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

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 every end.

We have brought for you an all-inclusive 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 & Techniques 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 in 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 a thrill to the players and offers a 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 shoot the balls to the opponent’s 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 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 a 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 another 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. Goggles: 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 for Water Polo is 20 meters in width and 30 meters in length for the men’s game, and with the 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 the opposing team cannot enter the 2-meter line without the ball.

The only time an offensive player (an opponent) can enter the 2-meter 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-meter 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 at the beginning of each quarter. As soon as the referee singles to start the match, players from both 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 six 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 the 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 opponent’s goal post.

A team with haphazard formation is destined to lose the match.  The ideal formation goes like this:

a. The Goal Keeper

A goalkeeper is like a shield against the 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-meter line or 5-meter line. The ideal place for him is inside the 2-meter 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-meter red line.

The one that comes directly in front of the opponent’s court is called the “center”.

The other two players swimming near the opponents’ goal post go to the two respective sides (right and left) of the court and 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 the goal post to score a goal.

The other three players or attackers should swim between the 5-meter 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-meter line are called “flats.”

c. Defensive Positions

Stronger the defense, the better the team. In Water Polo, defense is equally rewarding as an offense. Here, six 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-meter red line, and the other three players or defenders swim near the 5-meter line to take the ball back to the opponent’s goal post.

The first three defenders assist the goalkeeper and prevent the opponents from scoring goals, while the rest three defenders aim at taking the ball back to the opponent’s 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 a 1-minute time-out after each quarter.

As per rule, each team, after taking the ball in possession, has 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 a given time, it becomes 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.

Game clocks or timers

There are two clocks, like basketball, which show different timings like a 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 opponent’s goal post. As a rule, each team in possession of the ball has only 30 seconds to shoot the ball to the opponents’ goalpost.

If a team fails to shoot the ball in a 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 teams have to take their respective sides and wait for the whistle of the 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 the opponent’s goal post.
  • There is no winning target in Water Polo.
  • You can score as many 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)

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

  • He is permitted to hold the in both hands. He can do it to prevent the ball from entering the goalpost.
  • He is allowed to use both his 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 his opponents’ goalpost to assist his teammates in their offense.

8. Rules for Substitution

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

  • They can enter the pool when a goal is scored.
  • They can enter 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 the 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: ordinary (minor) fouls and personal (major) fouls.

The minor fouls are the most common and makeup 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 the goalie holds the ball with both his hands.
  • When a player, after taking possession of the ball, plunges or puts the ball in water to hide 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 the opponent’s 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 the 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 is awarded a free throw and 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 cases, minor fouls result in a 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-meter 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 to 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 part of the game for 20 seconds.

If a player commits a 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 lot 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 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 a 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 excellent speed, 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 skills 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 the 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 a number of ways, such as; running, cycling, and exercising in the pool.

3. Improving hand Strength

What legs do in soccer, hands do in Water Polo. Hands are very important in Water Polo. Firstly, they help you with swimming. Secondly, they are responsible for scoring goals.

A player has to score a goal by shooting the ball to his opponent’s goal post with one hand.

If a player has a 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 metals either inside of the pool or even outside of it.

4. Physical fitness & health

The other thing that comes in the line of importance is your fitness and health. A player with poor health or fitness can never be a valuable asset to his team.

Therefore, it is very important to maintain your health with a healthy diet and exercise in the pool as well as a 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 much needed for scoring goals.

To improve stamina, it is necessary for a player to go jogging, work out at the 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 four 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 the Olympics. It first appeared in the 1900 Olympics.

3. When did Water Polo become an Olympic sport?

It was the 1900 Olympics when Water Polo was added to 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 meters deep. Its depth is usually more than the heights of players, so the players cannot touch the bottom of the pools.

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

There is no such limit or winning target in Water Polo. A team can score as many goals as it can within a period of 32 minutes, which consists of 4 four 8-minute quarters.

9. What is the 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 the 2-meter line?

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

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

The 5-meter line is of yellow color.

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

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

13. Where can a goalie operate?

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

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

It’s the 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 on the hit list of his opponents.

15. Can I hold the ball with both hands?

As a rule, only the goalie has that privilege. No other player than the goalkeeper can catch, throw or hold the ball with both 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 the 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 serious 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 the above-mentioned games, it is Water Polo that is way more difficult than the rest.


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 seven players, including a goalie, on each side.

The pool has two 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, which 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 enjoy the game of Water Polo.