How To Watch The Game Of Water Polo

Water Polo can be a confusing game for spectators. The whistle is constantly blowing and the play never stops, even when someone is ejected for a penalty. In addition, there are several misconceptions about the game, but the following information should help to make the picture much clearer.

General Information

1. Each team has six field players and a goalie.
2. Field players can only use one hand to touch the ball, goalies can use two.
3. The game consists of four, seven-minute quarters.
4. The object of the game is to score goals. Players may move the ball by swimming or passing.
5. Each goal is worth one point.

How To Play


Each quarter 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 ball is placed in a “pull start”, a ring that holds the ball, or placed in the midway point of the pool by the referee if a “pull start” is not available. The pull start is lowered once the sprinters approach. 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 two types of fouls in water polo. Ordinary fouls account for approximately 80% of the whistles during the game and personal faults (or major fouls). Major fouls include exclusion and penalty fouls. When an infraction of the rules occurs, the referee will point toward the offense end of the team receiving possession of the ball and blow his whistle. The ball is put back into play with an action called a free throw.

Ordinary fouls include:

  • Touching the ball with two hands
  • Taking the ball under water when tackled
  • Impeding an opponent who is not holding the ball
  • Pushing off of an opponent; and, stalling (failing to shoot or advance the ball within 35 seconds).

When the referee calls an ordinary foul, the offended team is awarded a free throw at the point of the foul. The offended team must put the ball in play without delay by releasing, swimming or passing the ball.

Exclusion fouls include:

  • Kicking or striking
  • Deliberate splashing in the face
  • An ordinary foul committed by the defense during dead time
  • Interfering with a free throw
  • Misconduct or disrespect to the referee
  • Holding, sinking or pullin back an opponent not holding the ball.

Exclusion fouls may result in a player being excluded for 20 seconds. The excluded player (or his substitute) may not return until the 20 second exclusion time expires, a goal is scored or a change of possession takes place, which ever period is shortest. A player receiving three major fouls is removed from the game with substitution. Deliberate kicking or striking with intent to harm an opponent (brutality) results in ejection of the offending player for the remainder of the game, without substitution.

Time Clocks

As in basketball, two clocks are used to time a water polo game. One indicates the time remaining in the quarter, and 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).

Positions In Water Polo


Drivers are field players who specialize in swimming past defenders towards the goal or “driving” and quick shooting techniques. Drivers must be extremely fast swimmers and have above average hand-eye coordination. They also focus considerable attention to defensive play.


The goalkeeper, or goalie, is the only player permitted to take the ball in both hands or punch it, so long as they are within their own 4-meter line. They patrol the 3-meter long goal area and are called upon to make “saves” to prevent an opponent from scoring. They are not allowed to go beyond the half-distance line but are allowed to shoot at the opponent’s goal, as long as they do so from their own half of the pool.

Center Forward (Two-meter man or hole set)

The center forward is the offensive player who takes position directly in front of the opponent’s goal, between the 2-meter and 5-meter lines. The best hole players have above average size, great leg strength, excellent passing abilities and are skilled in specialized goal scoring. They are similar to centers in basketball, in that, in a sense,they “post up,” looking for a pass that enables them to get a close-in shot at the goal. The center forwards are always closely guarded.

Center Defense (two-meter defender)

The two-meter defender¹s primary job is to guard the two-meter man or hole set in front of the goal. This player usually guards the biggest player on the other team, and the position requires agility to constantly “front” the hole man to avoid a pass. At the same time, the two-meter defender must be careful not to foul the hole man within three seconds of a foul committed on the perimeter of the pool, or face a 20 second exclusion. The play at the two meter position is usually the most physical in the pool and 90% of the positioning happens under water as both the hole set and two meter defender grab and pull their way to maintain position.

Utility Player

More teams are training utility players who play all positions in the pool. Like a halfback in soccer, the utility players are usually the strongest shooters on the team, and will switch with other positions when he or she sees an opportunity to score. Utility players are most effective when they drive in and play hole set and quickly score against a defender who is inexperienced in that position.