Is Water Polo an Aggressive Sport?

Water Polo

Water polo appeared in the mid-1800s as a water-based form of rugby. In 1870, the London Swimming Association made rules for the indoor version, which stated that a goalkeeper can stand on the side of the pool and then jump onto players that are advancing underwater with the ball. At this time, violence, injuries, and near-drownings were part of water polo.

The Scotts then revolutionized the game and made it more of a water-based form of soccer rather than rugby. In 1889, Hungary was the first country to adopt the more civilized Scottish rules, followed by Austria, Germany, France, and Belgium. Meanwhile, in the United States, the game was thriving in the more violent form.

In 1990, water polo was only a men’s sport because of the game’s inherent violence. The United States’ desire for more violent rules kept European teams from participating in the 1904 Olympic Games.

The world’s first women’s water polo game was played in Holland in 1906, but did not gain popularity until nearly a hundred years later as the sport was considered too brutal for women. Hence, it was largely abandoned until the 1960s.

Finally, in 1930, the Fédération Internationale de Natation, or FINA, became the official rule-making body for water polo and rules changed to transform the nature of the sport. But, in 1956, a match between the USSR and Hungary fueled external political tension, resulting in verbal taunts and violence. Though this kind of violence has never reached these heights in modern water polo games, it is still an aggressive sport.


Is water polo a dangerous sport?

Water polo is a game during which most of your body is underwater, vulnerable, and unprotected. You can receive a terrifying amount of kicking and paddling. But before each game, referees are required to check for sharp fingernails and toenails, as well as knives or any weapons in your swimsuit.

Referees also disapprove of biting, kicking, punching, clawing, gouging, shanking, gorging, and any other kind of physical abuse as this can result in a foul and will be dealt with accordingly.

Like any other sport, water polo can cause injuries, scratches, and bruises, so preventive care is important. Finally, water polo also is a dangerous sport if you do not have incredible stamina and fitness to be able to prevent serious injuries.


Has anyone died playing water polo?

  • Vladislav Timakov died during pre-season practice with his club due to an apparent heart attack, according to the Russian National Water Polo Team.
  • Rowan Brown, a New Zealander water polo player, became ill and died suddenly during their training session in Auckland’s North Shore. Many believed that he died of heart arrhythmia.
  • Nick Johnson, a UC Santa Barbara water polo player, died of accidental drowning during practice.

While these deaths didn’t happen during a match, there are several ways to prevent injuries, and even death, during practices or games.


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What are some common water polo injuries?

  • Shoulder injuries – dislocations and tears of the labrum caused by too much throwing.
  • Knee injuries – meniscal tears and medial collateral ligament strains caused by eggbeater kicking that puts a strain on the knees.
  • Back and spine injuries – tear and strain in the lumbar disk due to combined bending and rotational forces.
  • Hand and wrist injuries – fractures and sprains caused by twisting, grasping, and blocking.
  • Facial injuries – eye cuts, facial fractures, and eardrum rupture. These are the most common injuries.
  • Hypothermia – caused by cold conditions.
  • Sunburns – one of the most common minor injuries.


How to prevent injuries while playing water polo?

To prevent the injuries stated above, players should focus on the following:

  • Building full-body strength
  • Dry-land shoulder and core muscle strengthening
  • Proper hip flexibility, strengthening the quadriceps and hamstring
  • Core abdominal and back strengthening exercises
  • Proper sportsmanship to prevent hand and wrist injuries
  • Wear proper protective gear
  • Keep fingernails and toenails clipped and filed


What are the factors that can increase your risk of injury?

  • A lack of fitness – if you are unfit and have poor flexibility and stamina, you will more likely get hurt playing any sport.
  • Poor technique – this will put unnecessary strain on your muscles and joints.
  • A lack of experience – if you are a beginner and do not have the skills to meet the demands of playing water polo.
  • A lack of protective gear – injuries are more likely to happen if you neglect wearing protective equipment.


Why do water polo players wear caps?

Water polo players wear caps for safety purposes. Headgear is important so that a player’s ears are not exposed to balls thrown at them at high speed. Unfortunately, these caps may also cause damages to your hearing, according to the Hearing Rehab Center.

If you closely look at a player’s protective headgear, you will notice extra protection around each ear. These are ear guards, which are also extremely important.

On the other hand, water polo caps are also worn to identify which team players are part of. Usually, the darker color will be that of the home team. The number on these caps begins at 1, which is for the goalkeeper, and goes upward, matching the number of players on a team.


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Is water polo a professional sport?

Yes, professional water polo is played in the United States and in many Eastern and Southern European countries, like Croatia, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Italy, Hungary, Spain, Russia, etc. It was also included in the 1990 Summer Olympics, 2000 Sydney Olympics Games, and there also are the Water Polo World Championships, organized with the FINA World Aquatics Championships.


Throwing Mistakes

Improper body position and poor posture will drastically affect the shot. The majority of these throwing mistakes happen underwater, in the player’s lower body fundamentals.

The perfect shot comes with proper technique. When the important parts of your body function in harmony, the ball will go in the direction you want it to.

In the chart below, we have listed possible fixes to avoid throwing mistakes and reducing the chances of injuries.

Problem Fix
Improper angling of the body Put your left foot forward, right leg back, and rotate your hips.
Falling backward Your torso isn’t supposed to be vertical.

Strengthen your legs.

Amplify your kick.

Falling to the side Point to the left foot at the corner with a vertical back, then rotate the hips.
Side arm Angle your body with your left foot forward, your right leg back, and rotate your hips.
Dropping the elbow Lift your elbow before a shot.

Angle your body with your arm close to your ear.

No hip rotation Angle your body.
Ball curves Angle your body with your arm close to your ear.
Ball at diagonal spin Angle your body with your elbow high.
Ball spinning sideways Angle your body, do not drop your elbow, and no side arm.


Safety recommendations

  • You have to strictly observe every rule of the game.
  • Focus on improving your form.
  • Improve your technique to reduce the risks of injuries.
  • Wear appropriate protective equipment, including a cap with ear guards and a mouth guard.
  • Clip your fingernails and toenails short and file them.
  • Apply water-resistant 30 sunscreen when playing outdoors. Reapply some regularly or as recommended.


Is water polo too aggressive for you? If you’re looking for a team sport that you can enjoy in the water with lower chances of getting injured, why don’t you give water volleyball a try? Learn more about this activity by reading our guide to playing water volleyball


Health benefits of water polo

Water polo may be an aggressive sport but you can also get some mental and physical health benefits playing the game, including:

  • Increased endurance
  • Weight loss
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Improved strength
  • Ease on the joints
  • Increased flexibility
  • Body toning
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Stress relief



Despite its violent beginning, water polo is a game that can be safely enjoyed as long as necessary precautions are taken. Water polo is a demanding game that requires players to swim or tread water during the entire match. That is why you have to improve your muscular strength, core, shoulders, and lower back to prevent serious injuries.

If you want to give water polo a try, you have to keep in mind that although it is no longer considered as a violent game, it is still an aggressive activity that can lead to several kinds of injuries. The key to keeping safe while playing this sport is proper preparation and observing sportsmanship at all times.

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