Why don’t water polo players get more respect? It’s a really hard sport; it’s got tactics, and there’s plenty of action. But other sports get more coverage, and it seems like water polo is something no one cares about but the players and coaches.
Everything you say is true (even if this magazine DID have a water polo cover story just last month), but the biggest difficulty is that a lot of the action takes place under water where no one can see it. (There is a reason, after all, that water polo players wear two swimsuits. The risk of embarrassment is way too high to wear just one, what with all the clutching and grabbing going on beneath the surface.)
Another issue is the rules. The players swim up and down, and the ref blows his whistle for no apparent reason and the ball goes over to the other team. And then suddenly a player gets sent to the side, again for no apparent reason, and one team plays with a man advantage.
OK, OK, anyone who knows the sport knows what’s going on, but for the uninitiated, it’s confusing — and those are just the people you’re talking about.
Still, there’s a lot even a newbie can appreciate: The strength and skill of the hole set, the agility of the goalie, the stamina of the players as they relentlessly swim up and down. And when two good teams go at it, the energy from the fans close to the pool is exhilarating.
But I still think it’s going to be a long road before water polo is a big-time sport in America. For one thing, it’s not a good TV game — again, because so much of the action happens underwater. On top of that, only a small percentage of Division I colleges offer the sport — 22 men’s Division I teams and 33 women’s teams — which means that there’s less interest at that level. (The scholarship count is low too: Eight for each women’s team, and 4.5 for each men’s team.)
All of that said, how much does the outside attention really matter? High school sports are valuable not because of newspaper stories or scholarship offers or the number of students who watch from the pool deck, but rather for what the process of playing at a competitive level teaches those who compete. It’s about the experience, not the respect of outsiders who don’t know the rules or appreciate the difficulty of water polo.
If you love to play, if you love to compete, and you’re excited about your high school water polo career, you should be thankful you have the opportunity to play. (In fact, so should every high school athlete.) The coaches, the swimming pools, the buses to away games, all of that is support and structure that allows you to do what you love to do.
Sure, it would be nice if more people really understood what a good game water polo is, and what went in to being successful, but it’s still fun, right?
And someday maybe you can challenge the football players to a game, and see how long they last before they’re hanging on to the side of the pool just trying to remember how to breathe.
Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email him at HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com.
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