While many sports’ national governing bodies are working to expand their game around the globe, USA Water Polo is only concerned with growing its sport at home in the U.S. The ability to play outside year round, a culture based around an active lifestyle and the sheer number of pools in California has made the state water polo’s biggest domestic supporter, but USA Water Polo is working to spread out.
“About 75 percent of out membership is here in California, and we feel like there is a lot of room for expansion outside of California,” said Claudia Dodson, director of club and member programs for USA Water Polo. “Recently we’ve been focusing on the Midwest, the Southeast, the Southwest—we work hard to bring events and bring education through coach training, referee training and player clinics.”
While large events like the Junior Olympics, which features 550 teams, over 8,000 athletes and 30 venues, need to be hosted in California so enough pools are available, USA Water Polo hosts smaller events in states like Nevada, Colorado, Indiana and Ohio. The organization is looking to host more events across the country going forward.
“We are working hard to take the game across the country and to create meaningful playing opportunities for players and our members outside of California,” Dodson said.
Water polo enthusiasts hope that continued success for the U.S. in the Olympics will get more people interested in the sport. The U.S. women’s team won gold last year in London for the first time since women’s water polo became an Olympic sport in 2000.
“I hope that it translates into memberships,” Dodson said. “I certainly know that there was a lot of media attention given to the sport after our women won gold. Our individual women athletes are still getting a lot of speaking opportunities and are using the gold medals as a platform to hold player clinics and to do speaking engagements. Let’s hope we see it translate into increased membership, but I’d certainly say it has raised the level of awareness for our game.”
USA Water Polo’s membership base is growing steadily, especially at its younger levels, and currently is made up of just under 40,000 members. Similar to the rapidly growing sport of lacrosse, water polo takes a wide range of skills that translate from a variety of different sports. While most converts to the game come via swimmers who are frustrated with their times or want to play a classic team sport, the game is also seeing former soccer and basketball players quickly have success due to understanding the spacing and offensive and defensive strategies present in all three sports.
“Another thing is that actually a lot of people come to water polo because they are injured in another sport and they are swimming or in the water for rehab,” Dodson said. “Then they find that they enjoy water polo.”
Instead of just being satisfied with treading water, USA Water Polo has big goals going forward.
“I would personally like to see it in every high school in the [U.S.] that has a pool,” Dodson said. “We would also love to see a 10 percent growth in our membership every year for five years. That would be a dream come true.”
For athletes who have never tried the sport, longtime water polo players will all tell you the same thing − just give it a shot.
“It’s a hard sport to understand when you just look at it, but once people play the game, more often than not they are hooked,” Dodson said. “They just get in the pool and actually play the game and after one tournament they’re hooked. They love it, they have a good time. It has a social side, it’s physically demanding and it takes processing abilities—you have to think quickly. It’s a challenging game, and most people who try it love it. Polo in every pool. That’s our goal.”
To learn more about USA Water Polo, visit usawaterpolo.org.