The Game


The Game

  • The playing area is 30 X 20 m (25 X 17 m for women) with a minimum of 2 m (6 1/2 feet) of depth. The goals are 3 m across and 0.9 m tall.
  • The “pitch” has markers for 2m and 5m areas from each goal-line.
  • Penalties are taken from 5m and corners from 2m (at the edge of the pool).
  • Each team is allowed 13 players, with 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. Players may only handle the ball with one hand, except for the goalkeeper.
  • There are four periods in a game. Each period is eight minutes in length. There is a two minute interval between periods. Each time the whistle blows, time is stopped. So, each game consists of 32 minutes of playing time.
  • Each team has two time-outs that can be used at any time during the game. The team must be in possession of the ball to call a timeout.
  • In a game that requires a definite winner, if there is a tie, two three-minute periods of overtime are played. If the score is still tied, one sudden-death overtime period is played.
  • Up to 6 substitutions can be made per team, 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 exit 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.


  • Minor Foul – The whistle is blown once and play stops. If the player who is fouled has the ball, they get a free throw. If the player who is fouled is a defender, they are awarded the ball and get a free throw. The referee will point to the player who has the free throw with one arm and the direction of the team with the other.
  • Major Foul – The whistle is blown twice. Play stops, and the player who commits the foul gets ejected for 20 seconds. This usually happens to a defensive player. The referee will point to the player who commits the foul (and blow the whistle), and point to the ejection area (and blow the whistle again).
  • Brutality – A brutality is called when a player kicks or strikes (or attempts to kick or strike) an opponent or official with malicious intent. The player who is charged with a brutality is excluded from the rest of the game.

Water Skills

  • Water polo is a fast moving game that demands good all round swimming ability. All the players must go for long periods without touching the bottom of the pool, this requires good leg strength with an “egg-beater” kick being used for treading water.
  • Swimming with the ball involves the player swimming front crawl with his head well out of the water and the ball being kept under control at his chest with a high elbow swimming action.
  • Catching and passing the ball must be with one hand only, with the exception of the goal keeper who can use both hands.
  • The ball must not be taken under the water by any player if it interferes with play.
  • Shooting skills come in many variations including:
    • the straight shot
    • the “bounce” shot
    • the lobbed shot
    • the back shot
    • the “one-on-one” shot
  • The center forward position is the most demanding and players in this position require good upper body strength as well as good leg strength.
  • The goal keeper needs to have the “best” leg strength as he is constantly treading water, moving across the goal to cover shots and needs to get high out of the water to make a save.
  • Blocking is a defensive skill, widely used, where a player will try to block a shot with his up-held arm, it requires good timing and a good “let kick”. Blocking a shot with two hands results in a penalty being awarded.