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USA Water Polo Shares Growth Statistics on Sport

6 May, 2020


The numbers don't lie: Water polo is one of America's fastest growing sports. For the first time in history, USA Water Polo—the national governing body for water polo—surpassed 50,000 members in 2019. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) again reported growth in boys' and girls' high school water polo nationwide while the state of Texas announced last fall the start of a University Interscholastic League-sanctioned high school pilot program that will trigger exponential growth in the Lone Star State. More than 10 new college programs have either commenced play or announced plans to begin play in the last 12 months. All this is coupled with continued success on the international scene for Team USA that has seen the USA Women's National Team win every major title in the last four years—including Gold Medals in the last two Olympic Games.

"Every year our vision for water polo in the United States comes into focus just a little bit more clearly, and 2019 was no different," said Christopher Ramsey, chief executive officer for USA Water Polo. "Thanks to a dedicated group of staff and volunteers plus a committed board of directors, we continue to achieve a key piece of our mission statement: growing the sport nationwide. Our work is nowhere near complete; we know that while this sport is on the rise, the ceiling for growth remains much higher. The excitement around our game will only grow with the Tokyo Olympic Games next year, and we look forward to introducing water polo to a new generation this summer."

USA Water Polo's membership has virtually doubled since the Beijing Games going from 26,873 in 2008 to north of 50,000 at the close of last year. Through an increased focus on additional play opportunities, the success of the Olympic Development Program, and new programs for children such as Splashball, the uptick in participation has been steady. At the high school level, boys' water polo participation has risen 8.8% from 2008-09 to 2018-2019 while girls' water polo participation has seen an 18% increase over that same time period according to the NFHS. Not realized in this data are high schools that compete in water polo at the club level. This includes the state of Texas where over 100 programs are already competing, and more are poised to come aboard following the recent approval by the UIL Legislative Council last October. Kern County in California's Central Valley also approved water polo as an CIF sport to begin play this fall while other states such as Washington, Georgia, Utah, and Tennessee continue to play water polo at a high level that's not recognized by their respective scholastic organizations.

College water polo has witnessed a promising renaissance as well. After years of reduction for both men's and women's programs, recent years have seen largely positive headlines regarding growth at all levels. The reinstatement of the San Jose State men's program after decades of inactivity was a jumping-off point for multiple programs. Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York, started their first season of women's water polo in February while Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Maryland, recently announced the start of men's and women's water polo programs slated for the 2020-21 school year. Austin College in Sherman, Texas, brought varsity water polo back to the state in 2018-19—the first time since the 1970s while Ottawa University in Arizona represents water polo's return to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

The junior college and Division III level are expected to be even bigger drivers of growth in the future. Schools like Crafton Hills College and the College of Marin, both in California, have pledged new programs while Division III programs such as Austin and Millikin University in Illinois have spurred enough growth that USA Water Polo launched the first National Division III Collegiate Championship last fall for men's water polo. The inaugural women's event is set for next spring at the home of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion.

"We've long had a motto at USA Water Polo of 'polo in every pool,' and each day we take a step closer to that goal," said John Abdou, USA Water Polo's chief high performance officer. "As a former college and high school coach, it is thrilling to see the game expand at those levels. As the head of our sport growth and national team programs, it is essential that we see water polo thrive across the country. We know there is an appetite for more water polo, and we are excited to do our part in raising the profile of our sport. Next summer many will get a chance to see water polo for the first time at the Tokyo Olympic Games, and we hope it encourages the continued growth of water polo in pools around the country and plants the seeds of water polo in communities where the game doesn't yet exist."

To learn more about USA Water Polo, please visit USAWaterPolo.org. To find a program in your area or to help launch the sport at a pool in your community, please contact membership@usawaterpolo.org or message USA Water Polo on social media @USAWP on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

About USA Water Polo
USA Water Polo, Inc., is the national governing body for water polo in America, overseeing our United States Olympic program as well as 20 championship events annually, such as Junior Olympics and Masters National Championships. With more than 50,000 members, USAWP also is the sanctioning authority for more than 500 Member Clubs and more than 400 tournaments nationwide. USAWP is committed to the development of the sport throughout the U.S. It fosters grass-roots expansion of the sport, providing a national system of affiliated clubs, certified coaches, and officials.  

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