As we approach the Rio Olympics, water polo will once again be in the spotlight, giving a boost to local interest in the sport. But those who become intrigued with the sport after seeing it on television aren’t prepared for the amount of work water polo requires. As youth sports go, there are few opportunities that guarantee a tired and happy child. So, you watched the USA’s water polo team during the Olympics, and you want to start a team at your local pool. Doing so can be great for your community and for your pool’s bottom line, but how do you begin?
To start a new water polo club, go to the USA water polo website to register your new team. There, you can find other local teams, see when tournaments and leagues are happening, get ideas for practice and find the gear you need to get your team started. It is also a good idea to look into and acquire insurance to cover practices.
If you are starting a new water polo program, your first sign-ups will likely come from kids who are already on a swim team at your facility or are participating in swimming lessons. Swimming is a part of water polo, so to ensure kids are safe during practice, most clubs ask that they be able to swim 75 yards and tread water for 5-10 minutes without a break. Six players and a goalie are needed for each team, but you can get started with only three or four kids. Word will spread, especially if you market the new club at local pools, on social media and through the local newspaper!
What You’ll Need
You’ve registered your team and found interested players. Now, you’ll need coaches and equipment. For the former, ask your swim team coaches or the swim team parents. Many parents have their kids in swimming because they participated in aquatics when they were kids, and, chances are, some of them played water polo as well. You can also find people with water polo experience, who would be willing to help with skills and drills, on social media or through the local newspapers. Often, they will volunteer their time. Continue to encourage parents to participate, as they can help collect dues and send communications to the team. The better the team experience, the more your players will talk about the team to their friends. It’s the best way to grow your team!
In addition to the pool, water polo balls are the other important piece of equipment needed to begin a program. They typically cost about $28 to $30, and you should only need four or five to get started (save one as your game ball). Makeshift goals can be made on-site with two chairs or two cones, one on either side of the pool and a net. If you have the budget to buy new goals, there is a variety to choose from — some hang on the wall, some float in the pool and some are soft and inflatable. Goals typically cost around $1,250 and the nets need to be replaced every two to three years at a cost of $250. Whatever your budget, a lack of goals should not be an obstacle to getting started. You will also need water polo caps when you begin to play games — they protect and identify the players. As your club grows, you can buy weight belts, heavy balls, water jugs and other training equipment. Remember, the pool is your best piece of training equipment — as long as there is water you have a place to train!
Dues were mentioned earlier and, in order to have a viable program, you’ll need to include them as a condition of participation. Along with the equipment, you’ll need to include the cost of lifeguards and, if you’re unable to find volunteers, coaches. Usually, one coach can safely watch 15-20 players, but use both your and the coach’s judgement. Look at what to charge on a per-lane basis as a guideline in determining dues. Also look at what other sports teams in your area, such as lacrosse or volleyball, are charging. To help defray the cost, consider holding fundraising events (e.g., car washes and/or candy sales) or hosting water polo events, including games or tournaments, clinics or camps, or league nights and incorporating concessions to raise money.
If a pool is only part of your business model, including water polo could be a welcome addition to your members' overall fitness routine and a way to generate more revenue. You might even consider adding diving, synchronized swimming and underwater hockey. Once someone is interested in aquatics, and they know they have a safe place where they can vary their workouts and bring their kids to do the same, you will have lifetime members.
Felix Mercado is the Head Coach, Men’s and Women’s Water Polo, at Brown University and President of the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches.
About USA Water Polo
USA Water Polo Inc. is a nonprofit organization recognized by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) as the national governing body for the sport of water polo in the United States. USA Water Polo oversees our Olympic water polo program, including senior, junior, youth and cadet national teams, as well as 20 different championship events annually, including the Junior Olympics, the U.S. Open of Water Polo and the Masters National Championships. USA Water Polo is committed to the development and promotion of the sport throughout the United States and to providing the best possible experience for all participants. It fosters grassroots expansion of the sport, providing a national system of affiliated clubs and leagues, certified coaches and officials, educational materials and background screenings, as well as developing programmatic materials and undertaking initiatives to generate greater awareness of the sport. Click here to learn more or to take advantage of USA Water Polo’s available resources.