There is a swimming pool in the backyard at Jeff Colton’s house in Garden Grove, California, where he spent every day as a boy playing water polo with his Dad, a water polo coach.

Now the 19-year-old junior, who is majoring in materials science and engineering, is a top player on MIT’s men’s varsity water polo team.

Colton earned National College Athletics Association All-American honors for the past two years. And he also was named a College Water Polo Association North Second Team all-star, one of only two Division III athletes to be named to the team.

“Sports is a way to get away from academics, and to do something I love,” he says. “It definitely takes time away from being able to study, but I really need that time away to stay balanced and happy.”

Colton says that sports has taught him to work hard, to budget his time, and to respect authority. “I’ve also learned to become much more personable,” he says. “When you play on a team, there are new people to meet. You’ve got to make friends, and you’ve got to learn to socialize.

“I’ve really learned how to get along with people. If there’s a guy on my team I don’t like, but we’re all playing together, I’ve got to learn to get along with him. Many times I’ve disagreed with people, but instead of just quitting the team, I have to stay and work it out.”

Colton says that for MIT students, who are accustomed to success, sports is humbling.

“It teaches you that it’s not so important to win all the time. What’s more important is that you do your best. Now my focus is wanting to improve, to be the best athlete I can be. And being the best athlete means trying to make your team better, too.”

Perhaps the best benefit of sports, he says, is fun. “It’s something I do for joy, because I really love it.”