All that constant swimming, treading, passing and defending takes strength, strategy and lot and lots of strokes.
YOU HAVE TO know your weaknesses.
Water polo is based on two of mine — team sports and swimming.
So when a water polo player said you have to be a strong swimmer to even attempt to play, and that the game is initially intense even for good swimmers, I decided to learn the sport — from the sidelines.
I visited a scrimmage with the Seattle Otters, a local coed water polo team that plays twice a week. Experience level varies, but most of them have played for a number of years, or came with a strong swimming background.
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Endurance makes a difference when you are swimming constantly for seven-minute quarters. That includes everything from treading water to sprints from one side of the pool to the other, yelling to teammates and making sure you know where your teammates are to try to score.
It looked intense.
Water polo teams play 7-on-7, and it’s mostly nonstop. I watched as players “dribbled” down the pool, the ball between their arms and their heads out of the water as they swam.
And they can swim fast. There are a lot of bursts of speed, as both teams raced from one end of the pool to the other, then treaded water as they passed the ball. I was amazed at their ability to throw and catch the ball with one hand, as required, all while treading water and fending off the other team.
It’s hard to see in the water, and the players wore colored caps to identify who’s on their side. They sometimes used good kicks to get up higher and see over the heads of other players.
Defense is assertive, with players swimming at the person with the ball and using their arms to block the shot. A referee was always on the sidelines, whistling to call fouls or a goal.
Swimming backstroke also looks useful to see what’s going on around you.
While I often feel like things are going slow-motion when I’m in the water, the pace of this game was fast. The players tried to score, frequently. The more experienced players sometimes would race away from their defenders or do trickier passes to their teammates.
I was impressed at how much the players communicated with each other, yelling plays and strategy, all while swimming.
Water polo apparently is great for people who love to swim, but might not love counting laps. Water polo keeps you engaged, from strategy to constant movement. That said, the players recommended two or three months of a swim class, or enough endurance to swim 500 yards without a break, before jumping in for water polo. The City of Seattle’s Ballard pool has an introductory water polo session on Sundays. That’s where some of the Otters players started.
Water polo is definitely an exciting sport, reminiscent of soccer or basketball in water. The players looked like they were having fun, though even strong ones took breaks to referee.
I had no illusions that I would be any good at water polo. From lacking the conditioning to swim for extended periods of time to the strategy required for a team sport, the opposing team would have no trouble swimming past me.
But if you like to swim, you can get there. I was impressed by the conditioning in the pool; it would be a great way to ramp up your swimming. Focus on your conditioning in lap swimming, get strong, start playing water polo and make your swimming interactive. Sounds like a plan.