Aug 22, 2013
By Angela Kraus
Since my first article appeared in the summer 2011 issue of SkipShot, some of you have accepted my open invitation to call or write with questions arising from or expanding on topics covered in previous issues of SkipShot. I welcome the opportunity to communicate with readers directly. So I thought that in this issue, I’d share some of the most frequently asked questions—and my answers—with you.
- Can a water polo coach get me into college?
No. College coaches can support prospective student-athletes in the course of the college admissions process, but only an authorized representative of a college admissions office can offer you admission.
Even though an athlete may have a clear first choice for a school and be conducting productive discussions with a coach at that school, it’s important to cultivate viable back-ups to avoid missing out on other opportunities until receiving a written admission offer. (Along those lines, it's okay to ask coaches what help, if any, they can offer with the admissions process.)
- If I’m a really good water polo player, do my grades and test scores even matter?
Absolutely. The better an athlete’s academic profile, the more college opportunities will be available. If the athlete’s academic performance fits the school’s academic profile, that college’s water polo coach can make a more credible argument to the admissions committee that said student-athlete will successfully manage the demands of school and sport. So, yes, it’s really important to study hard and do your best in your classes—try to get as many As and Bs as possible. If you’re interested in a highly selective school, your transcript should not include any Cs. Select courses carefully—don’t take honors, AP, or IB courses for the sake of taking them, especially if they’re likely to result in C’s. You’re better off taking regular courses and earning As and Bs. Take seriously your standardized test preparation in order to get the best results on the SAT or ACT, subject tests, and AP exams.
- Can I get a scholarship to help pay for college?
Maybe, but don’t count on it—or at least don’t expect much. Each year NCAA Division I Men’s programs receive 4.5 scholarships; women’s programs get 8 scholarships. Coaches have to allocate these scholarships among their entire teams. This means most players don’t get any funds, some get “book money,” and a few (usually upperclassmen who’ve proven their “worth” to the team) get more meaningful sums. Division III and Ivy League schools don’ offer athletic scholarships at all. Other forms of financial assistance may be available based on merit or demonstrated financial need, so investigate financial options thoroughly.
- Should I play on an off-season club water polo team or participate in ODP?
Coaches are interested in athletes who play and compete at elite levels—but understand that there are different paths toward this level of play and skill. The regularity and continuity of club practices and game experience help players improve their skills and game sense. Remember that ODP players are expected to participate in clubs to stay in shape and advance their skills—club and ODP complement each other—it's not an “either-or” situation. Also, in some cases, high school programs can be just as challenging and competitive as club programs.
- I’m a club/competitive swimmer and water polo player. How can I balance both sports—and which sport gives me the best chance of college recruitment?
Obviously swimming is a big part of water polo, so water polo coaches generally support swimming. Most water polo players swim for their high school teams, and most water polo club coaches accommodate major swim meets, etc. Typically off-season water polo tournaments and games are scheduled around league, regional, and sectional swim meets. (Although my experience is that water polo coaches are more understanding and accommodating than swim coaches, whom I’ve observed largely believe water polo ruins swimmers’ strokes.)
If water polo is your priority, you have to consider committing to water polo and swimming with the high school swim team. There have been water polo players who excelled in swimming, but they only practiced with their high school swim teams. It really depends on the coaches and also on which sport you want to focus. Choosing which sport to pursue in college is totally up to you. Swimming is dictated by times, so it’s easy for a coach to objectively determine if and where a swimmer ranks relative to other swimmers in an event—and thus if said swimmer is a desirable recruiting prospect. Water polo is more subjective, and a coach may see development potential that’s less quantifiable (e.g., height, strength, coming from a good high school/club program, playing well in very competitive events, etc.) and be willing to promote a player. I’m aware of several water polo players who excelled in swimming and water polo and were jointly recruited to their colleges by the swim and water polo coaches and participated in both sports. I’m also aware of collegiate water polo players who arrived at college as swimmers—and gave up swimming to pursue collegiate water polo.
- I want to play water polo in college, but I don’t think I’m good enough to get recruited. What are my options?
If athletes want to continue playing water polo in college, but aren’t likely recruitment candidates (or their target schools don’t have intercollegiate water polo programs), they can consider playing club water polo. Club programs are available at many schools; they compete against other club programs or participate in tournaments, travel, and offer participants social, fitness, and other enrichment opportunities similar to those enjoyed by intercollegiate athletes. Students can determine the level of their participation and make it as demanding as they want. Students who want to attend a school which offers club water polo have to qualify for admissions on their own, just as they would at any other school.
I’m sure there are many more questions out there, so as always, feel free to call or write if you’re looking for answers. Thank you for your feedback, your interest in this topic and column, and to USA Water Polo for providing a forum for this very important discussion.
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