Overview of Water Polo in the USA: Part 1

Ivan Vranjes
National Water Polo League


The present competition system in the USA cannot obtain positive effects on development of a National Team. At present the competition period is to short and it does not provide athletes strong competition. Competition is broken down into too many fragments and athletes cannot stay within “competition period” (see Planning and Programming). June, July and August should be reserved for all national teams intensive work, training, camps and tournaments. With that said, when international calendar competition coincides, dates should be changed toward the international calendar. USA water polo witnessed great results in the past few years. Most of the success can be tied to European players and players that have gone to play for European clubs in their leagues. Players like; Tony Azevedo, Layne Beaubien, Jesse Smith and Ryan Bailey (just to name the few). These players were the core of the silver medal team and they all played overseas. Now some of those players are choosing to stay home and work on their careers and try to start a family. Also, socio-economic situation in Europe is such that clubs don’t have enough resources to seek out foreign players. Some leagues have implemented rules for next year where they will only allow two foreign players per team (Italian league, Adriatic League). The USA team is facing a big void to fill. Although the ODP was widely successful the players that are coming out of that program are inexperienced. With NCAA season being two and a half months long it does not provide enough games and high level competition for players to stay in top shape. In contrast to the USA Players, European players play year round with a couple of months break in the summer and winter. Those breaks are reserved for National Teams.  Traditionally players that play for national teams are playing year round with no break. The amount of games and amount of preparation makes top notch athletes under the European system. Water polo associations of Croatia and Montenegro realized this and formed the Adriatic League to have more competitive teams and more competitive games. USA is in a dire need to have a league that will cater to the players that are coming out of college, players like Shea Buckner, Wigo Brothers, Andy Stevens, J.W. Krumpholtz, etc.


The National League needs to be organized like other European leagues. Competition season for clubs should last at least 8-9 months (including physical preparation period, which is most important) for all age groups. The European system is structured something like this:

In September they have basic preparation. October and November Cup competition, December until May national league (double round robin, home and away matches with playoff) with 8-10 teams in first division.

This is what we are planning for NWL to look like in couple of years.

The time of Olympic ideas and honor playing for the national team has past. Water Polo as a sport today is becoming profession, with 30-40 hours of practice weekly throughout the year. There needs to be some kind of compensation for coaches and players. NWL will provide winner’s purse while respective clubs provide financing for players during the play of league. This is why players involved with NCAA will not participate in NWL. However, NCAA teams should work on prolonging their season with additional competition.

Recently I spoke to Miro Trumbic (coach for Larissa in Greece’s First Division). He said that he is “reluctant to take American players because they lack experience.”

The only way to gain that experience is to play great amount of games. Other than improving players and their playing experience, the NWL offers other benefits that NWL can bring to USA water polo. Those benefits being:

Club Loyalty: Clubs and teams that will be involved with the league will have better member retention. This will especially be true in the younger age groups where younger players will look up to the senior team and it will give them something to look forward to, a goal to reach in the future. In addition, they will be proud to wear team gear to express their belonging to the club which will result in more revenue for the club from merchandising. In the last NWL exhibition games kids had an opportunity to meet the players after the game and to get their autographs. 

Talent Pool: By providing competition NWL will create a large talent pool. This will make national team selection much easier and more controlled. The National team coach will be able to oversee all aspects of work within the clubs, especially workouts. NWL will make it easier for players to continue their water polo career after college graduation. Europe will not be their only option. Although some would argue that there will be competition with Europeans clubs to obtain players it will actually be easier to keep players in the US. Players that currently play overseas are not paid adequately. In most cases they break even with the high cost of living. By providing a league within the US players will be able to play and work on their professional career. There are numerous examples of very good athletes ending their water polo career to start a family or a professional career (Sean Kern, 2000 Olympics, was one of the most talented players that USA water polo produced).

Benefits of such league for USA national teams and players:

NWL will insure that all matches are video recorded and distributed to clubs who participated in match.

Two reasons:

Video recording will also enhance refereeing.It is necessary that players have good and correct refereeing, because on an international level players could have problems adopting to FINA interpretation of rules.

NWL will establish clear transfer regulations, with limitation of foreign players (or USA players who are coming to play in their off season overseas). The core of the league in the upcoming years will be young players, enforced with high level foreigners, who can practice twice per day.

 To be continued ...