MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Water Polo Players Wear Those Special Swim Caps

If you ever get to look closely at water polo players’ actual swim caps, you’ll see that there are lots & lots of holes around the earpieces. Now, with all the splashing that goes on in water polo, it would make total sense for the athletes to wear swim caps that would prevent water from clogging their ears. But, since they’re not actually keeping water out, what do those fancy water bonnets actually do?

The head is the lone part of an athlete’s body that regularly stays above the water, so the bonnets (as they’re actually called) do function as the players’ jerseys, enabling them to tell opponents from teammates (and also determine which teammate is which, since their numbers are printed on their caps, as well). One team will usually wear dark-colored caps, while the other team wears light-colored caps, and each of the goalkeepers wear red.

But the main reason they wear those specialized swim caps is to prevent injury. There are plastic guards built into the caps that cover the athletes’ ears. Regular swim caps don’t have those particular features, which help absorb the impact of the ball or another athlete’s body part so that it doesn’t result in a ruptured eardrum or some other injury. Because, while a ruptured eardrum will usually heal on its own after some time, when you consider the possible damage to the inner ear from additional water infiltration, the athlete will likely have to remain out of the pool until it heals. And, considering how tightly packed the schedule is for Olympic water polo games, the athletes don’t really have the option to sit out for a few weeks until their eardrums heal.

But now you know a little bit more about what you’re watching when you’re up late with the late-night broadcasts from this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

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