This week’s blog is meant for athletes who are thinking they want a college education and also don’t want their competitive water polo career to end after high school. We wanted to show you there are many paths you could consider, regardless of your experience level. The amazing thing about water polo is it’s a sport that you can have an ongoing relationship with.
When you hear college sports, the first thing people think of is the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA. Within the NCAA there are three divisions. Division 1, 2, and 3. The higher the division, the more established and competitive the program is. That’s typically how it goes, but it’s not always the case. And one thing that’s neat about college water polo is you’ll get an opportunity to play just about anybody. So, even if you play for a Division 3 team you’ll still get the opportunity to play a nationally-ranked Division 1 teams and upset them. It happens more often than you would think.
If you’re a talented enough player, Division 1 and 2 universities can recruit you from high school and even offer you an athletic scholarship to play on their team. That scholarship can be partial or a full-ride. But, there’s still plenty of opportunities to make an NCAA roster without a scholarship. Some talented athletes start as a walk-on with no scholarship and after a season or two, they find themselves earning an athletic scholarship.
Another option that keeps the possibility of playing in the NCAA open is attending a community college (sometimes called junior college) and playing for their program. The community colleges in California compete against one another in the CCCAA. Community colleges in California are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships, but this route is still attractive because they’re usually much more affordable than a university. There are lots of competitive water polo programs on both the men’s and the women’s side. Since community colleges only offer associate degree programs, your athletic eligibility at the community college level ends after two seasons, instead of four.
Community college athletes who wish to continue playing college sports will just transfer to a university and continue their athletic career from there. If you’re good enough, universities will recruit you from your community college and you can join their program, with the possibility of a scholarship. And you won’t have to start your education over either. You just transfer the credits you’ve earned from the community college and continue your education from there. Academically speaking, there’s no real downside to attending a community college first. The bachelor’s degree you earn from the university would be just as valuable as it would be if you spent your whole education there.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics is another nationwide athletic association for universities that are not within the NCAA. NAIA schools can still offer scholarships and regularly compete against NCAA teams on their game schedules. It’s comparable to the NCAA in many ways, but there’s some differences in rules and regulations. And since they’re not part of the NCAA, NAIA teams are ineligible to compete for an NCAA national title.
There are fewer teams in the NAIA than NCAA, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be competitive. There’s plenty of well-respected NAIA programs with loads of talent. Transferring to an NAIA program from a community college is just as simple as transferring to an NCAA program.
Playing water polo for your university’s club team is another viable option for any former water polo athlete who wants to stay in shape and keep improving their skills. There are plenty of competitive club programs that attract lots of talent, practice regularly, and compete against other universities’ club teams within the Collegiate Water Polo Association. They even have an annual university club national championship tournament!
Don’t be worried if you attend a university that doesn’t have an established water polo club. You can always consider creating one and running it yourself! Universities often allow their students to organize student-ran clubs, and the process is relatively simple. After that, it’s just a matter of spreading the word, organizing your team’s fundraising, scheduling practice times at the pool, and you’re back to competing!