Water Polo – From Unique Pastime to Olympic Sport

Experienced education professional Cory Olcott teaches English and serves as dean of the sophomore class at Chapel Hill – Chauncy Hall School, a coeducational college preparatory institution in Waltham, Massachusetts. In addition to his work at Chapel Hill – Chauncy Hall School, Cory Olcott gives his time as a volunteer assistant coach for the Harvard University men’s water polo team.

Although the exact origins of water polo are largely unknown, it is believed that British resort owners invented the game in the mid-1800s to attract guests. Water polo was originally played in lakes and rivers and featured passing techniques similar to horseback polo, which gave the new sport its name.

Early on, water polo games were quite violent and often involved underwater wrestling that would sometimes leave players barely conscious. After the game reached the United States at the end of the 19th century, New Yorker Harold Reeder developed rules of discipline to curb in-game fighting and help make water polo safer for players.

As in the United States, water polo’s popularity spread across countries around the globe, and the game was named the first Olympic team sport in 1900, although it did not become a women’s event until the year 2000. Over the years, Hungarians have dominated the men’s Olympic event, but other European nations, including Italy, Yugoslavia, and Spain, also have garnered success in international play.