Water Polo Rules [ Equipment, Scoring, Faults, Skills ] Players Guide 2022

Last Updated on January 18, 2022 by admin

Playing Water Polo is both; challenging and thrilling. You needed complete mastery of water polo rules. Because, you have to enter in the tough playing area that is filled with water and large in size as soccer, having a goalpost at its each end.

We have brought for you an all inclusive a thorough water polo players guide that discusses water polo rules such as; how to play water polo step by step, team composition, match duration, players position, Major fouls & Penalties, Skills, tips & Technique to play water polo for beginners as well as advanced players.

Water polo is a tough game. Its playing regulations do not allow the players to heave a sigh of relief by touching the bottom of the pool. How challenging this game may be, it is immensely popular among its players and fans all across the world.

Water Polo Sport | Water Polo Rules, Equipment, Skills, Scoring, Faults &  Players Guide How to Play Water Polo

Water Polo is a team-cum-water sport. This game combines the components of Basketball (for the use of hands to shoot the ball into goal posts), Soccer (for the identical scoring pattern and court) and Hockey (also for the scoring pattern and the court). Water Polo Rules, How to Play Water Polo

The sport of Water Polo, as its name suggests, is played in a pool of water that resembles a soccer or hockey court, having 2 goal posts at each end of the pool.

This game, due to its unusual watery playing area, is arguably one of the most physical and demanding sports of the world.

It demands fantastic physical fitness and a fair amount of stamina to keep on swimming and treading water as long as the game continues. In addition, this game gives thrill to the players, and offers pleasing view to its spectators.

To win the match, teams have to score as many goals as possible during the four designated quarters. To score goals, players have to shot the balls to opponents’ goal post with one hand.

The men’s Water Polo game first appeared at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. After an absence at the 1904 Olympics, this game has appeared in every Olympics ever since. Whereas, the women’s Water Polo became a medal sport at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney Australia.

This game is governed by an international body namely; FINA (Fédération International de Natation/International Swimming Federation), based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Equipment Needed

You need small number of equipment for playing Water Polo. The equipment includes:

1. Ball: An inflated airtight nylon ball with different sizes for men and women.

2. Colored Swimming Caps: The caps with plastic cups to protect a player’s ears from water. Remember, the players from each team have to wear caps of one color. Two teams with two different colors of caps.

3. Swimsuits/Uniform: The players of one team have to wear swimsuits of one color. Conversely, the other team should wear other color than its opponent for the identification of players.

Note: Players should prefer tight swimsuits to make it harder for their opponents to grab them.

4. Googles: As players have to be in the pool and face splashes all around; googles guard their eyes against water.

Rules of Water Polo Game; Scoring System, Skills, Fouls & Penalties

This game has slightly different rules from those of Soccer and Hockey. Though Water Polo is difficult to play in the pool, its rules are rather simple to comprehend. There are a number of rules in place to help enforce fair play of the game. Let’s learn them together.

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1. Pool Dimension & Setup

The pool of Water Polo is 20 meters in width and 30 meters in length for the men’s game, and with same width but 25 meters long for the women.

There are two goal posts at each end. Each goal post is 3 meters wide and 0.9 meters high. The pool is about 2 meters deep, more than the height of players, to prevent players from touching the bottom. There are two lines in front of each goal post. The first line, red in color, is at 2 meters from the goal post, and the other line, yellow in color, is at a distance of 5 meters.

The goalie can operate in these areas but the attackers have to maintain some respect for these lines. The players of opposing team cannot enter the 2-metre line without the ball. The only time an offensive player (an opponent) can enter the 2-metre line is if he or she has the ball in possession.

Whereas, if a defensive player (player of the goalie’s team) commits a foul inside the 5-metre line which prevents a probable goal, the defensive player is charged with a personal foul, and the opposing team is awarded a penalty shot.

Then there is a center line that divides the court into two equal halves. Thus, each team rules over one half of the court. The center line accommodates the ball in the beginning of each quarter. As soon as the referee singles to start the match, players from both the teams swim hurriedly towards the center line to possess the ball.

2. Team Composition

In a Water Polo match, each team has 13 players in total. Whereas, only 7 players have to participate in the match, and the remaining 6 players have to sit out of the pool as substitute players.

Out of 7 playing players, 1 acts as a goalkeeper to guard the goal post, and other 6 players play as attackers to score goals for the team. On the other hand, among substitute players, 1 has to be the goalkeeper and 5 players have to be attackers.

3. Position of Players

The position of players is of vital significance. The players of a team have to make a unique formation to assist one another in passing, throwing and shooting the ball to the opponents’ goal post. A team with haphazard formation is destined to lose the match.  The ideal formation goes like:

a). The Goal Keeper

A goal keeper is like a shield against shooting of opponents. He has to guard the goal post. He is the key hurdle for opponents since he blocks the ball at the mouth of the goal post. A goalie must not leave his position to come out of the 2-metre line or 5-metre line. The ideal place for his is inside the 2-metre line.

b). Offensive Positions

There are 6 offensive positions. When three players approach the opponents’ court, they make a triad combination just near the 2-metre red line.

The one that comes directly in front of the opponents’ court is called “center”. The other two players swimming near the opponents’ goal post, go to the two respective sides (right and left) of the court are called “wings”. The center and the wings are near the goal post of their opponents; this makes it easy for them to shoot the ball to goal post to score a goal.

The other three players or attackers should swim between the 5-metre yellow line and center line to assist their center and wings, and also to prevent the opponents from attacking back.

Among these three attackers, the one who swims in the middle, away from the rest 5 teammates, is known as “ point”, while the remaining two who swim on each side of the pool near the 5-metre line, are called “flats”.

c). Defensive Positions

Stronger the defense, better the team. In Water Polo, defense is equally rewarding as offense. Here, the 6 players other than the goalkeeper guard the goal post against opponents.

The position of players is usually near the goal post. The first three players swim near the 2-metre red line, the other three players or defenders swim near the 5-metre line to take the ball back to opponents’ goal post. The first three defenders assist the goal keeper and prevent the opponents from scoring goals, while the rest three defenders aim at taking the ball back to opponents’ goal post and score a goal.

4). Duration of the Match

Water Polo is played in four eight-minute quarters. So, the total duration of the match is 32 minutes, excluding the time-outs. Each team can avail itself of 1 minute time-out after each quarter.

As per rule, each team, after taking the ball in possession, have to shoot it to the goal post in as long as 30 seconds. If the players of a team take more time and do not shoot the ball in given time, it becomes a foul and the ball goes to the opponents. This rule of specific time helps in preventing a team from having a ball in their possession for a long period.

1). Game clocks or timers

There are two clocks, like basketball, which show different timings like stopwatch.

a). Quarter clock/timer

It shows the time left in the completion of a quarter. A quarter lasts for 8 minutes.

b). Shooting clock/timer

It indicates the time left in shooting a ball to the opponents goal post. As a rule, each team, in possession of the ball, has only 30 seconds to shoot the ball to opponents’ goalpost. If a team fails to shoot the ball in given time, the ball goes to the other team as a penalty. As soon as the ball is shifted from one team to the other, the timer is reset from 0. It means this timer is directly proportional to the possession of the ball and its release.

5. Starting the Match

To start the game, an inflated airtight nylon ball is placed in the middle of the center line. The players from both the teams have to take their respective sides and wait for the whistle of referee.

As soon as the referee signals, the players from each team have to rush towards the ball to take hold of it. After holding the ball, players of any team can either pass the ball among teammates or shoot it to the goal post to score a goal. That’s how a Water Polo starts.

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6. Scoring System in Water Polo

To score a goal;

  • players from one team must make the ball cross and enter their opponents’ goal post.
  • This is done by shooting the ball with one hand towards opponents’ goal post.
  • There is no winning target in Water Polo.
  • You can score as much goals as you can, in a given period of time.
  • The team with more goals at the end, wins the match.

7. Water Polo Rules for Goalkeeper (Goalie)

Goalkeeper is allowed to do certain things which other players cannot. A goalie is permitted to do following things:

  • He is permitted to hold the in his both hands. He can do it to prevent the ball from entering the goalpost.
  • He is allowed to use his both hands while being inside the 5 meters line of his own side of the pool.
  • He is allowed to shoot the ball from his own goalpost to the his opponents’ goalpost to assist his teammates in their offense.

8. Rules for Substitution

In Water Polo game, almost 6-7 players, from each team, wait outside of the pool as substitutes. They enter into the pool in following manner:

  • They can enter in the pool when a goal is scored.
  • They can enter in the pool during time-outs.
  • Their entry is subjected to injury, sickness or tiredness of their teammates.
  • Even a goalkeeper has one substitute waiting outside. He can also take goalie’s position.

9. Fouls and Penalties

Players in Water Polo have to be cautious while playing the game. They are not allowed to play as they like to. If they play at their own discretion, they might commit fouls, which will result in penalties.

To avoid any mishap which may cause any damage to your team, each player has to respect and obey the laws of the game during the match.

Let’s check those mistakes/fouls and potential penalties.

You come across two kinds of fouls while playing Water Polo: an ordinary (minor) fouls and personal (major) fouls. The minor fouls are the most common and make up to 80-90% of the fouls committed during the match.

Whereas, the major fouls make up the remaining 10-20% of the fouls. Let’s discuss both the types of fouls and their penalties separately:

a). Minor Fouls in Water Polo

  • When a player, other than goalie, holds the ball with his both hands.
  • When a player, after taking possession of the ball, plunges or puts the ball in water to hid it from the opponents.
  • When a player hinders the way of his opponent, who is not holding the ball.
  • When a player grabs, puts or takes his opponent in the water.
  • When a player pushes or thrusts his opponent.
  • When a player stalls/fails to shoot the ball to opponents’ goal post within 30 seconds.
  • When a player splashes water on his opponents.

Penalties for Minor Fouls

In case of minor penalties, the referee takes following steps:

  • He does not stop the play, but only the clocks of shooting and quarter pause for the time being.
  • He awards the free throw to the opposing team (offended team).
  • The team being awarded free throw, has to throw the ball in as much as 3 seconds. Failing to do so, the ball goes back to the other team.
  • In most of the cases, minor fouls result in the turnover. It means the ball is awarded to the offended team.

Note: The minor fouls do not cause expulsion of the offenders.

b). Major Fouls in Water Polo

  • When an offensive player enters the 5-metre line without having the ball in his possession.
  • When a player punches, kicks or hits his opponent in a brutal manner.
  • When a player intentionally splashes water right in the eyes or face of his opponent.
  • When a player comes in between the free throw. It means when a player interferes with a free throw.
  • When a player disrespects or misbehaves with the referee or objects his decision.
  • When a player deliberately drowns, pulls or holds an opponent (without having the ball) in aggression.
  • When a player uses and abusive and unethical language or continues to show violent behavior during the match.
  • When an out or excluded player tries to interfere in the match.
  • When a substitute player enters the pool either untimely or without prior permission of the referee.

Penalties for Major Fouls

  • Major fouls may result in exclusions or kick outs.
  • The referee can exclude the offender for 20 seconds. He will not be the part of the game for 20 seconds.
  • If a player commits major foul thrice, the referee can send him out of the game of his exit.
  • In case the offender is found to have committed an act of brutality, he is expelled from the match straightway and his substitute is allowed to enter the pool after 4 minutes.

10. Skills, Tips, Techniques & Strategies

A player has to learn a great deal of things before ever trying to play the game. It is not just shooting the ball and scoring goals, rather it entails a host of other things. Let’s check out the prerequisites of the Water Polo.

1. Swimming Skills

It is supposedly the first and foremost skill that each potential Water Polo player should have. This game is played in 2 meter deep pool which is always more than your height.

Additionally, you have to tread water from your half to the opponents’ half, with an excellent speed, to pass the ball to your teammates, and throw or shoot it to the opponents’ goalpost to score goals. Therefore, it is imperative to acquire swimming skill before any other thing.

2. Improving Legs’ Strength

The most important parts of your body that help you in treading water are not other than your legs. What your hands do on the surface of water, your legs do the same inside of the water.

Your legs keep on moving inside the water to keep you afloat and save you from drowning. They also help you in moving from one side of the pool to the other. Therefore, the care of your legs is pivotal. You can strengthen your legs in number of ways such as; running, cycling and exercising in the pool.

3. Improving hand’s Strength

What legs do in soccer, hands do in Water Polo. Hands are very important in Water Polo. Firstly, they help you in swimming. Secondly, they are responsible for scoring goals. A player has to score a goal by shooting the ball to his opponents’ goal post with his one hand.

If a player has strong arm, he can shoot the ball like a bullet, and, thus, can easily beat the goalie and defenders at once, and ultimately score a hard-earned goal. To improve the strength of your hands, you should practice shooting rocks or other heavy metal either being inside of the pool or even outside of it.

4. Physical fitness & health

The other thing that comes in line of importance is your fitness and health. A player with poor health or fitness can never be a valuable asset for his team. Therefore, it is very important to maintain your health with healthy diet and exercise in the pool as well as gym.

5. Superb Stamina

A player with matchless stamina holds the most important place in his team. His superb stamina keeps him energetic and agile even playing for a long period of time and performing equally well throughout the whole course of the match.

Additionally, he is quite fast at shooting the ball to the goalpost which is a much needed for scoring goals. To improve stamina, it is necessary for a player to go jogging, work out at gym and practice swimming.

6. Shooting Skills

Shooting is the only technique that earns you goals. Shooting skills depend on arms’ strength, creating a gap so as to shoot the ball, finding an ideal position for shooting and relying on teammates. A good shooter is like a diamond for his team since he has the ability to score goals for his team.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long is a Water Polo game?

A Water Polo game has 4 quarters, each quarter lasting for 8 minutes. So, all four quarters make the game last for 32 minutes.

2. Is Water Polo an Olympic sport?

Yes, Water Polo is one of the oldest team sports of Olympics. It first appeared in 1900 Olympics.

3. When did Water Polo become an Olympic sport?

It was 1900 Olympics, when Water Polo was added into it.

4. What is FINA?

It is an international governing body of the water sports like Water Polo. Its full form is Fédération Internationale de Natation.

5. Where is FINA located?

It is located in Lausanne. It is in Switzerland.

6. Why do Water Polo players wear caps?

They wear caps, having plastic cups at their sides, to protect their ears from water.

7. What is the depth of Water Polo pools?

They are almost 1.8 to 2 meter deep. Its depth is usually more than the heights of players so that the players cannot touch the bottom of the pools.

8. How many points a team should score to win the match?

There is not such limit or winning target in Water Polo. A team can score as many goals as it can within a period of 32 minutes, that consists of 4 four 8-minute quarters.

9. What is a turnover in Water Polo?

A turnover is simply the changing of position and shifting of the ball from one team to the other. A turnover, in Water Polo, takes place when a team commits certain fouls.

10. What is the color of 2-metre line?

The 2-metre line has red color. This color indicates danger area.

11. What is the color of 5-metre line?

The 5-metre line is of yellow color.

12. Which line is used for penalty and fouled shots?

Penalty and fouled shoos are taken from the 5-metre yellow line.

13. Where a goalie can operate?

A goalkeeper has to be inside the 5-metre line, all the time, to guard his goalpost.

14. Which position is the most difficult in Water Polo?

It’s goalkeeper’s position that is seemingly the most difficult. Additionally, the 30-second shooting rule has made it even worse for the goalie; he is always at the hit list of his opponents.

15. Can I hold ball with both hands?

As a rule, only the goalie has that privilege. No other player than goalkeeper can catch, throw or hold the ball with both the hands. He should use his one dominant hand to catch, throw and hold the ball.

16. Is Water Polo a dangerous game?

Yes, at times it can be dangerous. Since this game is played in water, it (water) can harm your eyes, ears and nose if preventive accessories are used. It can also be harmful when there occurs any fight between players of opposing teams and that can lead serous injuries.

17. Can I touch the bottom of the pool?

No, you can touch the bottom of the pool; you have to continuously tread water.

18. Which sport is the most difficult among soccer, basketball, hockey and Water Polo?

Every sport has a certain degree of difficulty in it. However, when we compare above-mentioned games, it is Water Polo that is way more difficult than the rest. What makes it the most difficult is nothing other than it playing area; water and pool.


Water Polo is a globally famous game not only for its being an Olympic sport, but also for its being highly challenging and tiring. It is basically a water sport that is played in a 2 meter deep rectangular pool, with 7 players, including a goalie, in each side.

The pool has 2 goalposts, one goalpost on each end of the pool. The players, from each side, try to attack their opponents’ goalpost by possessing the ball and shooting it into their goalpost that results in one goal for the team. This game follows certain rules that somehow seem identical to basketball, soccer and hockey. However, the game of Water Polo maintains its uniqueness to a greater extent.

Now, we must bid adieu with the hope that this detailed guide will help you in learning and enjoying the game of Water Polo.

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