Similar to many sports, water polo consists of a competition between two teams. While positioning and advancing strategies are crucial to furthering the game and beckoning an audience to rally behind its players, sportsmanship proves just as important, especially in a sport as competitive as water polo.

Though many recognize the term, sportsmanship is often difficult to define. At the forefront of this concept is the importance of being not only a good player, but a good teammate, opponent, and person off of the field or outside the pool. Players who exercise sportsmanlike behavior not only put their team first—which may require players to put aside their personal records for the sake of the team—but also remain mindful of how their actions affect other players and officials. By respecting all members involved in the game, players are better equipped to focus on the game itself, rather than becoming caught up in hostility toward the opposing team or officials. This respect should also extend beyond the sport’s participants and audience. Players who practice sportsmanship should also honor sports equipment and facilities and refrain from actively destroying or compromising sports setups.

In a contact sport such as water polo, injuries are common. Without extensive protective gear, water polo players are more susceptible to serious injuries to the head, legs, and shoulders. As a result of this, it is crucial players are mindful of other players’ safety. Harboring respect for the opponents will still encourage competition, but can ultimately lead to less violent games where physical contact is not met with malintent.

Just as injuries are likely in sports, failure is also inevitable. Whether it is a loss for the home team or the opposing teams, players who practice sportsmanship win modestly and with empathy and lose gracefully. These reactions come out of respect for the game as well—when it comes to losing, players must accept responsibility for the loss without harboring hard feelings for teammates or the winning team. Respecting the rules and strategies of the game rather than focusing solely on the winners or losers can invigorate morale. Players who appreciate how the game was played will not only acknowledge the winner, but will also admire the effort of each team regardless of the outcome.

With the importance of sportsmanship apparent, sports teams have begun taking steps to foster an environment where sportsmanship is regularly practiced and executed. The Illinois State women’s water polo team has recently implemented a grant to raise sportsmanship awareness. Sportsmanship is a communal effort and the team is treating it as such: not only are the student athletes and parents learning and executing sportsmanship behavior toward opposing teams, coaches are also practicing peaceful and respectful engagement with referees. Not only is this creating a more courteous and cohesive sporting environment, it is also encouraging people to carry the same respect beyond.