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Essential Water Polo Gear

A water polo player doesn’t require much gear, especially when compared to athletes who play sports like hockey or lacrosse. A few essentials — suit, cap, ball — are all that’s really needed to get a game going. Well, that and the pool of course. This guide explains the essential pieces of gear (and a few extras) that every water polo player should own.

Suits

If you’re going to spend time playing water polo, you’ll need a swim suit. That’s all there is to it. Sports bras, swim trunks, board shorts, unitards… cross them all off the list of suitable substitutes. Your water polo suit needs to be comfortably snug. It should be tight-fitting, but still allow your body to twist, turn, and stretch throughout a game. While your practice suit and your game suit may differ slightly, there will still be similarities between the two. Some teams and clubs will have team suits for you to purchase as well.

Hot Tip: Throw in an Extra Suit

Suits occasionally get ripped during games and are also easy to forget if they've been hung to dry somewhere. Having a spare in your bag may someday come in handy for you (or a teammate).

Women’s Water Polo Suits

Women’s water polo suits cover the entire torso. They are one-pieces designed to keep drag to a minimum and to give defenders the fewest possible places to grab. For this reason, most water polo suits zip up the back or front, unlike lap swimming suits that feature Y straps and open backs. Polo suits can also have rubber or latex sections to further discourage grabbing.

Lap swimming suits are often worn for practice or in young/beginner water polo games, but it is a good idea to invest in at least one water polo suit to prevent puling, stretching, or even ripping during an aggressive game.

[picture of women’s water polo suit]

Men’s Water Polo Suits

Men wear swimming briefs, often called “Speedos” after the popular brand. These are tight-fitting and stretchy bottoms, designed to allow uninhibited movement in the water. Unlike women’s suits, they cover only the lower torso and do not extend down the legs beyond the hips and buttocks. Longer lap swimming suits like jammers can make treading water difficult and the extra material (and therefore drag) of board shorts and swim trunks are not ideal for water polo.

For practice, some prefer slightly baggier speedos, swim briefs, or square-leg suits. However, a snug pair is important if you want them to stay on during a game.

[picture of men’s suit]

Swim Caps

Any water polo player with hair past their shoulders will want to invest in a couple of swim caps. Whether they are silicon or latex doesn’t make a difference here, but it is important to keep the hair off your face and out of the opposing team’s hands. Be sure to have a light-colored cap as well as a dark one for games and tournaments since official rules call for teams to wear matching caps.

Hot Tip: Practice Outdoors in a Light Cap

Wear a light-colored cap during outdoor practice to deflect sunlight and prevent the dreaded “cap tan” — the stripe of white skin often seen on water polo players’ and swimmers’ foreheads. Darker caps will attract sunlight and intensify this tan.

Water Polo Caps

Water polo caps, occasionally called “bonnets,” are cloth caps with plastic ear guards and straps that tie or fasten under the chin. These are worn in the water to:

  • Help distinguish one team from another. One team wears a light color and the other wears a dark color.
  • Display a player’s number.
  • Protect the ears, since an elbow or a water polo ball with enough velocity can burst an eardrum.

Chances are you won’t have to worry about supplying your own water polo cap since most teams or clubs have sets for practice and games.

[picture of caps]

Water Polo Balls

Water polo balls come in three sizes: Size 5 (68-71 centimeters in circumference) for men, size 4 (65-67 centimeters in circumference) for women, and a junior size for younger Splashball players. The balls weigh between 400 and 450 grams. Traditionally yellow, most balls have a repeating three-stripe pattern (similar to a volleyball), although the latest official game balls feature a wave design in three colors. There are balls available in different colors or with colored sections. The exterior is rubber and is engineered to provide better grip when wet.

[picture of water polo balls]

Accessories

While suits, caps, and balls are the absolute essentials when it comes to water polo gear, there are a few other pieces of equipment that can add to your experience. The following is gear that seasoned water polo players usually have with them in their bags or on the deck.

Goggles

Goggles cannot be worn during a water polo game. If a ball hits an eye covered with goggles, the frame can seriously injure the area around the eye or the eye itself. Goggles are, however, very nice to have during warm-up and swim sets, especially if your eyes are sensitive to chlorine. If you need corrective eyewear, use contacts or specially designed eye shields.

Towel

This one seems obvious but is worth mentioning: Get a good towel for drying off post-pool. If you’re traveling to a tournament and want to save space, consider the smaller, more absorbent chamois.

Parka or Robe

Swim parkas or terrycloth robes are welcome accessories during early mornings or cold weather. Whether on the way to or from the pool, between the locker room and the deck, or on the bench during a game, parkas and robes useful for keeping warm without the hassle of many layers of clothing.

Sunblock

Water polo players in indoor pools will have to worry about this less, but anyone who practices outdoors knows how quickly tans develop. Whether you want to protect your skin or just prevent a “cap” or “Speedo” tan, purchase some waterproof sunblock and be sure to apply it at least 20 minutes before getting in the water. This gives your skin enough time to absorb the sunblock. If you put sunblock on too soon before getting in the water, it will get washed off.

Nail Clippers

Water polo players can expect pre-game nail checks of fingers and toes for nails that do not extend past the tip of the digit. For the sake of the refs (and your teammates during practice), carry some nail clippers for emergency trimmings.

Mouth Guard

Lots of water polo players opt to wear a mouth guard during games. Flying elbows, kicking feet, and wayward balls can all make a mess of your mouth. Mouth guards are also not a bad idea if you have braces or dental work to protect. Because they make communication difficult, mouth guards are generally worn only during games or scrimmages.

Buy Good Gear

Because not much is required, it is worth it to buy high-quality water polo gear. The difference between a cheap suit and one designed to withstand the rigors of chlorine, sun, and the inevitable tugging in a water polo environment are huge. Test out different products and decide which ones work best for you. The last thing you want to worry about in the water is your gear!

There are a few pieces of gear each water polo player needs. Check out this guide for the must-have equipment all polo players need, from beginner to expert.
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