With all the splash that happens in water polo, it makes sense for players to wear caps to keep the water from clogging their ears. But if you take a quick look at the equipment, you’ll realize that there are tons of holes in the ear cups. So if they don’t keep the water out, what are these beanies really for?
The main reason is injury prevention. Plastic protectors on players’ ears – which regular swim caps don’t have – help absorb impact from the ball or part of the body to prevent a ruptured eardrum or other damage . A rupture “usually heals on its own over time,” athletic physician Dr. David A. Wang wrote for the Hospital for Special Surgery blog, “but given the possible damage to the inner ear caused by water, the athlete will often have to stay out of the pool until healing occurs. Considering how busy the Olympic water polo schedule is, players don’t exactly have the luxury of sitting poolside for a few weeks while their eardrums heal.
Since the head is the only part of a player’s body that is constantly above the water, caps also function essentially like athletes’ jerseys, allowing them to distinguish teammates from opponents (and also between teammates because their numbers are printed on their caps, too). One team usually wears dark colored caps, the other team wears light colored caps, while goalkeepers are red.