There are 65 NCAA women’s water polo programs primarily located at institutions on the East and West Coasts, as well as one NAIA institution in California. Regardless of the division level, college water polo programs recruit top high school talent. In this highly competitive recruiting process, college coaches are looking for more than just talented water polo athletes. Student-athletes will need to prove that they are both athletically and academically driven.
To compete at the collegiate level, student-athletes must meet the NCAA’s academic eligibility requirements. Student-athletes should begin setting academic goals beginning their freshman year to ensure that they meet the NCAA’s eligibility standards and are eligible to compete at an NCAA institution when the time comes. Student-athletes will also need to meet institution-specific academic standards to gain admission to their target schools, including GPA requirements and ACT or SAT test scores. When researching prospective schools, student-athletes should take note of these standards.
Student-athletes should also familiarize themselves with the NAIA’s academic eligibility requirements, as they differ from the NCAA standards.
College water polo coaches are looking for student-athletes that will be difference makers and can easily transition into the fast pace of the college game. Student-athletes will have to compete against other US water polo players—as well as top talent at international high schools—for a roster spot or scholarship. To stand out, student-athletes will need to be well-rounded and prove that they can contribute to the team’s success and excel in the classroom.
Before student-athletes can begin building a list of target schools, they will need to evaluate their skillset and academic eligibility. As recruits build their list of realistic target schools, they will need to determine if they meet the school’s academic standards, if they have the talent to play for that water polo program and if the school offers the major(s) and minor(s) they’re most interested in. Student-athletes can turn to their club and high school coaches as a resource to understand what division level and programs are well-suited for them.
College coaches are drawn to student-athletes that market their talents effectively and communicate clearly and continuously. Student-athletes should create and share their recruiting profile and highlight video with college coaches in an introductory recruiting email. In this email, student-athletes need to express their interest in the program. Once college coaches begin to reach out, student-athletes must remain dedicated to building a relationship with the coach through consistent communication.
Student-athletes need both club and high school water polo experience. Competing on a club water polo team after a high school season allows student-athletes to maintain their focus on developing as an athlete and gain valuable experience in competing year-round. For college-bound student-athletes, club water polo also offers visibility and access to college coaches that high school water polo does not.
Club water polo teams generally travel locally and across the country to compete in water polo tournaments. College coaches frequent these tournaments to evaluate and recruit student-athletes as they compete against top talent. Student-athletes outside of the East and West Coasts—in states where college coaches typically don’t travel to for recruiting—can benefit greatly from attending travel tournaments.
The NCAA made changes to the recruiting rules to prohibit communication between college coaches and student-athletes until after June 15 of a recruit’s sophomore year.
In 2017, the NCAA released the survey results from 15,454 recruited Division 1 student-athletes on their recruiting experience. While 81 percent of women’s water polo athletes reported that they were first contacted by a college coach during their junior or senior year, the survey revealed a trend of early recruiting amongst many other NCAA sponsored sports. Overall, the survey concluded that student-athletes had a more positive recruiting experience the later the recruiting process started.
Prior to June 15 of their sophomore year, student-athletes should focus on researching water polo programs and marketing their athletic and academic achievements while college coaches build a list of potential recruits by evaluating them at tournaments, camps and showcases.
College coaches may not be able to contact student-athletes and their families until after June 15 of an athlete’s sophomore year, but student-athletes can begin preparing for the recruiting process as early as 8th grade. From early recruiting to National Signing Day, below is a look at the college water polo recruiting process.
As water polo players across the world are looking for ways to stay in shape during the pandemic, USA Water Polo has stepped up to provide tips for training while away from the pool. Every Monday, USA Water Polo sends out a newsletter to members with a schedule for the week that includes live interviews, education sessions, fitness training and more.
Additionally, athletes have been sharing their own training tips, both in and out of the pool. For training inspiration, check out what athletes at all levels are doing to stay in shape:
A highlight video is a valuable tool that college coaches use to evaluate potential recruits. Student-athletes who live outside of the East and West Coasts, where the majority of water polo programs are located, can greatly benefit from uploading a highlight video to their recruiting profile. To make the best possible highlight video, student-athletes need to understand what skills college coaches look for in each position. Student-athletes should capture footage at varsity-level competitions that highlights the athlete performing these skills.
A highlight video should be three to four minutes, with 20–30 clips that showcase the recruit’s talent. Begin the video with the athlete’s most impressive plays to draw in the coach’s attention during the first 30 seconds. Below is an outline of the skills that all five water polo positions should focus on when shooting and selecting highlight video footage.
While not typically used as a recruiting tool for water polo, athletes are reconsidering highlight video as a way to showcase their skillset to coaches during the suspension of in-person recruiting and canceled competitions. Instead of the typical competition footage, recruiting experts are suggesting a different type of highlight video that includes film of dryland training to demonstrate how the recruit is still working towards their water polo goals.
Below are tips to create a dryland training video that recruits can send to college coaches:
After the video has been edited, the recruit should add it to their recruiting profile and send a link to college coaches in an introductory email.
College coaches expect to see high quality recruiting video that is engaging and highlights all of the skills that they are looking for in the recruit’s position. Before we share the position-specific video tips, here is a list of general tips to follow when capturing, editing and promoting a recruiting video.
To kickstart a relationship with college coaches at a target school, student-athletes should send their recruiting video to coaches in a recruiting letter. Student-athletes should express their interest in the water polo program, explain why they are a good fit for the team and include a link to their recruiting profile and video. They should also include their general information, academic and athletic stats, as well as a clear next step to show their interest in continuing the conversation.
Water polo goalies have one of the most challenging responsibilities in the game. To effectively protect the goal, they will need to have a strong core, leg strength and quick reflexes. Goalies should demonstrate they 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 will also want to show that they are strong leaders of the defense and call out gaps in the defense to prevent offensive breakaways. College coaches will want to see goalies clear the ball to their offense with strong passing ability after making a stop.
These athletes are the most versatile of the five water polo positions. They are very comfortable playing offense and defense, which means college coaches will want to see footage of them competing on both ends of the pool. These athletes should include footage of switching from defense to offense quickly when they gain possession of the ball to create scoring opportunities. These athletes are very aware of their surroundings and have a high water polo IQ, allowing them to find open teammates to create scoring opportunities. College coaches will also want to see utility players drive the ball and shoot at a range of angles.
Center forwards need to have great physical strength, endurance and vision. College coaches will want to see their strong swimming ability and physical presence in play. Center forwards should include footage that focuses on their ability to lead the offense, communicate clearly with teammates and execute strategic plays. These athletes will also want to demonstrate their ability to gain position over defenders, maintain possession of the ball, absorb fouls and shoot to score at several angles.
Center backs are typically known for their wide wingspan. These athletes have the swimming skills and endurance to move swiftly from one side of the pool to the other throughout the entire game. They should include footage of defending center forwards in zone and man-to-man defense from both in front and behind and successfully stealing the ball.
College coaches want to see quick, alert and persistent drivers. These athletes should include footage highlighting their explosive starts and ability to quickly change direction. Also important is the driver’s ability to get free of defenders, gain possession of the ball with good hand skills and drive to the goal to score at all angles. College coaches will also want to see the athlete’s ability to lead the offense through good communication.
Starting June 15 after an athlete’s sophomore year, college coaches can begin contacting recruits. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that every athlete is going to hear from a college coach after this date. Student-athletes cannot assume that college coaches have their eye on them, even if coaches have watched them compete at camps, tournaments and high school games. If a student-athlete is interested in a particular water polo program, they should take initiative and send a recruiting letter to the coach introducing themselves and expressing their interest in the program.
The letter should begin by explaining why the student-athlete is interested in the water polo program or recalling a fact about the team that the recruit finds interesting. Following this beginning statement, the student-athlete needs to express why they are a good fit for the program and include the following information:
General information: name, graduation year, high school and club name
Academics: GPA, test scores
Athletics: sport-specific stats and relevant measurables
Contact information: phone number and email, as well as your club and high school coach contact info
End with a clear next step. This could include scheduling a specific time that the recruit will call the coach or inviting them to watch the recruit compete in a tournament or game. Once the email has been written, write an email subject line that will jump out next to the other subject lines in the coach’s inbox. The subject line could include numbers and stats, such as your graduation year, ACT score, position, height and weight, etc.
Student-athletes’ first opportunity to sign their National Letter of Intent is on National Signing Day. The NLI is a binding agreement that guarantees the athlete’s scholarship for one year. The Collegiate Commissioners Association releases the National Signing Day dates each year on the National Letter of Intent website. Once signed, a student-athlete’s recruiting process ends, and they can no longer be recruited by other 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.