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Water Polo Basic’s


The Polo Basic’s listed below for the most part unchanged. However the rules of water polo as set up by the national organizations are undergoing changes. Please click here to go to the USAWaterpolo website that details these changes or you can try downloading the PDF files directly.

Polo Basic’s

The Polo Basic’s section is designated to help those learning about the game to gain vocabulary, knowledge of rules, basic understanding of strategy and play. As this page develops you will see more choices. For right now we are including a copy of “Understanding Water Polo” for those just getting into the sport. We hope it will help.

Understanding Water Polo

Water polo is a game of strength, quickness and endurance. Ball handling skills and exceptional swimming ability are especially important with the mobile, fast paced style of game played.

The Game

  • The playing area is 30 x 20 meters (25 x 17 meters for women), with a minimum of 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) of depth.
  • Each team is allowed seven (a goalkeeper and six field players) participating at any one time. Players tread water the entire game and cannot touch the bottom or sides of the pool, and except for the goalkeeper, may handle the ball with only one hand.
  • The game is played in four periods, each period being seven minutes (unless a tournament format) in length with two-minute intervals between periods Each time the whistle blows time is stopped. So, each game consists of 28 minutes of playing time. Each team has timeouts that it can call if in possession of the ball.
  • Substitutions may be made after a goal is scored, between periods, during timeouts, for an ejected player or during running time. For running time substitutions, players swim to their re-entry area and exiting the playing field. The substitute can enter as soon as the head of the exiting player breaks the surface of the water in the re-entry area.
  • Physical contact is common, as players maneuver for position. The referee indicates fouls by blowing a whistle and using hand signals to point out the direction of the attack and where the ball is to be put in play. Unlike most sports that stop on a whistle, action in water polo is initiated by the whistle.
  • A goal 1 (point) is scored when the ball is thrown or pushed completely past the face of the goal.

Time Clocks

As in basketball, two clocks are used to time a water polo game. One indicates the time remaining in the quarter. The other, called the shot clock or thirty-five second clock, indicates how much time remains for the offensive team to shoot the ball (the team is allowed 35 seconds to shoot the ball).


Each period is started with the teams lined up on opposite goal lines. On a signal (whistle) from the referee, the teams sprint toward center pool for the ball. The team gaining possession of the ball advances it toward its offensive end of the pool by swimming, dribbling or passing the ball.


There are three types of fouls in water polo: ordinary fouls, exclusion fouls and penalty.
Common ordinary fouls include: impeding an opponent who is not holding the ball; pushing off an opponent; touching the ball with two hands; taking the ball underwater when “tackled” (being touched by defender); and stalling. When the referee calls an ordinary foul, the offended team is awarded a free throw. The free throw is to be taken at the point of the foul or the location of the ball if the ball is behind the line of the foul. A free throw must be taken within three seconds by releasing or passing the ball. A player may shoot the ball directly on goal if the foul occurred outside 7 meters.

Common exclusion fouls include

  • holding, sinking or pulling back an opponent who is not holding the ball
  • an ordinary foul committed by the defense during dead time (after a foul occurs but before the offended player has put the ball into play)
  • kicking or striking
  • interfering with a free throw
  • deliberate splashing in the face

Exclusion fouls result in a player being excluded for 20 seconds. The excluded player (or substitute) may not return until the 20 second exclusion time expires, a goal is scored or a change of possession takes place, whichever occurs first.

Penalty fouls are committed within the four-meter area where a goal would have resulted. An attacking player fouled while in control of the ball and facing the goal inside the four-meter line is usually awarded the penalty throw. Any player in the game (excluding the goalkeeper) from the offending team can take the penalty throw. The shot is taken from the four-meter line, with only the goalie defending. The award of a penalty throw most commonly occurs in the following situation within the four-meter area when:

  • any player, including the goalkeeper, pulling down or pushing away the goal;
  • any player, except the goalkeeper, playing the ball with both hands or a clenched fist;
  • the goalkeeper or a defensive player taking the ball underwater when tackled inside the four-meter area and near the goal;
  • when an attacking player facing the goal who is in control of, but not holding, the ball is fouled by holding, sinking or pulling back.

Both exclusion and penalty fouls are personal fouls. They are recorded by the game secretary. A player with three personal fouls is removed from the game, with substitution.

One special class of exclusion fouls is major fouls. Players who are assessed major fouls are immediately removed from the game, with substitution. Major fouls include:

  • misconduct or disrespect to the referee;
  • any foul language
  • violent play

Deliberately kicking or striking with intent to injure (brutality) results in ejection of the offending player for the remainder of the game, without substitution.


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