Women’s water polo is a rapidly growing sport in the United States. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) reported in 2019 that girls high school water polo has seen an 18 percent increase in participation from 2009 to 2019, while conventional sports like football have seen a nearly 10 percent drop in participation during the same timeframe.
As the sport continues to grow, competition for roster spots and scholarships will only become more intense. The NCAA offers 65 women’s water polo programs and one NAIA program. Student-athletes who are looking to compete at the collegiate level will need to master the recruiting process in order to give themselves the best opportunity to be recruited. From understanding the NCAA recruiting rules and calendar to researching target schools and identifying what college coaches look for in water polo recruits, we’ve created a guide to help student-athletes and their families navigate the college water polo recruiting process.
While the women’s college water polo recruiting process generally began later than most NCAA sports, the NCAA released new recruiting rules in 2019 that will likely cause the recruiting process to start earlier.
The NCAA announced in May 2019 that the new recruiting rules prohibit college coaches from contacting student-athletes until June 15 after the athlete’s sophomore year. The new rules also push back the date that water polo athletes can begin scheduling unofficial and official visits until after August 1 of the athlete’s junior year. The NCAA established these new recruiting rules to create a more equal and positive recruiting experience for all parties involved.
Over eight percent of female US high school water polo athletes compete at the collegiate level. Three percent of these athletes commit to an NCAA Division 1 program. With only 65 water polo programs sponsored by NCAA and NAIA institutions, student-athletes face a great deal of competition for a roster spot and scholarships.
But each student-athlete’s competition extends beyond US water polo athletes. College water polo coaches are known to recruit both domestic and international student-athletes. Student-athletes with the experience, skills and academic record that college coaches are looking for at the collegiate level are most likely to find success during the recruiting process. In this section, we break down the position-specific skills that student-athletes need to catch college coaches’ attention.
Most women’s water polo programs are not fully funded, which decreases scholarship opportunities for student-athletes. As a result, NCAA Division 1 and 2 college water polo coaches have fewer than the eight scholarships per team.
Water polo is an NCAA equivalency sport, meaning college coaches are given a scholarship budget that they can divide up amongst athletes to provide athletic scholarships. Most college coaches will award partial scholarships, rather than full rides, to award the most athletes possible with some degree of financial funding. Other options for financial aid are available to student-athletes, such as academic scholarships, grants and work-study. These sections walk athletes and their families through the scholarship opportunities available at each division level for women’s water polo athletes and how to get recruited.
Water polo camps create a stage for student-athletes to showcase their skills and increase their recruiting exposure to college coaches. Student-athletes who compete outside of the East and West Coasts where most college water polo programs are located greatly benefit from the opportunity to travel for camps and competitions.
College camps are hosted on campus and are led by college coaches. Student-athletes can learn from experts at their prospective schools and compete against elite talent. Student-athletes will find that most camps focus on drills, team play and other skill training. This section provides more insight into water polo camps and provides a list of camps near you.
The 65 NCAA women’s water polo programs are primarily concentrated on the East and West Coasts, with additional programs in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The NAIA offers one women’s water polo program in California.
Student-athletes searching for the right college fit should evaluate schools based on their athletic, academic, social and financial offerings and how best they meet their needs. For example, location is a larger factor in determining whether a school is a good social fit. If a recruit is looking to compete at a Division 1 water polo program at a smaller college or university, they should research schools on the East Coast, while athletes who prefer a larger campus size will want to focus their search on the West Coast. Finding the right college fit can be challenging—visit our section on water polo colleges for a list of the top women’s water polo programs.
Student-athletes evaluate colleges based on how well they meet the athlete’s athletic, academic, social and financial needs. To help student-athletes through the college decision-making process, we’ve developed the NCSA Power Rankings. Based on factors that are most important to student-athletes and their families—such as cost, size, location and academics—our Power Rankings report identifies the top NCAA women’s water polo programs.
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.