"And I thought it was just a bunch of guys screwin' around in a pool."
The object of the sport was to score as many goals as possible, with each goal being worth one point. It was played in a swimming pool that was deep enough at all points "so that no one can touch the bottom". This naturally forced all players to be in constant motion throughout the match. Players could be temporarily ejected for committing rules violations, or "fouls", thereby giving the opposing team a strategic advantage.
Captain Jonathan Archer called water polo "the best sport in the world". He avidly followed seasonal progress in the game, especially as practiced by university men's teams. He was himself a practitioner of the sport, having competed in the 2134 North American Water Polo Regionals against Princeton. Consequent to a last-minute victory in that match, he also participated in the 2134 finals. He was a particular fan of the Stanford team, favoring them in the 2151 finals over the University of Texas. (ENT: "Vox Sola")
He was sent irregular information about current scores through official channels, being updated by both Starfleet Command and their allies, the Vulcan High Command. Sometimes, he would receive recordings of entire matches, like the match he watched on a PADD while forced to stay at the catwalk. (ENT: "The Catwalk")
He tried to improve awareness of the sport with his crew members, and was especially driven to inculcate Trip Tucker with an appreciation of its strategies. He seemed to warm to the game, but neverless maintained a preference for American football. Archer briefly considered putting a swimming pool on Enterprise NX-01, but dismissed the thought when Tucker reminded him of the consequences of gravity plating failure on water.
Instead, Archer's main tangible connection to the sport was a water polo ball kept in his quarters aboard Enterprise. He would often throw it against the walls of his quarters when trying to think through a problem. He also used it on occasion as a minor test of his crew's reflexes, unexpectedly throwing it at them in his quarters. (ENT: "Strange New World", "Vox Sola", "A Night in Sickbay", "The Seventh")
While forced by Krem to load a Ferengi starship, Archer faked a pulled back muscle, which he claimed he got in an old water polo injury and that flared up every now and then, in an attempt to distract and delay the Ferengi from successfully raiding his ship. (ENT: "Acquisition")
Captain Archer owned a bag with the logo of the "2134 North American Water Polo Regionals". Whenever he left the ship for more than a day, he would take the bag with him. (ENT: "Desert Crossing", "Two Days and Two Nights", "The Catwalk", "Cogenitor") The match had a particular relevance to leadership, as it had taught him the value of believing he would succeed, even when defeat seemed the more likely outcome. (ENT: "Vox Sola")
Background information Edit
An implication of Archer's stated allegiance and history with this sport is that he likely attended Stanford. Dialogue in "Vox Sola" makes it clear that he played for a Californian team during his senior year, while a discussion with Phlox in "Broken Bow" establishes that, prior to the launch of the NX-01, Archer had always lived in San Francisco – Stanford is located Palo Alto, about 30 miles south of the city.
Despite a brief glimpse of the water polo ball in "Broken Bow", the first clear reference to Archer's enthusiasm for the game is in "Strange New World", when Archer surprises Reed by throwing the ball at him. As his armory officer catches the ball, Archer notes that Reed "would've made a good two-meter man." In the first draft script of "Strange New World", Archer instead threw a football at Reed, commented he would "make a fine cornerback," then proceeded to discuss plans he had in mind for having a game of football on a newly discovered planet.
The fact that Texas is included in the finals suggests an expansion of interest in the sport beyond the current reality. At the moment, the Texas team is ineligible for the finals, as it is unrecognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Moreover, no non-Californian school has ever competed in the finals since their inception in 1969.
According to Scott Bakula, Archer's interest in water polo was something added by the writers, specifically Rick Berman, whose son played in the sport. Bakula, who also played polo while growing up, had also pushed the writers for giving Archer a second sport of interest, Lacrosse, which did not come to fruition.