Basic Water Polo Rules Explained: A Beginner's Guide | water tracking (2023)

Water polo is a popular sport all over the world with universal rules. However, if you are just a casual observer of water polo, your knowledge of the game is probably limited. Surely you know that this sport is practiced in a swimming pool,but what are the basic rules of water polo?

Water polo is all about scoring more goals than the opposing team. Each team can have up to six players and one goalkeeper in play at the same time. Players can pass and swim to position themselves and score on the opposing goal. The matches last between 45 and 60 minutes and are divided into four quarters.

In the following article, we will examine all the basic rules of water polo, including team structure, player positioning, foul procedures, and required equipment. Read to the end to learn more about how the specific variations of water polo work.

Basic Water Polo Rules Explained: A Beginner's Guide | water tracking (1)

The object of water polo

As mentioned, the objective of water polo is to score more goals than the opponent by throwing the ball into the opposing team's net. Water polo teams approach this task in two ways:

  1. Attack offensively and score as many goals as you can.
  2. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense to prevent the other team from scoring.

How water polo teams are structured

The default number of players allowed in the game limits at one time is seven. This number includes a goalkeeper and six outfield players who work to play the ball and shoot into the net at both ends.

A team is usually made up of 13 players. Teams can substitute in-game reserves in the following situations:

  • for a period
  • during the break between quarters
  • after a goal is scored
  • after a player is injured

How to distinguish one team from another

The water polo uniform is very different from other sports in that there is no fixed shirt. Instead, athletes play in streamlined swimsuits to prevent opponents from snagging or pulling on their clothing. Players also wear lightweight hats for protection, but they also serve another purpose:team differentiation.

The colors of the caps determine which team a player is on, with one team's color being light and the other being dark. The color of a team's cap must contrast with the color of the other team, the color of the goalkeeper's cap, and the color of the ball.

In addition to team protection and distinction, the caps also carry the player's number for identification, which is particularly useful for referees in the event of foul play.

This is how scoring works in water polo

Each shot that successfully hits the net is worth one point, regardless of how far it hits.

Offensive players should pay close attention to the shot clock, as a goal only counts if it is scored before the shot clock reaches zero and goes through the goal bars. Teams have a maximum of 30 seconds to shoot for possession.

The presence of the shot clock encourages a fast-paced style of play. Because of this, it is common for games to end with a score greater than 20 points for both teams.

Points needed to win

There is no specific number of points that a team needs to win the game. A team can win the game by just one point if the opposing team never scored. Also, you don't have to be a certain number of points ahead of your opponent either. At the end of regulation time, a one goal lead is enough to win the game.

What happens if you miss a shot?

The ball must enter the opponent's net from inside and below the goal posts for the goal to count. If a shot does not successfully enter the net, the current score does not change. However, there are a few different scenarios that could result.

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If the shot returns to the field, there is a fight for possession of the ball. If the attacking team recovers the ball, the team has an additional twenty seconds to shoot on goal. If the defensive team regains possession, the timer is reset and the game goes to the other side of the pool.

If a free kick bounces out of bounds, the defending team takes possession of the ball and takes a goal kick.

Rules for the movement of players.

Field players, that is, all players except the goalkeeper, can only step on the water during the game. It is forbidden to touch the pool floor or hold on to the side.

Players can swim up and down the length of the pool as possession changes from one team to another. In attack, players try to maneuver into open areas where they have the best scoring opportunities. In defense, players position themselves between their opponents and the goal they are defending to eliminate potential scoring opportunities.

Rules of possession and movement of the ball.

Basic Water Polo Rules Explained: A Beginner's Guide | water tracking (2)

Only the goalkeeper can touch the ball with both hands. All other players can only catch, pass, and shoot with one hand.

To move with the ball, the player in possession of the ball must push the ball in front of him with one hand and swim forward. Players are prohibited from keeping the ball underwater, whether standing or moving.

However, pushing the ball forward is not the primary means by which players move the ball. Offensive players move the ball by passing it primarily between teammates.

The player with the ball can pass backwards, forwards and to the sides without restriction as long as they have the ball with one hand. Minimal passing restrictions allow attackers to quickly exploit any defensive weaknesses and spot scoring opportunities.

Offensive players may not come within two meters of the goal without the ball. If they cross this imaginary 2 meter line and interrupt play, possession will be voided. Conversely, players in possession can venture beyond this 2 meter line to improve their scoring chances.

Another important imaginary level in water polo is the so-called 5-meter line. As its name suggests, this imaginary plane is located 5 meters from the door. Any offensive player fouled beyond the 5-yard line may throw the ball to try and score, as long as he does so quickly and with a fluid maneuver.

How the players are positioned in water polo

While hockey, basketball, and soccer all have fixed player positions, water polo players change positions as needed depending on offensive or defensive play.

In an offensive game, the positions include a "point" located behind the 5-yard line, a "center forward" who leads the game, and two "wings" who flank the approach.

In a defensive game, only the "Hole D" position is needed. The objective of this player is to defend the goalkeeper and take the ball from the attacking team. All other players without assigned positions are called support players who move when necessary.

Water polo equipment rules

The necessary equipment for water polo is minimal. Technically, the entire game could be played with a ball and a body of water, much like in the early days of water polo. There were no formal networks in these earlier games. Instead, players would score by placing the ball on the edge of the pool in the opponent's court.

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Newer games call for numbered and colored caps, streamlined bathing suits, standardized ball sizes, specific net dimensions, and pools of specific depth, width, and length.

How the dimensions of the pool are regulated for water polo

Pool size varies by gender and level of competition. FINA approved pool sizes are as follows(Those):

GenderPool length x widthpelvic depth
Men30 x 20 meters
(or 98.45 x 65.62 pixels)
1,83 metros
(or 6 pies)
Women25 x 20 meters
(from 82.02 x 65.62 pes)
1,83 metros
(or 6 pies)

How water polo nets are regulated

The dimensions of the beams and beams depend on the depth of the water in the pool, according to the FINA rules (source). The dimensions of the posts and the crossbar can vary as follows:

pool water depthDistance between the goal postsDistance between batten and water
>1,50 Metros
(o 4.92 pies)
3 underground
(o 9.84 pies)
0,9 metros
(or 2.95 pies)
<1,50 Metros
(o 4.92 pies)
3 underground
(o 9.84 pies)
2,4 metros
(or 7.87 pies)

In addition to the dimensions indicated, both the crossbar and the goal posts must be totally rigid and painted white.

The net does not have to be fully stretched. Instead, the netting should hang a bit loose, similar to a soccer net. This allows the net to sink on contact with the ball instead of bringing the ball back into play like a springboard.

The area inside the net must be at least 0.3 meters (0.98 ft) deep to comply with water polo guidelines.

How are water polo balls regulated?

Basic Water Polo Rules Explained: A Beginner's Guide | water tracking (3)

The standard water polo ball weighs between 400 and 450 grams (14.11 to 15.87 ounces), although the male and female sizes are slightly different, as shown in the table below:

Genderball sizeball diameter
Mentala 570cm(or 27.56 inches)
Womentala 466cm(or 25.98 inches)

By default, the men's and women's water polo balls are light yellow. Both are also equipped with strategic lines for added grip.

How fouls work in water polo

There are four fouls in water polo, the two most common being minor fouls and major fouls. The other two offenses are the misconduct offense and the egregious misconduct offense, also known as the brutality offense.(Those). But first, let's dive into the details of what referees call these fouls.

little mistake

Minor fouls, or common fouls as they are often called, are very common in water polo. They are so common that most leagues have removed all minor foul restrictions, meaning there are no player removal penalties for repeat fouls.

Some of the ways to commit a common foul are:(Those):

  • delay an offer (usually more than three seconds)
  • hold the ball with both hands (does not apply to goalkeeper)
  • keep the ball underwater
  • take a wrong penalty
  • shot clock flow

The most common minor foul in water polo is when a player restricts the movement of an opponent who does not have possession but is close to the ball.

Another common foul that is often cited is when a player reaches an opponent to clear the ball. A minor foul would also apply in a similar scenario when a player pushes another opponent out of the way to clear the way for the kick.

In the case of a joint foul, possession of the ball is awarded to the offending team. The offended team has three seconds to resume play. Otherwise, they lose ownership.

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The clock does not stop with these types of fouls. If you've ever had the privilege of watching a water polo match, the high frequency of common fouls is the real reason why the referees always seem to blow their whistles during the game.

big mistake

Serious fouls are increased penalties that can result in disqualification from the game. For a serious foul, the player who committed the offense will receive a 20-second penalty. Any player who gets three of these is banned from the game for the rest of the game.

A major foul is most commonly cited for "holding" another player. These include grabbing an opponent with both hands, sitting on their laps or back to "lower" them into the water, or physically restricting another player's movement in general. The referee has discretion as to what constitutes a common foul or a serious foul.

Other ways to commit a felony include:

  • Blocking a pass or shot with both hands while within 20 feet of the offensive player
  • Interrupting or blocking a free kick
  • punch or kick an opponent
  • not leaving the field of play immediately after a penalty
  • intentionally splashing in an opponent's face
  • Re-enter the game before the referee's signal.
  • Sitting by the pool (or steps for that matter)

Any foul committed within the 5 meter line may warrant a penalty kick. In these circumstances, the offensive player must have a reasonable opportunity to score had the foul not occurred. The offensive player only gets a single pitch, not multiple pitches.

lack of inappropriate behavior

A misconduct offense applies to generally disruptive and disrespectful behavior, such as swearing, spitting, violence, or any other unacceptable behavior.

A misconduct foul will result in a red card, which means the player who committed the misconduct will be disqualified from both the current game and the next game. The penalized team can substitute the player after 20 seconds of play.

lack of brutality

Brutality fouls are misconduct fouls in which a player is hit with the intent to injure him. This action must successfully hit the player with the clear and intentional intent to hurt the player.

Lack of brutality of this nature will result in a red card banning the player for the remainder of the current game and the next game. Also, your teammates will have to play with one less player in the next four minutes.

To further discourage this type of behavior, the opposing team will also receive a penalty kick in addition to the penalties above.

What physical contact is allowed in water polo?

Body contact is common in water polo. Of course, the refs do everything they can to discourage him.

Setting the shot clock to 30 seconds also helps reduce excessive physical contact. When players know they will be in possession again soon, they don't have to be as aggressive when trying to generate turnovers through physical play. Instead, they can concentrate on the more technical aspects of the game.

For example, talented defenders often focus on proper positioning to block passes and shots rather than getting the ball away from the opposition.

Therefore, violent physical contact in water polo is limited, but physical contact occurs regularly. Because athletes prevent each other from shooting or passing, contact is likely to occur at some point.

This is how water polo matches are formatted

Water polo matches are divided into four distinct periods, with each period consisting of eight minutes of actual play.

(Video) How to Fill Out the NCAA Water Polo Score Sheet

In theory, a game should only last 32 minutes. The only problem is that there are multiple time stops during gameplay, making real-time games much longer than 32 minutes. For example, referees will award timeouts when a foul is committed or the ball goes out of play.

We mentioned this earlier in this article, but due to these numerous time breaks, you should expect games to last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.

How does water polo overtime work?

If there is a tie at the end of regulation time, it will proceed to extra time. However, instead of continuing with normal gameplay, a special type of game called a gunfight takes place.

The water polo coaches select five players and one goalkeeper from each team to participate in the penalty shootout. Players who receive three personal fouls or a red card are not eligible.

Players from each team take turns shooting from the 5-meter line at the opposing goalkeeper. The team with the most points after everyone has shot wins. If the teams are tied, they continue to rotate penalties until one team misses.

Shootouts are among the most memorable moments in water polo. If you want to see those emotions first hand, check out the following clip from the 2020 European Water Polo Championships Gold Medal Final in Budapest:

Variations of the Water Polo Rules

In addition to the formal version of water polo, there are several variations of water polo rules around the world.(Those). Some of these variations are more experimental than others, but may gain popularity in the future.

Inner chamber for water polo

Tube water polo is very similar to regular water polo, except that the players sit inside the tubes.(Those). All players except the goalie must float in their tubes. Goalies must have at least part of their body in the inner tube, but they don't necessarily have to swim over it.

If a player falls off the hose or is knocked down, they cannot participate in the game until they get back on the hose. In this version of the game, players can hold the ball with both hands. They can also place the ball in their lap or hold it between their knees as they move around the pool.

Polo Flippa

This version of the game is aimed at younger players to minimize the elements of fatigue and violence.

The game is played in a shallower pool, allowing players to remain on their feet throughout the game instead of treading water. In this variant of the game, which originated in Australia, the player can also catch the ball with both hands. At the moment of the pass, the players must still perform the maneuver with one hand.

surf scene

Like flippa polo, surf polo follows the same rules as regular water polo. The main difference is that this version of the game is played on surfboards. Most players remain seated at their backboards, but players can also stand up to lift the ball above the other players' heads.

water polo on the beach

Another common version of water polo is played in the sea or other natural bodies of water. Again, the rules are pretty similar, but the networks are a bit rudimentary.

Instead of nets with rigid posts and a crossbar, these "goals" are scored with two flags that players must shoot between.

(Video) Find & Understand the Junior Olympic Water Polo Schedule Tracker & Results for 2022 (CA & TX)

final thoughts

Water polo can seem overwhelming at first, but it's relatively easy to master once you learn the basics.

So don't be intimidated by the rules of the sport! Instead go there and try this water sport. You may find that this is just the type of physical activity you've been looking for.

Fuentes:1 2 3 4 5


What is the most important rule in water polo? ›

General rules of water polo

The ball can only be handled by one hand at a time in water polo – with the exception of the goalkeeper, who can use both hands. There is no real offside rule, except within 2m of the opponent's goal line. Water polo teams have 30 seconds from gaining possession in which to shoot.

Do water polo players have to tread water the whole time? ›

Water Polo is Fun

Players are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool and have to tread water the whole time. Water polo players use a leg movement called 'egg-beater' to stay afloat throughout a game.

What is the 30 second rule in water polo? ›

A team may not have possession of the ball for longer than 30 seconds without shooting for the goal unless an opponent commits an ejection foul. After 30 seconds, possession passes to the other team, and the shot-clock is reset.

What is basic water polo offense? ›

The most basic play within a set offense is for a perimeter player to pass the ball to the set who then immediately shoots the ball. This shot may be a backhand, a sweep shot, or a normal shot if they are able to get away from their defender. Passes in a set offense to the hole set should always be wet.

What are the 3 most important water polo skills? ›

It requires three basic fundamental skills: swimming, treading (egg-beater) and passing (ball skills). Six field players swim, tread, pass and shoot in an attempt to score into a goal defended by a goalie.

What is the hardest position in water polo? ›

Often thought of as the toughest position, the goalkeeper in water polo is the last line of defense and undoubtedly a crucial role within any team.

What should you not do in water polo? ›

The most common major exclusion foul is holding, sinking, or pulling back a player who is not holding the ball. Other (less common) exclusion fouls are whistled for interference with a free throw or for kicking or striking.

Can water polo players touch the bottom of the pool? ›

They are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool and must tread water the entire time – although players use a movement called the egg-beater which is more efficient than the normal action of treading water. Players can move the ball by throwing it to a teammate or swimming while pushing the ball in front of them.

What is the 5 meter rule in water polo? ›

Penalty Shot (5Meter). The ref calls a 5M when a defensive player egregiously fouls the offensive player from behind when she is in a position to shoot and score. Usually called when the offensive player is directly in front of the cage and would have scored had the defender not committed the foul.

Can water polo goalies touch the bottom of the pool? ›

The only player who can touch the ground if there is a shallow end is the goalie. In this rare case, the goal is raised to eliminate the advantage the goalie has by jumping off the bottom of the pool.

How do water polo players not get tired? ›

Performing short burst sprinting with designed rest periods will teach players to swim faster for longer periods of time and will also save them from fatigue and overtraining.

Can you skip the ball in water polo? ›

A water polo ball has to be traveling at a velocity of 27 miles per hour to be skipped off the surface of the water. Any slower and it will simply land on the surface and stop. This is called "burying the ball." It may take some to develop the strength to throw at this speed, but most players get it eventually.

Can you hold the ball for longer than 5 seconds in water polo? ›

Under FINA rules, a water polo match is divided into four quarters of eight minutes. However, because the clock is stopped when the ball is not in play, the average quarter lasts around 12 minutes. Each team is only allowed to hold onto the ball for a maximum of 30 seconds before shooting for the goal.

Can you score 2 points in water polo? ›

How many points are goals worth in water polo? In water polo, a goal is worth one point. Unlike in other sports where different types of shots might have different point values, each goal in water polo is always worth one point, even if it is a free penalty shot.

How many seconds do you have to take a shot in water polo? ›

Each team has 30-seconds to shoot the ball. If they do not shoot and regain possession or score a goal in those 30 seconds, it is a shot clock violation and the ball is turned over to the other team. In water polo, there are major fouls that result in ejections and minor fouls which result in free passes.

What are the 6 offensive positions in water polo? ›

There are several offensive positions in a game of water polo. The positions are: one Center, two Wings, two Drivers, and one Point. Each player has a specific location in the playing area, and the most commonly used formation is that of a triangle.

What happens if you touch the ground in water polo? ›

If a player fails to keep themselves afloat during gameplay and does touch the bottom of the pool, it counts as a minor foul, according to USA Water Polo.

What is the 2 meter rule in water polo? ›

The 2-meter rule (waterpolo's offside rule) will apply exclusively for players inside the goal area: a player positioned within the 2-meter zone, but outside the goal area (in a lateral position, then), is allowed to receive a pass by a teammate. ADVANTAGE AND PENALTIES.

What makes a great water polo player? ›

In addition, players need considerable strength to hit, block, and push other players during game play (27,32). For these reasons, the basic characteristics of the elite water polo player includes high levels of strength, swimming speed and lean body mass, and specific technical and tactical capabilities (1,17,23).

What are the three types of fouls in water polo? ›

There are two types of fouls in water polo. Ordinary fouls account for approximately 90 percent of the whistles during the game, and personal faults (or major fouls). Major fouls include exclusion and penalty fouls.

What are the most important muscles in water polo? ›

Muscles used in Water Polo

The gluteals, quads, hamstrings and the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) provide most of the lift needed to drive the player through the water after the ball. The calf muscles join at the ankle, adding stability to the movement of the feet through the water.

What body type is best for water polo? ›

Student-athletes will find that the vast majority of college water polo players are 6'0”and taller, with a wingspan that is larger than their height. This particular body type gives athletes a variety of advantages that allow them to block shots, steal the ball, shoot and swim.

What sport is harder water polo or football? ›

Football players are tough. Swimmers are in amazing shape. Basketball players are among the most athletic.

How high can water polo players jump? ›

Players' maximal handgrip strength was 54.97±5.26 kgf, they reached 146.41±6.96 cm (130.0–161.0 cm) in their absolute vertical jump and obtained 102.6±5.8% (91.2- 110.9%) in the relative jump.

What does the whistle mean in water polo? ›

One whistle means the team who has the One whistle means the team who has the ball now gets a free pass. NO DEFENSE on this free pass! • Two whistles means the defense now gets the ball (turnover) gets the ball (turnover).

What is the weak side in water polo? ›

Weak: The side of the pool opposite the ball. During the game, players often yell 'weak' to indicate that a player is open on the other side of the pool. Wet pass: A pass in which the ball lands in the water. A wet pass is used to 'set' the hole-set.

Why do water polo refs wear white? ›

To help distinguish themselves from other people (players, coaches, photographers, spectators, etc.) standing on the edge of the pool, water polo referees dress in white from head to toe. Ideally, each water polo game has two referees, one for each side of the pool.

What are the 4 positions in polo? ›

Each player has certain responsibilities:
  • Number One is the most offensive position on the field.
  • Number Two is the most difficult position on the field to play. The number 2 has an important offensive role and a defensive role.
  • Number Three is the tactical leader. ...
  • Number Four is the most defensive player.

What is the ball called in polo? ›

Ball. The wooden ball is what polo players hit down the field using their mallets. The goal is for them to get the ball into the two end goal posts.

What is a goal in polo called? ›

Scoring is simple in Polo, and a point (known as a goal) is scored when the ball is hit into the goal. Unlike many other games that change halves at set periods such as halftime, in Polo, teams change field direction every time a goal is scored.

Can you grab in water polo? ›

Although technically illegal, many water polo players hold, grab, pull, or even occasionally hit the opposing team underwater in order to gain an advantage. Especially at advanced levels of play, this hidden game of aggressive grappling and wrestling goes on constantly below the surface.

Can the goalie touch in water polo? ›

Rules. Inside the 6 m (20 ft) area, the goalkeeper is the only person on the team permitted to touch the ball with two hands, touch the bottom of the pool and punch the ball with a clenched fist. The goalkeeper may advance beyond the half-way line, they may attempt shots at the other goal.

Why do water polo players wear caps? ›

Caps. The water polo cap comes with protective coverings that go over a player's ear and protects them from injury in the event that there is contact to the head. The caps also have a player's number printed on them.

What is the 6m rule in waterpolo? ›

d) a defending player puts the ball under. Inside the 6m area, when a player is swimming with and/or holding the ball and is impeded from behind, during an attempt to shoot, a penalty must be awarded (unless only the ball or hand is touched by the defender).

What does a yellow card mean in water polo? ›

If in the referee's judgment either the player in the water and/or the coach are intentionally delaying the game, the referee has several options: (1) a verbal warning may be given to the coach; (2) a yellow card may be given to the player in the water or to the head coach; (3) if the problem persists a MAM may be ...

How many times can you get ejected in water polo? ›

Each player can only have three ejections before they are removed completely from the game. Much like soccer, players score by putting the ball into the goal. Players have to constantly swim and tread water throughout the duration of the game, keeping their heads above water in order to watch the game progress.

How do you throw harder in water polo? ›

Get as high out of the water as possible when you shoot. Doing so will increase the power behind your shot, and decrease your defender's ability to block it. Accuracy is even more crucial when you're aiming for the goal, so use your wrist and follow-through to direct the ball.

Why is water polo so hard? ›

But what makes water polo so difficult is the amount of endurance, speed, and strength required to sprint down a 25 to 30 (women vs men) meter pool, guard and wrestle your opponent without touching the bottom, and not having true stoppage time besides 3 timeouts.

Is water polo harder than soccer? ›

Degree of Difficulty: Sport Rankings
Skiing: Alpine5.136.13
Water Polo7.886.38
33 more rows

How fast can you throw a water polo ball? ›

Throwing velocity is critical to the success of a water polo shot; it gives goalkeepers and defenders less time to block. Olympic-level shot velocities exceed 60km per hour for women and 90km per hour for men. To achieve these high speeds, elite players are incredibly good at getting their body above the water.

What is not allowed in water polo? ›

Holding the ball underwater so that the opponent cannot play it. Touching the ball with two hands (does not apply to goalkeeper inside of the 5-meter line) Walking on or pushing off the bottom of the pool (does not apply to the goalkeeper inside of the 5-meter line) Tipping the ball out of the field of play.

Can you touch each other in water polo? ›

As said before, water polo is a full-contact sport. This means that players are nearly always in contact with one another. In order to defend an offensive player, the defender keeps at least one hand on their player at all times. Players jostle each other the water in order to get control of the ball.

How do you score in water polo? ›

A goal is equal to one point and is scored when the ball is pushed or thrown completely between the goalposts and under the crossbar. Fouls are made up of ordinary fouls and major fouls. Players are only allowed three major fouls, any more and they are excluded out of the game.


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