Messing up In Front of a College Scout: Water Polo Edition

Stanford Swimming vs. Arizona
Photo Courtesy: Jeff Commings

By Rachel Andersen, Swimming World College Intern. 

As the last bells chime signalling the end of school and as the weather continues to heat up, the season for water polo is finally upon us. Time for copious amounts of sunscreen, practice every morning, getting chewed out by your coach again, and, most importantly, some of the biggest tournaments of the year. And for those in high school, tournaments like Club Championships and the Junior Olympics bring another stressor: college scouts. 

July 31, 2016; Palo Alto, CA, USA; U14 Santa Barbara 805 vs Rosebowl at USA Water Polo Junior Olympics. Photo Credit: Catharyn Hayne - KLC foots for USA Water Polo.

Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

What college coaches are here? Are they here for me? What if I play really badly? All of these are thoughts that race through a player’s head whenever someone with an official looking college shirt anywhere near the referee table was present. Teammates constantly chatter about which coach is at the games and who they are there to see. It gets exhausting.

Picture this: a coach from a prominent program contacts you to let you know he was coming to see one of your games. You ask coach if you could play the whole game so the scout could see you a lot. He thankfully agrees, seemingly just as excited as you to have someone at your games to watch.

You psyche yourself up before the game, telling yourself as the goalie that you are going to stop every shot that comes your way.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. The other team steamrolls you. You and your team couldn’t stop a 6 on 5 to save your lives. You become increasingly frantic as you are continually scored on, eventually manifesting in getting two ejections, which, for a goalie, is almost laughably impressive.

This goalie was me. To this day, I don’t think I’ve had a worse game. By the time the final whistle was blown, I was dunking my face in the water to hide my tears.

The coach didn’t contact me again after the game.

Photo Courtesy: Joon Baik

I was, understandably, devastated. Other teammates of mine had good conversations with their scouts, some even getting very promising hints after games. I felt like a failure. However, I also felt lighter, like a weight had been lifted off. I had literally played at my worst in front of the only coach who came specifically for me. There really was nothing else to mess up.

So, when we had three games the next day, I went out and just played. I didn’t care if my form was perfect for stopping shots or if all my passes hit their mark exactly. All I cared about was winning the games for myself and my teammates.

And as it turned out, my lack of stress regarding who was watching was what made me stand out. Later that day, my coach pulled me aside and told me that the UCSD coach wanted to get into contact with me.

May 11, 2019; Avery Aquatic Center, Palo Alto, CA, USA; Collegiate Women's Water Polo: NCAA Semi Finals: UCLA Bruins vs Stanford Cardinals; Stanford Goalkeeper Emalia Eichelberger reaches to make the save Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Stanford was tough defensively when they needed to be. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be stressed about which coaches are watching you. How well you play and who watches you doing well does affect your future. But it’s important to remember that one mistake – or even a game full of mistakes – will not destroy you, even if the head coach from Stanford is watching the game.

In the end, I didn’t end up going to UCSD. Instead, I walked on to the team at UCLA. Scouting will help coaches find you, but ultimately, they are not the end-all-be-all of your water polo career. You can succeed with or without them.

If the college you want to go to doesn’t find you on the pool deck, you can always find it instead.

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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3 years ago

Great advice!

3 years ago

Thanks Rachel ! You proved that one bad game does not spoil your dreams. Keep up the good vibes!