Water polo may not have a large, international following like soccer or basketball, but it is an exhilarating sport that is fun to watch.
Played at a frenetic pace through four periods lasting eight minutes each, water polo is like a cross between soccer and basketball, with a little bit of rugby thrown in, but all the action takes place inside a swimming pool.
If you’ve ever watched a water polo game, you may have noticed that the participants are very lean and muscular. Another detail that is hard to miss outside the water is that the competitors wear swimsuits that are quite a bit smaller than typical swimwear.
While you may think water polo swimsuits are a bit on the skimpy side, there are practical reasons for this, and they all have to do with gaining a competitive edge in the pool (same with goggles and headgear). Here are 5 performance-based reasons why water polo swimsuits are so small.
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Smaller Swimsuits Have Less To Grab On To
A primary reason for water polo swimsuits being so small is that with their limited surface area, there is less material for players to grab onto as a tactic to slow down their opponents.
Water polo players are always looking for a competitive edge in the pool, and tugging on an opposing player’s swimsuit to slow them down or to wrestle them out of position is a common strategy.
Below the pool’s surface, legs kick and hands grab as players jockey for position while preventing their opponents from doing the same.
There are stories of water polo players emerging from the pool with their swimsuits ripped to shreds. By being small and made from sleek, durable materials, small swimsuits help protect players from underwater mayhem.
To Minimize Drag in the Water
In water polo, the keys to the game are power and speed. Especially concerning the latter, a smaller swimsuit will produce less drag in the water, allowing players to swim faster while expending less energy.
Regulation water polo pools can range in size from 30 meters (98.4 feet) by 20 meters (65.6 feet) to 25 meters (82 feet) by 20 meters.
During a game, players can swim as much as a mile or more, going back and forth from one end of the pool to the other.
What’s more, these pools are also 1.8 meters (roughly six feet) deep, and players are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool.
Competitors are either racing to get to a certain spot or treading water while fending off an opponent.
While it may not seem like much, even gaining half a body’s length on your opponent can make all the difference when your team is sprinting to the other end of the pool with the game on the line.
And with virtually no stoppage time during the game (aside from 3 allotted timeouts per side) to catch their breath, water polo players could use every advantage they can get, including from their tiny swimsuits.
For Maximum Agility
Another reason water polo players wear such small swimsuits is the need for complete freedom of movement. In addition to swimming from one end of the pool to the other with each change of possession, the competitors must also position themselves as they run their offensive sets or defend their own goal.
Rather than using the basic techniques for treading water we all learned as kids, water polo players use far more advanced methods for holding their position in the pool.
One such skill is the eggbeater, where the player’s torso remains stationary as if sitting in a chair while each leg moves in a circular motion like the whisks on an eggbeater.
Movements like the eggbeater require maximum agility and small, compact swimsuits provide water polo players the freedom to move their legs freely and completely unencumbered.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions about water polo swimsuits.
Can you play water polo in normal swimwear?
Although you could play water polo in normal swimwear, it would not be recommended, especially if you get into the pool with serious players. Loose-fitting swim trunks can be easily grabbed onto, and opposing players could pull you down into the water or wrestle you out of position.
How small are water polo swimsuits supposed to be?
Water polo swimsuits run smaller than regular swimwear. They are meant to feel tight when worn, almost to the point of being uncomfortable.
Do you have to be a good swimmer to play water polo?
It depends. Playing an impromptu game of water polo in your backyard pool is one thing, but if you want to play organized water polo against experienced players, not only do you need to be strong at strokes like freestyle and backstroke, but you also need to tread water using only your legs (like the eggbeater).
Why are water polo swimsuits different?
Water polo swimsuits are different because they are designed to withstand the physical demands of the sport, which involve grappling, holding, and pushing. These swimsuits are made with a thicker and more durable fabric compared to regular swimming suits to ensure they can endure the rough play and prevent wear and tear.
Why are swimsuits cut so high?
Swimsuits are cut high to create the illusion of longer legs and enhance the shape of your buttocks, thanks to the stretch fabric used in making high-cut bikinis.
Why are mens water polo suits so small?
Mens water polo suits are smaller in size due to the presence of an inner lining on both the front and back, unlike swimming suits which only have lining on the front. This additional lining in water polo suits makes them tighter to the body, resulting in a slightly smaller size compared to swimming suits.
Why are women’s water polo suits cut so high?
Women’s water polo suits are cut so high because they are designed to withstand the aggressive nature of the sport. The high, zippered backs and tight fit of these suits make it challenging for opponents to grab onto them during a game. Additionally, the durable fabric used in these suits can endure the stretching, tugging, and intense movements that are inherent in water polo.
Why do men’s water polo players wear speedos?
Men’s water polo players wear speedos in order to prevent opponents from grabbing their teammates. The minimal amount of material in speedos reduces the chances of being latched onto, pulled, or seized by the opposing team. Wearing more swimwear in the water would make it easier for opponents to control the players’ movements.
What are tight swimsuits called?
Tight swimsuits are commonly referred to as speedos or briefs, and they are more popular in Europe or South America compared to the US where trunks have been the favored style for nearly a century.
What do female water polo players wear?
Female water polo players typically wear a one-piece suit, while male competitors usually opt for swimming briefs or thigh-length trunks. It is common for water polo players, regardless of gender, to prefer tight-fitting swimwear as opponents often grab onto each other’s suits during a game.
Can you wear jammers in water polo?
Jammers can be worn in water polo, especially by boys in the 14u and younger age groups. These jammers are similar to speedos but extend down to the knees, resembling bike shorts. Alternatively, speedos are also commonly worn by players in these age groups. However, for players in the 16u and 18u age groups, speedos are the preferred choice. It is recommended to use water-polo specific speedos as they are made with a more durable fabric.