The D3 Championship and what it means for sport growth moving forward

I’m not going to lie. When I first heard about the idea of implementing a D3 Championship, I thought it was a great idea and a great opportunity for the sport. It definitely is, however I didn’t immediately think about the deeper impact the implementation of that championship game would have on the sport moving forward. I originally just thought it was much more of a nice-to-do; a good opportunity for D3 athletes and schools to play for something more. It wasn’t until I listened to the coaches’ post-game interviews when it really dawned on me that this means so much more. It not only spurs on further excitement around the sport, but it also adds another championship-level layer to the mix, which can only provide more opportunities for those High School athletes who might still be on the fence about playing at the next level. 

As you’ll see in the posts to come, It is obvious I believe that any and all exposure to Water Polo is extremely important for the growth of our sport overall. However, I think that this particular type of opportunity is even more  important because of one thing… 

That championship glow.

By listening to some of the comments made by the coaches of both Whittier College and CMS College during the post game interview, you could tell that these games meant more to them and their athletes than just another tournament. As obvious as that might seem, I think it’s important to call out. The reason being that the excitement surrounding a real championship game is unparalleled, no matter the sport or the level. Walking on deck for the first time at FSU, having not understood what the CWPA was or what Club athletics really implied, I assumed the club scene would be like any other club program at school. Show up a few times a week, drop the cages, shoot around, and leave (probably not the exact same routine that the LARPing club had, but you get the idea). Yet in my first year, I realized that there was so much more tied to the CWPA world, and that quite literally renewed my love and passion for the game.

Knowing  that we would be able to play in a championship game, where the best in the Region all gathered to try and compete for the chance to travel and to play at the national stage, added a whole other layer to the sport for me and my teammates. It gave us that extra motivation to show up and practice every day; to sometimes run two-a-days even though we weren’t being mandated to; to sometimes skip a Saturday night out to train early on Sunday instead. It gave us an end goal: something to really look forward to. That kind of motivation makes all the difference when you’re essentially playing just for the love of the game.

Speaking from a coaching perspective, I also think that this tournament helps not only with recruitment, but with retention of those players and their drive to continue their Water Polo career. In my first year playing at FSU (credit to my two captains for selling us on the dream of winning a Regional title and selling us on the hopes of going to nationals)  we really only had a dream and a hope. But when you hear the word “Championship”… that hits different to an athlete. While coaching the team and leading it as the captain in the following few years, that was my selling point. My Junior year I stood at the front of our wet classroom with both of our back-to-back Regional Championship plaques behind me (I know I’m flexing, but I’m damn proud of those) and sold those freshman on a chance to be a part of something better than just any other club team. Better than a team that simply goes to competitions. Better than a team that would rather not remember the night before instead of  locking in and truly competing for a ship’. That is where this mindset has come into play for Collegiate Club, and now it will for D3. That is a selling point that I truly believe will be instrumental in the growth of our sport. 

The addition of another championship does wonders for the sport, in my eyes, for a few reasons: 

  1. I think that it motivates teams to compete at a higher level. They are now working towards a goal, a bragging right, a trophy, and a set achievement. Before this championship was created (I urge you to listen to the coaches/players interviews post-game to hear the passion), it was essentially a “alright good game boys, season was fun, lets pack it up and get ready for next year”. There wasn’t the same passion, the same drive to accomplish something, the same excitement surrounding the final game of the season. It seems to me that opens the door for other High School players who may not necessarily be at the D1 level, or that frankly don’t have the resources to attend those schools. The hope to achieve something great and something special, and drive them to continue their water polo career post-High School. 
  2. It adds in another attention grabbing event for the sport  It gets us into the spotlight again, if only for a weekend. Exposure is everything for our community; and the fact that they broadcast these games, had announcers, held it at a pool where the champs were hosting, and garnered media attention (I saw shout outs from a few local broadcast networks) is huge for the growth of our sport. All publicity is good publicity, especially in our small Water Polo world. 

Look, all in all I think this move does nothing but good things for our athletes, both current and potential, because it gives them a renewed sense of purpose when they’re playing. It certainly did for me and my team. I hope that the same passion and excitement that I felt when hearing that we had divisional titles and National Championships to compete for percolates to those High School athletes who might be stuck on the fence deciding between D1, D3, Club, or just not playing at all and opting for the traditional college experience. 

If you are one of those students in your deciding year, I will leave you with this. College is dope, truly. But a “traditional” college experience is overrated. Continue playing, continue mastering your craft, continue pursuing a championship and bragging rights. Continue playing the greatest sport in the world, at whatever level that might be.You wont regret it. 

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