Water Polo Information

Insider Info

dotPop quiz. Which sport is the longest standing team sport in Olympic history?

Soccer? Close, but try again. Basketball? Nope. Field hockey? No way.

It's water polo. It has been an Olympic sport for 100 years and is played in just as many countries. Some even say it is the most physically demanding of all team games.

"I would say that it's probably accurate," says Dan Sharadin. He is a former elite club player. He is also the director of collegiate and senior programs for United States Water Polo.

"You are in a medium where it is difficult to move," he says. "You have the resistance and friction of water. And if you consider that you play up to one hour and 15 minutes, it can be grueling."

dotAlso, expect a lot of incidental and intentional contact during a game of water polo. "There is a lot more contact than in a basketball game, and a lot of it goes unnoticed."

dotA team consists of 13 players with seven players in the water: six field players and one goalkeeper. Games last four seven-minute quarters.

dotYou have to tread water the entire time you are in the game. Otherwise, possession changes. This is also the case when you touch the sides of the pool. So you must have a lot of endurance to play this sport.

Exceptional swimming ability is also a must because turnovers are frequent. Play changes direction often. You must also have a lot of strength to rise out of the water and above your opponent before hurling the ball toward the net. This emphasis on power reflects the game's history.

dotWater polo developed in Scotland during the late 19th century. Players could only use their feet to move the ball. It wasn't even called water polo back then.

Fans called it aquatic football or aquatic rugby instead. Serious injuries were common. The game eventually moved towards its current form that allows players to pass the ball with their hands just as in team handball.

dotWater polo also has elements of other, better-known sports.

As in basketball, two clocks keep time in a water polo game -- a game clock and a 35-second shot clock. If a team cannot score during that time, possession changes. Players also foul out if they pick up three major fouls.

Players are sent to a penalty box just as in hockey. Plus, there are spot penalty shots like in soccer if a defending player commits a foul inside the goal mouth area.

These features give the sport an enormous crossover appeal, especially in countries where team handball, soccer and basketball are popular. It is perhaps no surprise that European countries such as Hungary, Spain and Yugoslavia have dominated the sport for a long time.

Water polo is also popular in Australia and South Africa. It is less popular in North America, but this is changing.

dotThe U.S. team has been improving over the last few years. Many consider it a serious medal contender again.

"The popularity of our sport has definitely increased, especially since the inclusion of the women into the Olympics," says Heather Kaulbach. She is director of operations at the national office of a water polo association.

One big reason for this increase in popularity has been an increase in media coverage, she says. The Internet has also played a big role in making the sport more visible. "The means of promoting the sport have increased, and that definitely helps," she says.

dotPlaying water polo may also lead you towards a career in sports administration, facility management and coaching, says Sharadin. He started playing when he was 14 years old. He now works with college and senior club teams throughout the U.S.

Kaulbach, meanwhile, played for a national team from 1983 to 1994. Like Sharadin, she used her involvement with the sport to gain employment, first as a lifeguard, and now as a senior administrator with the sport's governing body.

"A lot of the athletes do that, because once you spend so much time in the aquatic environment, you try to get a profession related to that," she says.

But she warns against high expectations.

"With a sport like ours, there are opportunities," she says. "But they are limited compared to other sports."

Getting Started

dotClubs exist in all major cities and at all major universities, so finding a team is not difficult. And if you are a good swimmer, you can learn the game quickly. "Picking up the basic skills of the game is not difficult," says Kaulbach.

dotYou also don't need much equipment. All you need is a special cap to cover your head and ears -- plus your swimsuit, of course.


United States Water Polo
1685 W. Uintah
Colorado Springs , CO   80904


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