a follower and student when you first arrive is really important.
Make the effort to connect
Luckily, many girls on my team speak English, but not everyone. The language barrier is definitely very difficult. I’ve competed against a lot of the girls at the Olympic Games and at the Worlds, so we know each other and there is competitive energy, but perhaps they’re not comfortable speaking English, or I’m not comfortable speaking Hungarian. It’s your job to go out of your way and make the effort to connect.
Explore your surroundings
Wherever you are, don’t just be there to be an athlete. You can gain a lot of perspective from the country you are in. Here in Hungary, there are so many cultural aspects. It’s amazing here and I really love it.
I walk 30 minutes every day to practice. It is so beautiful, especially at night with parliament and all the buildings lit up. I try to use my Sundays to explore and appreciate the beauty and history of Budapest. It’s been really fun and makes the time more enjoyable.
Don’t be afraid to try new things
Hungarian water polo players are incredible shooters. They practice shooting probably 75 percent more than we do in the United States. That was a big adjustment for me, but it’s been really fun to try new things.
Tactically, things are going to be different wherever you go and the way they practise and play is also different. Don’t be afraid to try to adapt; from there you can adjust to whatever works best for you.
Buy into the team environment
It has been very cool to bring some of my skillsets and knowledge of the game to them. We communicate a lot and this has been really fun.
Rita Keszthelyi and I talk a lot about the game and what we could have done better, but what is more important is that I am able to do this because I bought into the team. Buy into the competition and the way games are played, and be passionate. Sharing your own knowledge and insight is also very important. Give yourself to the team and don’t be an outsider.
Enjoy your experience and share it with family and friends.
At water polo games here in Hungary, there are lots of drums and horns. During one game in the winter, they put a bubble over the pool and I couldn’t hear a thing or even talk in the water. I was just smiling thinking this is so cool – we don’t have this in the United States. I experienced something completely different.
Hopefully, I can inspire other players to come over here.