Jesse Smith

How did you get your start in water polo?

My dad played water polo at Coronado High School in the ’70s. I was on the swim team and we had a water polo program. We had a coach that was really good at recruiting kids who were super passionate about sports, so we had a lot of players that went on to play at UCLA and Stanford. In those high school games, I think it was great to have the community come cheer us on. We weren't the best, but it was fun to try to win games and we were competitive. I just had a lot of fun playing. Then I got recruited to play water polo because I could swim well and was a big guy.

Why should young kids play water polo?  

One important thing that you learn from water polo is how to swim and be safe in the water. In San Diego, we're lucky because you can jump in the ocean and learn to swim that way. But you need some sort of instruction, so water polo is a fun way to do that. I would like to see more water polo, at least in San Diego and SoCal.

Do people recognize you when you walk around San Diego? 

I went on an Olympic athlete podcast, and NBC did a profile on my family. And actually, I was in the airport this weekend and people recognized me, because I was with all my kids and we're kind of a scene. They said, “Hey, we saw your family on the news. And we're cheering you on.” Our sport is really small, so we enjoy it when people recognize all the hard work that we do. It’s really cool that we all represent the United States. We're super proud of that, and it's an honor. But I mean, I don’t think they know who I am. They just know I’m the water polo guy with a bunch of kids.

What are your goals for Team USA as you approach the Olympics? 

We’re putting in hard work and finding ways to stay enthusiastic and positive, even though training is difficult. You face obstacles and learn how to overcome them. I want to feel like I gave everything I could to the experience. Most of the hard work gets done in training, so for me right now, that’s the emphasis. As we go forward into the Olympics, I hope everyone's safe. It's amazing how much work is being put in to make it a safe, exciting experience for everyone at the Games. 

What makes the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games so special? 

This is going to be my last Olympics. I love it so much, but it's my last one. The beauty of sports is that the whole world comes together and represents their countries and their communities in a peaceful way. It’s just an amazing opportunity to play sports, and I think we're so lucky to have that opportunity. 

What are your plans after the Olympics are done?

Since 2016, I've been transitioning into the business world. I just finished a business program through Dartmouth called Tuck Next Step. It’s not an MBA program; it's a separate program for athletes and veterans. There were 39 other Olympians in the program, and then pretty elite veterans like Navy SEALs, Rangers, and veterans in the intelligence community. It was just unbelievable. 


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