What do college coaches look for in water polo recruits? What skills are needed for collegiate water polo? What water polo stats do coaches look at? What’s the best way to get noticed by college water polo coaches? The college water polo recruiting process is competitive with a pool of talent in both the US and internationally fighting for roster spots at just 49 NCAA water polo programs and one NAIA program.
Even before the recruiting process starts, student-athletes need to understand what college coaches look for in recruits. This includes a set of skills that coaches expect every athlete to possess, as well as position-specific skills that athletes should focus on developing throughout their high school and club training. Student-athletes need to understand how to capture these skills and create a recruiting video for college coaches.
This section outlines what skills college coaches look for in recruits and includes tips on how to showcase them on video for the athlete’s recruiting profile.
College coaches often search through recruiting databases to find talent. Student-athletes should build a recruiting profile that hosts their recruiting video to increase visibility. To ensure that college coaches see their recruiting profile, recruits should send an introductory email to coaches at their prospective schools that includes their recruiting video and a link to their recruiting profile. Taking initiative will impress college coaches and help athletes to better position themselves during the college water polo recruiting process.
Student-athletes can also increase their visibility by competing in tournaments and college combines. These opportunities provide athletes a platform to showcase their talents, gain experience competing with and against top talent and connect with college coaches that lead NCAA water polo programs. College combines provide a positive and motivational environment and can help student-athletes and their families better understand the NCAA recruiting process.
Some consideration may be given to goals scored, ejections drawn and assists, but water polo stats do not play a large role in the college water polo recruiting process. Instead, college coaches focus on the athlete’s experience—years on varsity, years with a club team and Junior Olympic competition—and overall skill level when evaluating recruits, as these are generally better indicators of individual skill. With this in mind, it’s important for student-athletes to compete at both the varsity level and on a club team to maximize their playing experience and opportunity to develop as an athlete.
While college coaches do consider swim time when evaluating recruits, what’s more important is an athlete’s quickness and water polo IQ. The best college water polo players typically swim a 50 and 100-yards freestyle in 22 and 48 seconds, respectively. Because a college water polo course is roughly eight yards longer (30 meters vs. 25 yards) than the high school water polo course, speed and swimming skill play a critical role in an athlete’s ability to adjust and adapt to the longer course as they transition from high school to college water polo. International athletes are at an advantage in this respect because they compete in 30-meter courses at the high school level.
But the ability to swim within a certain amount of time does not always equate to an athlete’s ability to act quickly. What really sets apart the good from the great is an athlete’s ability to assess a situation, anticipate plays and react quickly and accurately. Successful water polo players are strong, and fast swimmers, but most importantly, they are experienced athletes with great vision and reaction time.
|Tier 1 (NCAA D1)
|Tier 2 (NCAA D2/D3/NAIA)
|Tier 3 (Junior Colleges)
|Swim Time (50 free)
|Swim Time (100 free)
|Junior Olympic qualifier/Zone Team member
|Junior Olympic qualifier/Zone Team member
|High School Experience
Tier 1 water polo goalies have the skills and technique needed to play at the Division 1 level. Tier 1 goalies have strong legs and core, as well as quick reflexes. These athletes are elite water polo players who are able to cover the entire cage with quick lateral movements, anticipate a shot, track the ball and explode out of the water to stop the shot. They serve as an effective leader for the defense as they set up to protect the game and call out gaps in the defense to prevent offensive breakaways. These athletes have strong passing ability, as they will need to clear the ball to their offense after making a stop.
Tier 2 goalies are often recruited by NCAA Division 2 and 3 programs, as well as NAIA programs. These athletes have good body strength, passing ability and reaction time. They are able to cover the cage efficiently, anticipating and preventing most scoring opportunities. They have the ability to remain focused on the game and communicate with the defense to stop scoring opportunities while managing their responsibility to guard the goal.
Junior colleges typically recruit athletes at the tier 3 level. These athletes are not always prepared for the ball to be launched at them from all angles quickly and only occasionally block the ball. These athletes have an understanding of the fundamentals and are able to communicate well with teammates. The biggest asset of tier 3 athletes is their willingness to learn. Commitment to improving their water polo skills, leadership ability and their understanding of the game is the foundation of becoming a better goalie.
Tier 1 utility players are the most versatile athletes, which makes them a good fit for Division 1 water polo programs. These athletes are able to seamlessly transition from offense to defense to both create and prevent scoring opportunities on both sides of the pool. Tier 1 athletes have a strong water polo IQ, as a result of their elite competition experience. These elite water polo athletes are aware of their surroundings at all times are able to quickly scan the pool to find open players and create scoring opportunities. When shooting, these athletes are able to drive the ball to the goal and shoot at a variety of ranges.
Tier 2 utility players are best suited for NCAA Division 2 and 3 water polo programs, as well as NAIA programs. These athletes are good swimmers who have the versatility to switch from offense to defense swiftly. They rely on their water polo IQ to assess their surroundings, communicate with teammates and create scoring opportunities. These athletes are not able to shoot the ball at the same variety of ranges as a tier 1 athlete, but they successfully drive the ball to the goal in most situations.
These athletes are not as versatile as tier 1 and 2 utility players and are most likely to play for a junior college. Tier 3 utility players are slower to the transition between offense and defense, which makes them less effective in creating and preventing scoring opportunities. Their drive to the goal is weaker than tier 1 and 2 utility players and they only make some of the shots they attempt. These athletes are less experienced than higher level utility players and lack the water polo IQ needed to quickly assess a situation and act on it.
Division 1 water polo programs gravitate toward tier 1 center forwards. These elite water polo athletes are characterized by their great physical presence, endurance and vision. As the most closely guarded position, tier 1 center forwards rely on their extremely strong swimming skills to get open to assist other teammates and score. Tier 1 center forwards lead their team in points with their strong ball-handling skills and ability to score at a variety of angles. These athletes are clear communicators that lead the offense in executing strategic plays.
The water polo skills needed to play at an NCAA Division 2 and 3, as well as an NAIA water polo program, best match those of tier 2 center forwards. These athletes are often able to gain position over defenders with their strength and good swimming skills to help assist their teammates and create scoring opportunities. Tier 2 center forwards have less command over the offense but maintain good communication with their teammates while executing plays. These athletes are average scorers who can shoot at most angles.
Most tier 3 center forwards are bound for junior colleges. These athletes lack the physical presence that more elite players bring to the game. These athletes are good swimmers but do not have the endurance and strength to always overcome a defender when trying to assist teammates and score. Tier 3 center forwards handle the ball well and only make shots from comfortable angles. Because these athletes are less experienced than higher tier center forwards, they are not as comfortable leading the offense.
Division 1 water polo programs typically recruit tier 1 center backs. These elite water polo players use their physical advantages, including height, wingspan and body strength, to protect the goalie and prevent scoring opportunities. Tier 1 athletes are very strong swimmers who are able to swim from one side of the pool to the next quickly when executing both zone and man-to-man defense. These athletes are able to defend center forwards from both in front and behind and successfully steal the ball.
Tier 2 center backs are most likely to play at the NCAA Division 2 and 3, as well as NAIA, levels. Tier 2 center backs are good swimmers who can navigate the pool while defending the goal. These athletes have both the strength and endurance to execute zone and man-to-man defense effectively. These athletes are able to occasionally steal the ball from center forwards to prevent scoring opportunities.
Junior colleges generally recruit tier 3 water polo center backs. These athletes do not have the same physical advantages as tier 1 and 2 athletes. Despite this, they are still a strong presence on defense, covering center forwards from both front and back using zone and man-to-man defense. While these athletes are good defenders, they are not consistent in their ability to stop scoring opportunities and steal the ball away from the offense.
Tier 1 drivers are the most likely to make a Division 1 water polo roster. These athletes are quick, alert and persistent. They are able to consistently get free of defenders and gain possession. When these elite water polo players have possession of the ball, they rely on their explosive starts to quickly change directions and drive the ball to the goal to create scoring opportunities. These athletes take control during the game by leading the offense against top talent.
Tier 2 drivers are bound for NCAA Division 2 and 3 and NAIA water polo programs. These athletes are quick in the water and aware of their surroundings. They make good effort to get free of defenders, gain possession of the ball and drive to the goal to score. While they don’t make every shot, these athletes are persistent in their efforts to create scoring opportunities. Tier 2 drivers are clear communicators but struggle to lead the offense in high-pressure situations.
Tier 3 drivers have the water polo skills that best align with a junior college water polo program. These athletes are not nearly as quick and consistent as tier 1 and 2 drivers. These athletes struggle to break away from the defense and gain possession of the ball. While they drive the ball toward the goal, they are inconsistent at scoring. Tier 3 drivers are able to change direction but not nearly as quickly and efficiently as higher-level athletes. These athletes are good communicators but struggle to lead the offense in high-pressure situations.
Not only do water polo goalies protect the smallest goals against the slowest shots compared to other sports with goalie positions, but they also have the worst save percentages. What is a good save percentage for a water polo goalie? The average save percentage for a water polo goalie is between 45 and 58 percent. Water polo goalies need the endurance to tread water continuously and the strength to explode out of the water to stop a ball.