What lies beneath: players say water polo is a different game beneath the surface


Abigail Yagi

The boys water polo team during practice.

Angelina Shaw, Staff Writer

Heavy breathing, trying to stay above the water while the other team is plunging players under the water with no time to catch a breath.

On the surface, water polo appears to be a friendly and fun game. But, players and coaches said what really happens underneath the surface is free for all, with kicking, scratching and punching allowed.

“If the ref can’t see it, anything goes,” said 12th grade water polo player Christopher Unruh.

Boys practice water polo at the pool. Photo by staff photographer Abigail Yagi.

The water polo audience only sees what happens above the water, with players passing the ball and scoring goals. But it takes a lot of strength and effort to make a simple move, said 12th grade water polo player Julian Kiyabu. Under the water players constantly pull others under, which makes it even harder to score.

“You can’t hold them above the water, but anything below the water is free game,” said Unruh.

Water polo is a violent game and it is so much more if you see what happens under the surface Kiyabu said. Players come out of the pool with bloody scratches and bruises.

Water polo referees often check player’s fingernails before games to make sure they aren’t sharpened and lessen the scratches and bloody wounds. Mid-Pacific girls water polo head coach Lisa Forbes said a game injury prevented her from playing in college.

“My opponent hit my elbow while I was shooting, and she popped my shoulder out,” said Forbes.

It is pretty typical for injuries to occur during games because most of the players bodies are unseen with splashing and white water so it is almost impossible to spot what is really going on, said intermediate girls coach Eric Polivka.

“If you are a casual observer you probably have no idea what’s going on, because of all the whistles going off and so many kick outs,” he said. There are so many things happening during a water polo game because it is very quick and different whistle calls happen often. And the audience’s eyes usually direct toward the ball and the person scoring. But some fights and violent actions happen all over the pool and where people aren’t watching, said Polivka.

“Underneath the water where it’s harder for referees, it’s a lot more violent, a lot more grabbing, and kicking,” said Kiyabu.

But if you are a good enough player you don’t have to be as aggressive because you can score and assist your team without having to harm the opponent, said Forbes. Being an aggressive player helps you to have a lead in the game but if you are strong and smart enough you don’t need to.

“If you get into position, then you won’t have to do those super aggressive moves, but sometimes you will need a bit of an advantage,” said Forbes.

Water polo is a dangerous and brutal sport because no matter what the refs can see above the water, war is happening underneath and under the water refs can’t protect you.

“It takes an aggressive person to play, it’s the Mother Nature of the game, said Polivka.”