For parents, fans, and anyone new to the game.
1 – So how does it work?
Water Polo combines skills from many sports including swimming, soccer, basketball, and wrestling. It is a sport which requires speed and endurance, finesse and power, individual ability and team strategy.
There are 6 field players and a goalie on each team. Field players swim up and down the pool, playing both offense and defense, trying to put the ball past the goalie into a goal which is 1-meter high and 3-meters wide.
Field players may use only one hand to pass and shoot the ball. The goalie is allowed to use both hands to defend the goal. Players are not allowed to touch the bottom or sides of the pool. A regulation playing area is 30 meters by 20 meters and at least 8 feet deep, but many pools are smaller than this. Our locations are roughly 25 yards long and 6 lanes wide. Some venues have pools which are shallow at one end. In such pools, the shallow-end goal is larger and the goalie is allowed to stand on the bottom. Field players are not supposed to touch the bottom of the pool and the ball at the same time, or use the bottom to gain advantage.
2 – What’s with all the whistles?
Referees walk along the sides of the pool to watch the game. There are numerous ordinary fouls called throughout the game. The ref will blow the whistle often pointing to the spot of the foul with one arm, while showing the direction of play with the other. Unlike many sports, where play stops on the referee’s whistle, players will keep swimming or wrestling for position at this time. The player who was fouled is awarded a free pass. The defender must give them roughly an arm’s length of space to make their free pass. If the person earning the foul is outside of the 5-meter line, he or she may shoot if they do so immediately.
3 – They can’t do that! a.k.a. What happened to my child?!
Water polo involves a lot of contact. You may often see something that not only looks like a foul… it looks like a bad one! If the offensive player is holding the ball, the defender is allowed much more contact. In the picture to the left, a defensive player is pushing the offensive person under water. You can make out a white cap at the surface of the water between the defender and the ball. You can also see the offensive player’s hand still on the ball. Strong offensive players will often absorb this kind of contact while working for a shot. This happens frequently right in front of the goal in a position known as the hole or center position. If the offensive player can not get off the shot, they will often release the ball, with the defender draped around them, to then earn a free pass or an exclusion.
4 – Why is that player leaving?
A player may be excluded for an overly aggressive foul or for fouling an offensive player who has advantage (between the defender and the goal). The offending player must swim off to the corner by their team bench, and the offensive team has a power play similar to hockey. The player is out for 20 seconds or until a goal is scored or until the defensive team regains possession.
5 – And this is fun, right?
Athletes who try this game soon start to love it. We keep hearing two reasons: 1) the challenge and combination of skills required for the game, and 2) the camaraderie of this team in particular. We, as coaches, often talk about how well these team members get along and how welcoming they are to new players.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask any coach. Meanwhile, check out the links and documents tab for more information about the rules and strategy of water polo.