I grew up as a water athlete in Southern California and trained year-round. So even though my water polo career in high school was short-lived, it felt like I had dedicated my life and my body to the sport much longer. I joined the water polo team with the idea that it would be like competitive swimming (which I also did at the time), but with a ball. Wrong. Unlike swimming, water polo is a very, very physical sport. So much so that if a player’s safety cover comes loose, the referee will stop the game and ask the player to tie it again.
Allow me to explain. Because water polo is a contact-driven sport, there are plenty of opportunities for injury. An accidental elbow or a lung in the face can result in a coach pulling their player out of the game for fear of a possible concussion, which is why safety headgear is so important.
Water polo safety caps are typically made of a thick material with hard plastic holsters on each side of the helmet to protect the ears in the event of a collision. You will also notice that the protective earrings have holes in them. This design keeps the water out and makes it easier for players to hear. A player fastens the helmet securely by simply tying the strings in a tied bow under their chin. Like swimmers, players also wear a swimming cap to protect their hair under the safety helmet. This gives the headgear a more secure fit and helps rule out the possibility of hair pulling (believe me, it happens).
Aside from physicality, the safety cap also acts as a player jersey showing both their team name and number. This is not only beneficial for those outside the pool as referees and coaches, but also for the players because most of your teammates’ bodies are submerged under water. Like other sports, goalkeepers wear a different colored hat from their teammates to make them even easier to distinguish.