Taken by itself, competitive swimming is one of the most difficult sports to master. Add in elements of team handball, soccer and ice hockey and you have the incredibly challenging sport of water polo.
How to play: Although it may not be as popular as team sports like football and baseball, water polo requires great physical endurance and strength. There are seven players on each team, six position players and a goalie. Much like in soccer, lacrosse and hockey, the six position players try to advance the ball and score goals on the opposing team. The goalie tries to stop the opposing team from scoring. Players pass the ball back and forth with their hands, making the game similar to handball.
Why it's so difficult: Each game, which can last close to an hour, takes place in a deep pool. This means that players are constantly swimming or treading water. While the game is going on, players are not allowed to touch the bottom or the sides of the pool. Think about how difficult it can be to swim laps in a pool. Now imagine sprinting back and forth, all the while trying to avoid defenders and help your team score goals!
Skills: Obviously, water polo players have to be strong swimmers. They have to have the ability to swim very fast for long periods of time, maintaining enough energy to play the game. Defensive players have to keep up with their opponents, meaning they have to be able to change directions very quickly, not an easy thing to do in a pool! When shooting the ball on net, players must use their upper bodies to rise out of the water and throw the ball as hard as they can. This takes a tremendous amount of arm, chest and shoulder strength. When watching a water polo game, it's amazing to see how far players are able to rise above the water to shoot.
Levels of play: There are many high school and college water polo teams, but international play gathers the most attention. During the Olympics, water polo is one of the most popular events. The best team, by far, has been Hungary. The Hungarian men's team has won the last three gold medals, including the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when it beat the United States in the finals. Since the first modern Olympics in 1900, Hungary has won nine total gold medals. The United States women's team has won two silver medals since women's water polo became an Olympic sport in 2000.
Do you want to ask another question?