As one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, water polo is expanding as an NCAA and NAIA sponsored sport. In 2019, the NAIA introduced a water polo program at Ottawa University’s satellite campus in Surprise, AZ, which is the school’s first-ever men’s water polo program. As a result of water polo’s growing popularity in the United States, Division 1 water polo programs have seen a 12 percent increase in international student-athletes between 2011 and 2016. This increase in international student-athlete participation is the largest growth that the NCAA has seen in any Division 1 level men’s sport.
As water polo continues to grow, so will competition for roster spots and scholarships. With only 43 NCAA men’s water polo programs and one NAIA program, student-athletes will need a solid grasp of the college recruiting process to position themselves for a successful recruiting experience. From navigating the NCAA recruiting rules and calendar to finding the right college fit and understanding what college coaches look for in recruits, we’ve created this guide to the water polo recruiting process to help student-athletes and their families through their recruiting journey.
Traditionally, in men’s water polo, the recruiting process began later than most NCAA sports. Now, based on new NCAA rules, there is a chance the recruiting process will start earlier.
In May 2019, the NCAA released new recruiting rules that put clear limits on when college coaches can contact student-athletes. Communication between college coaches and student-athletes is now prohibited until June 15 after the athlete’s sophomore year. Additionally, the NCAA changed the date that water polo athletes can begin to schedule unofficial and official visits to after August 1 of the athlete’s junior year. These new recruiting rules were established to allow for a more equal and positive recruiting experience for both student-athletes and college coaches.
To help student-athletes and their families navigate the NCAA water polo recruiting rules and calendar, we’ve created a section that further outlines these rules and guidelines.
Seven percent of male US water polo athletes go on to play college water polo. Of this seven percent, just over two percent play at an NCAA Division 1 program. With so few water polo programs available at NCAA and NAIA institutions, competition for a roster spot is fierce. Not only are US water polo athletes competing against other domestic student-athletes, but they must also compete against international high school water polo athletes. To stand out from the competition, student-athletes need to have the experience, skills and academic record that college coaches are looking for at the collegiate level. This section takes a deeper look at what college coaches are looking for in all water polo athletes and position-specific skills.
Men’s water polo is one of the hardest NCAA sports to receive an athletic scholarship in, due to lack of program funding. Colleges and universities fund their athletic programs, so smaller programs like water polo typically struggle to gain funding compared to larger, more popular sports programs. As a result, student-athletes are typically competing for less than the 4.5 full-ride equivalent scholarships that the NCAA allows each Division 1 and 2 water polo program to award.
Water polo is an NCAA “equivalency sport”, which means college coaches are in control of how they spend their athletic scholarship budget. To make the most of their budget, college coaches will award partial scholarships, rather than full rides, to multiple athletes. Student-athletes who do not receive an athletic scholarship have other options for financial aid, including academic scholarships, grants, work-study and other forms of aid. We’ve dedicated an entire section to men’s water polo scholarship to help student-athletes understand their financial aid options.
One of the best ways for student-athletes to increase their recruiting exposure and showcase their skillset is to attend water polo camps. These events are especially beneficial for student-athletes who compete outside of the Northeast region, California and Arizona—where all college water polo programs are located.
There are four different types of water polo camps: prospect camps, clinics, college camps and showcases. These camps are led by college coaches at colleges and universities around the country and give student-athletes the opportunity to learn from experts and compete against top talent. While camps will vary in what they offer, the majority focus on drills, team play and other skill training.
Attending water polo camps also allows student-athletes to experience a college campus they are interested in and explore what the campus has to offer. This section provides more insight into water polo camps and helps student-athletes find a camp near them.
Men’s water polo is offered at just 49 NCAA schools and one NAIA institution, as well as 31 junior colleges located in California. These programs are concentrated in the Northeast region and the West Coast in California. To find the right college fit, student-athletes should determine what schools meet their athletic, academic, social and financial needs. For example, location is a big factor in determining whether or not a school is a good social fit. Student-athletes looking to play Division 1 water polo at a smaller college or university should focus their search on the East Coast, while athletes looking for a larger campus size will want to explore options on the West Coast. To help student-athletes find their right college fit, this section provides a more in-depth look at NCAA and NAIA water polo and a list of the top men’s water polo programs.
Finding the right college fit is a mixture of finding a program that meets a student-athlete’s athletic, academic, social and financial needs. To help student-athletes identify programs that meet their needs, we’ve developed the NCSA Power Rankings. This ranking system analyzes schools based on factors that are most important to prospective students, including cost, size, location and academics, to create a list of the top water polo programs in the U.S.
Insider tip: Despite the impact that coronavirus had on college sports, as of June 1, 2021, the NCAA resumed its regular recruiting rules and activity! Coaches are actively working to fill their rosters, so student-athletes should be proactive in reaching out to coaches. Read up on how the extra year of eligibility granted to athletes who were most affected by the pandemic in 2020 will impact future recruiting classes.