Water polo is very demanding, even though a match might not seem very long, compared to soccer or hockey. In some ways the fitness levels required are similar to those of rugby players, in that there’s lots of stop-start activity and changes in direction. Players will need plenty of aerobic fitness and are likely to supplement their time in the pool with weight training. They should build up muscle endurance as well as explosive speed. The upper body will need to cope with swimming, passing, catching and throwing, while the lower body must cope with treading water and kicking to lift the player’s torso out of the water for handling the ball.
Most water polo players have a mesomorphic build, with the typically V-shaped torso, that comes from plenty of swimming, which means the body is constantly working against resistance. Players will benefit from, and typically develop, strong latimus dorsii muscles, or lats, as well as deltoids, trapesius, triceps and biceps.
Apart from many hours spent devising team set-pieces, players will work accurate passing and throwing, as well as plyometric exercises. What fitness experts call specificity plays a role, where the best training to putt better may be to practice putting.
Because the game involves bursts of activity, cardiovascular fitness and the quick recovery rates that accompany it are paramount. Apart from swimming, players may use other cardiovascular training like rowing.
Speed drills may be a good way to improve reflexes and would be useful for the whole team.
Resistance training and muscles
Any aquatic sport works against the resistance of the water, but training to increase the resistance helps build stamina. Kickboards and paddles slow the swimmer’s progress through the water and build muscle while improving cardiovascular fitness and recovery times.
While it’s difficult to move very fast in any liquid, water polo players need lightning-fast reflexes and hand-eye coordination. Learning balls skills will help, as well as exercises to improve visual acuity.
Building up basic fitness and then swimming with fins, kickboards and paddles will help. Simply treading water builds stamina if you kick to try to lift yourself out of the water.
Generally a diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates and not much protein would work well.
In team sports as well as in individual sports, self-belief is vital, as is the confidence of the coach. Athletes tend to perform as well as the coach says they will.
With virtually all Olympic sports threatened by doping, water polo is no exception.