Facts and Information About Water Polo

Water Polo History

The earliest known documentation of modern water polo can be traced back to the late19th century and a man named William Wilson, a Scotsman renowned for his contributions to aquatic development. As a swimming coach, Wilson developed revolutionary techniques on efficiency and safety. As an iconoclastic engineer, however, he created what was first known as “aquatic football,” a form of soccer, rugby, wrestling, and American football — all while treading water.

The first game took place along the banks of the River Dee in Aberdeen, Scotland. It experienced a massive gain in popularity in the following years and was played throughout Great Britain in various loosely organized official capacities. Shortly thereafter, in 1885, the Swimming Association of Great Britain officially recognized the game and formalized the rules made by Wilson.

Americans played a similar game but with different rules that allowed rougher play, holding, and a submersible ball. The sport drew large national crowds and was frequently played in top venues, even earning a stage at New York City’s infamous Madison Square Garden. However, due to the differences in rules of play, the European nations did not compete in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, and it was not until an international water polo committee was formed in 1929 that all nations formally agreed to a common set of rules.

The sport was among the original games to be introduced in the second modern Olympics in Paris in 1900. The sport first gained traction in Western Europe and continues to be largely dominated by these nations in modern international competition.

Style of Play

Much philosophy and debate surrounded the early formation of water polo style and technique, and various developments contributed to the change of the game.

  • The “dry pass” was invented in 1928. This involved teammates passing the ball over the water to one another without ever letting it touch the surface. This drastically increased the speed of the game, which had previously relied on scrambles for balls that were allowed to first drop on the surface of the water. As a result, finesse and quickness became more important traits for a water polo athlete.
  • The “Trudgen stroke” is a method of swimming that revolutionized aquatic movement, both within the game and in general water practice. First developed by Scottish players, the Trudgen involves an athlete swimming on his side, alternating the arm which comes out of the water, and scissoring the legs with each stroke of the arm. It has developed into the front crawl, which is a stroke most commonly used by swimmers in freestyle competition.

Modern Leagues

Today water polo is contested at the high school, college, national, and international level. Many countries have their own associations, such as United States Water Polo, in America.

Internationally, competition outside the Olympics has been regulated by FINA’s Water Polo World League. The Championship Tournament begins in July each year.

There is only one match that is widely lauded as the greatest of all time: the “Blood in the Water” match during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

  • Contested between the Soviet Union and Hungary
  • Took place within the context of the 1956 Hungarian revolution and drive for independence from Soviet-imposed policies
  • Hungary defeated Soviet Union, 4–0
  • The nickname of the match, “Blood in the Water,” is sourced from Hungarian player Ervin Zador, who emerged from the water with blood streaming down his face after being punched by an opponent.

Great Players

  • Johnny Weissmuller
  • Bud Spencer
  • Prince William
  • Peter Ueberroth
  • Sean Paul
  • Gerard Blitz
  • Steve Smith
  • Sir Alexander Fleming
  • Joao Havelange

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