What is Water polo? Water polo is a competitive team sport played in a swimming pool, known for its fast-paced and physically demanding nature. The objective of water polo is to score more goals than the opposing team within a set time frame.
Water Polo Rules
Before you start playing the game you can check some basic official rules as follows:
- Each team starts with 6 “Field” Players and 1 Goalie in the water, and teams can have up to 15 players on their roster.
- Field players can only use one hand to pass, catch, and shoot the ball. Goalies are special! They can use both hands to defend the goal.
- When you have the ball, you can’t take it under the water while an opponent is guarding you. If you do, it’s a turnover, and the other team gets the ball.
- The water polo field is at least 25 yards long, 20 yards wide, and 7 feet deep.
- You can’t touch the bottom of the pool or hang it on the wall while the game is on. Stay afloat and swim like a pro!
- Games are divided into 4 quarters. A typical water polo game lasts between 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Each time your team gets the ball, you have a magical 30 seconds to try and score a goal. If the shot clock runs out, you lose possession of the ball to the other team.
- Minor fouls happen frequently during the game.
When a minor foul occurs, the fouled team gets a free pass, which means they can keep the ball and pass it from the spot where the foul happened.
- There’s no limit to how many minor fouls can happen, so be ready to keep playing!
- Be careful! After 3 major fouls, a player is ejected from the game and cannot return. A major foul results in the offending player sitting out for 20 seconds, and their team plays with one player less for that time.
Let’s explain the rules in-depth for a better understanding of the game.
Teams and Players:
- Water polo is played between two teams, each consisting of 7 players (six field players and one goalkeeper).
- Teams wear different-colored caps to distinguish themselves.
- Substitutions can be made during stoppages in play and are usually unlimited.
The dimensions of a pool, especially for water polo, are crucial for creating a suitable and fair playing environment. Here’s an explanation of the typical pool dimensions used for water polo:
|At least 25 yards (22.86 meters)
|At least 20 yards (18.29 meters)
|Around 7 feet (2.13 meters) or more
|Goal Mouth Width
|Goal Mouth Height
|90 centimeters (0.9 meters)
|Distance Between Goal Posts
Starting the Game:
- The game starts with a swim-off at the center of the pool. Two players, one from each team, line up at the center, and the referee throws the ball into the water.
- Both players swim to get the ball and try to pass it to their teammates.
Ball Possession and Movement:
- Players pass, catch, and shoot the ball to score goals. The objective is to throw the ball into the opposing team’s goal.
- Players can use one hand to hold the ball and swim with it. They must pass or shoot within a certain time (usually 30 seconds) called the shot clock.
- Players are not allowed to push or hold an opponent who does not have the ball.
Swimming and Positions:
- Water polo involves a lot of swimming, so players need good stamina and speed.
- Each team has specific positions: two wings, two drivers (also known as attackers), a center forward, a point guard, and the goalkeeper.
- To score a goal, a player must throw the ball past the opposing team’s goalkeeper and into the goal.
- The entire ball must cross the goal line for it to count as a goal.
- Each goal scored by a team is worth 1 point
|Type of Foul
|Minor infractions occur frequently during the game, like holding, impeding, or pushing an opponent.
|Free throw for the fouled team from the spot of the foul.
|Major Foul (Exclusion Foul)
|More serious fouls, also known as exclusion fouls, often involve holding or pulling an opponent without the ball.
|The offending player is temporarily sent out of the game for 20 seconds, and their team plays with one player less during this time. The fouled team gets possession of the ball.
|A major foul was committed inside the 5-meter area, denying a probable goal.
|The fouled team is awarded a penalty shot, allowing a direct shot on goal from 5 meters away, with only the goalkeeper defending.
|Fouls committed by offensive players, such as pushing off or using excessive force against defenders to create space.
|Turnover, possession goes to the opposing team.
|Unsportsmanlike conduct or offensive language/gestures.
|Player ejection or penalty, depending on the severity of the misconduct.
|Aggressive or dangerous play that endangers other players.
|Player ejection or penalty, depending on the severity of the brutality.
|Three Personal Fouls
|A player accumulates three personal fouls during the game.
|The player is ejected from the game and replaced by a substitute.
- Exclusion Fouls (Major Fouls):
- Water polo is a physical game, but certain actions are considered fouls and result in penalties.
- A common foul includes holding an opponent who does not have the ball or touching the ball with both hands.
- A major foul (also called an exclusion foul) results in the offending player being temporarily sent out of the game for 20 seconds. During this time, their team plays with one player less, creating a power play for the opponent.
- Ordinary Fouls:
- Ordinary fouls do not lead to a player exclusion but still, give the fouled team a free throw or possession of the ball.
Corner Throws and Free Throws:
When the ball goes out of bounds off the defending team, the attacking team gets a corner throw.
Free throws are given when an ordinary foul occurs. The fouled team takes the free throw from the spot of the foul.
Time and Quarters:
|Varies but typically 4 quarters
|Varies but usually 8 minutes each
|Total Playing Time
|Varies but typically 32 minutes
|Usually around 5 minutes
|Varies, often 2-3 minutes each
- A typical water polo game consists of four quarters, each lasting around 7 minutes (may vary in different competitions).
- There is a short break between quarters and a longer halftime break between the second and third quarters.
How many minutes is a water polo game? At the international and professional level, the standard duration of a water polo game (4 quarters of 8 minutes each) would be 4 quarters x 8 minutes = 32 minutes.
Example: Let’s say the blue team has possession of the ball. They pass it between their players, trying to create an opportunity to score. The red team’s defense is strong, and they commit an ordinary foul. The blue team gets a free throw, and one of their players takes it from where the foul occurred. They pass the ball around, looking for a good chance to shoot or make a quick pass to a teammate in a better position to score.
Let’s explain the 30-second shot clock in a unique way for beginners:
Imagine you’re playing a fast-paced game of water polo, and you have a special magic bubble around you. This bubble lasts for only 30 seconds, and during this time, you must do something amazing with the ball! You can either shoot the ball into the goal and score a point for your team, or you can pass the ball to a teammate who has a better chance of scoring.
But here’s the catch: if the 30 seconds run out, the magic bubble pops, and you lose the ball to the other team! They get a chance to create their own magic bubble and try to score within 30 seconds.
So, you have to be quick and decisive with the ball. You can’t hold it for too long, or the bubble will burst, and you’ll lose the opportunity to attack. The shot clock keeps the game exciting and encourages players to make swift moves and work together as a team to score before time runs out.
Remember, the magic bubble resets every time your team gains possession of the ball, so make the most of your 30 seconds of water polo wizardry!
What is not allowed in water polo?
Though it is fun to play with friends, there are certain things you can not do in water polo. These things can lead to fouls and bring punishment to your team. Take a look at 11 things that are not allowed in water polo.
- Players are not allowed to hold, push, or grab an opponent who does not have the ball. Physical contact is limited to reasonable attempts to play the ball or maintain position.
- When a player is closely guarded by an opponent, they cannot intentionally duck or sink the ball under the water to avoid being challenged. This is considered a turnover, and possession goes to the other team.
- Players are not allowed to make physical contact with the goalkeeper while they are inside the 5-meter area (the area around the goal). Interfering with the goalkeeper’s movement or blocking their vision is not permitted.
- Offensive players cannot push off or use excessive force against defenders to create space. Offensive fouls result in a turnover, and the opposing team gains possession.
- Field players must pass, catch, and shoot the ball using only one hand. Using both hands is a violation, and possession goes to the other team.
- When a player is closely guarded and has possession of the ball, they cannot take the ball underwater. This results in a turnover, and the other team gains possession.
- Players are not allowed to deliberately splash water into the face of opponents or engage in unsportsmanlike conduct, such as using offensive language or gestures.
- Teams must play actively and attempt to advance the ball and score. Deliberate stalling or time-wasting is not allowed and may result in penalties.
- Actions that endanger the safety of other players, such as aggressive kicking, striking, or tackling, are strictly prohibited.
- Interfering with the Ball: Players cannot interfere with the ball’s movement when it is outside the playing area or use any objects or devices to alter the ball’s trajectory or buoyancy.
- Violating Shot Clock: Teams must take a shot on goal within the designated shot clock time (usually 30 seconds). Failure to do so results in a turnover.
How many players are on each water polo team at the start of the game?
At the start of a water polo game, each team has 6 “Field” Players and 1 Goalie, making a total of 7 players in the water.
Are players allowed to use both hands to pass, catch, and shoot the ball in water polo?
No, field players can only use one hand to pass, catch, and shoot the ball. Goalies are the exception; they are allowed to use both hands to defend the goal.
What happens if a player takes the ball underwater while being guarded by an opponent?
Taking the ball underwater when guarded results in a turnover. The opposing team gains possession of the ball.
What are the dimensions of an official water polo playing field?
The official water polo field is at least 25 yards long and 20 yards wide. It is usually around 7 feet deep.
Can players touch the bottom of the pool or hang on the wall during the game?
No, players are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool or hang on the wall during the game. They must stay afloat and swim during play.
How long does a typical water polo game last?
A standard water polo game consists of 4 quarters and typically lasts between 45 minutes to 1 hour, including breaks.
What is the shot clock in water polo?
The shot clock in water polo is 30 seconds. Each team has 30 seconds to take a shot on goal after gaining possession of the ball.
What happens when a player commits a minor foul in water polo?
Minor fouls occur frequently in water polo and result in a free pass for the fouled team. There is no limit to the number of minor fouls that can occur in a game.
How many major fouls (ejections) can a player have before being unable to return to the game?
After committing 3 major fouls (ejections), a player cannot return to the game. Major fouls lead to the offending player being temporarily sent out for 20 seconds.
Can players intentionally splash water in the face of opponents or engage in unsportsmanlike behavior?
No, players are not allowed to deliberately splash water in the face of opponents or engage in unsportsmanlike conduct. Such actions may result in penalties.
What happens if a player commits a major foul (exclusion foul) in water polo?
A major foul, also known as an exclusion foul, leads to the offending player being temporarily sent out of the game for 20 seconds. During this time, their team plays with one player less, creating a power play for the opponent.
Can players interfere with the ball when it is outside the playing area or use any objects to alter its trajectory?
No, players cannot interfere with the ball when it is outside the playing area, and they cannot use any objects or devices to alter the ball’s trajectory or buoyancy. Doing so is a violation.
What is the minimum distance between the goalposts in water polo?
The distance between the goalposts in water polo is 3 meters.
Are players allowed to push off or use excessive force against defenders to create space?
No, offensive players cannot push off or use excessive force against defenders to create space. Offensive fouls result in a turnover, and the opposing team gains possession.
What is the role of the goalkeeper in water polo?
The goalkeeper’s primary role is to defend the goal and prevent the opposing team from scoring. They are the only players allowed to use both hands to save shots.
How long is the halftime break in a water polo game?
The halftime break in a water polo game typically lasts around 5 minutes.
What happens if a team does not take a shot within the shot clock time?
If a team fails to take a shot within the shot clock’s designated time (usually 30 seconds), it results in a turnover, and the opposing team gains possession.
Can players intentionally stall or waste time during the game?
No, intentional stalling or time-wasting is not allowed in water polo. Teams must play actively and attempt to advance the ball and score.
How deep is the pool in water polo?
The official depth of a water polo pool is typically around 7 feet or more to accommodate the players’ movements.
Are there specific markings on a water polo pool, and what do they indicate?
Yes, water polo pools have markings, such as the center line, 2-meter line, and 5-meter line, which indicate various areas used during gameplay.
What happens if a player commits a foul during a water polo game?
When a player commits a foul, the game is momentarily stopped, and the fouled team is awarded a free throw or possession of the ball from the spot of the foul, depending on the type of foul.
Can players switch positions during a water polo game?
Yes, players can switch positions during the game. Substitutions can be made during stoppages in play and are usually unlimited.
What is the role of the wings and drivers (attackers) in water polo?
The wings and drivers (attackers) are responsible for creating scoring opportunities, driving toward the goal, and receiving passes to attempt shots.
What is the role of the center forward in water polo?
The center forward is a key offensive player who positions themselves close to the opponent’s goal, using their strength and positioning to score goals or draw exclusions.
How are ties resolved in water polo games?
In most water polo competitions, if the score is tied at the end of regular play, overtime periods are played to determine the winner. Overtime periods are usually shorter, such as 3 minutes each.
Can players touch the ball with two hands at any time during a water polo game?
No, players can only use one hand to pass, catch, and shoot the ball. The exception is the goalkeeper, who can use both hands to defend the goal.
Are there any specific rules regarding offensive players entering the 2-meter area (2-meter line)?
Yes, offensive players cannot enter the 2-meter area unless the ball is there first. They must time their entry carefully to avoid being called for an offensive foul.
Can players deliberately impede an opponent who is not holding the ball?
No, players are not allowed to impede or hold an opponent who does not have the ball. This is considered a foul and results in a free throw or possession for the fouled team.
What happens if a player receives three personal fouls during a water polo game?
Receiving three personal fouls leads to the player being ejected from the game and replaced by a substitute.
What is the purpose of the 5-meter line in water polo?
The 5-meter line is used for penalty throws. When a major foul occurs inside this area, the fouled team is awarded a penalty throw, allowing a player to take a direct shot on goal from 5 meters away.