Sports has a lot of unconventional medicines for quick remedies for small aliments during games or tournaments. My informant is a long time water polo player, and so I asked her if there was any remedies she learned from other players.
CB: “So when you play water polo you don’t wear goggles in the pool and the chlorine is very bad for your eyes, and there are a lot of water polo tournaments where you play more than one game in a day, and so your eyes will hurt a lot. A lot of people use eye drops but they don’t necessarily work that well so when I was a 14 and under a lot of my friends noticed some older girls putting milk in their goggles and putting them on their face and rinsing their eyes in the milk. We asked them why they were doing that they said it rinsed the chlorine and soothed their eyes and the recommended the fullest fat milk possible. I’m not necessarily sure if it works, but it does soothe your eyes in the moment and we kept doing it, everyone does it all the time, and it wasn’t only my team, but others teams from out of state using milk.”
Usually folk remedies turn into scientific remedies and vice versa. Or often they are placebo effects, and people believe that what they are doing will cure them. Neither are truly the case here. Sports folk medicines are usually for quick remedies during a game or long tournament as there isn’t a lot of time for treatment for minor ailments. So either the ailment, like sore chlorine eyes, will go ignored or have such a quick remedy such as this. It’s a folk remedy that works for this team and many, but is not a part of conventional western medicine. However, someday it may evolve into western medicine, or evolve into conventional eye drops. Milk isn’t sold to alleviate eye irritation, it re-appropriated for medical use by teams and then spread around team to team or player to player through these tournaments or from older player to younger player. It is a remedy quite particular to this sport, so knowing it or performing it may also have to do with one’s belief in their identity as a water polo player. Believing in this remedy and performing it has a lot to say about wisdom passed down from generations of those who have played the sport before them.
“Sometimes you actually shake hands depending. When you do that, the goalie’s usually the first person, then everyone lines up behind them. […] You get out of the pool and do it, walk along the side. Um, I don’t know.”
The informant is a student to the University of Southern California, studying Computer Engineering and Computer Science. She is from the San Francisco area, though her father is from England and her mother from Switzerland. She started playing water polo her freshmen year of high school—though she had enjoyed swimming before that—and she has now been playing for 6 years. She is a member of the recreational water polo team at USC and plays about 4 tournaments a year, along with a few other scrimmages.
The informant was asked if there were any customs of water polo games, like how to thank the other team for playing, and this is the answer she gave. though there are no official rules requiring this shaking of hands, every team knows to do so, be it high school or college. She learned of this custom after her first water polo game in high school.
In almost every sport, there is a certain etiquette at the end of a game, a way to thank the other team for a good game. In soccer, many teams exchange jerseys, but few other sports take it this far. Most have a similar custom to water polo: both teams line up, often with the goalie—if they have one—leading. As the teams walk down the lines, they shake or high five hands, depending on how much time the teams want to spend. Sometimes phrases like “good game” are said.
The purpose of this custom is to prevent the teams from going off with bad feelings at the end of the game. Even if the other team fouled like crazy or played a weak game, both teams must come together and congratulate each other on a game well-played. It shows respect for the other players and the game itself. Though the teams were on opposite sides does not mean they need to have hostile feelings off the field or out of the pool.
Um, okay, so I guess I’m talking about Thunder Dome, which was a ritual thingie for my water polo team in high school. Um, uh, so, basically, it was like this exercise we did every week for hell week, which was like the most intense part of practice, I guess. It’s before the season starts, like a week. Anyway, this particular exercise, um, basically what they would do is, they wouldn’t tell you what it was until you were about to start it, so for like the freshman it was like this big deal. So what they would do is wheel out this big speaker system. And they’d start playing “Thunderstruck” by AC DC, like really, really loud, on the pool deck or whatever. And then, uh, they would have to uh line up in two different rows on each side of the pool. Basically the rules of the game is you have to stop the other person—you were like matched up with someone on the other side—you have to stop the other person from scoring any way you wanted to. And if you didn’t you had to keep going against another person, and another person, another person, another person, until you do. And, yeah, that was basically the game.
This sample of folklore describes a rite of passage. The secrecy and fear of the mysterious “Thunder Dome,” is a way for older high school students to intimidate, and allow new freshman team members to prove themselves in order to be accepted as part of the team. The game is an extreme version of water polo that allows freshman to show the team what they’ve got. If one performs poorly at Thunder Dome, they are off to a bad start as a member of the team. Doing well can increase one’s standing in the eyes of older players. This tradition can lead to acceptance by a niche peer group.