Water Polo Basic Rules

Water Polo player setting to through ball towards defender.
Water Polo player setting to through ball towards defender. Credit: Photo by Patrick Case: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-playing-water-polo-3800510/

Introduction to the Rules of Water Polo

Water Polo is a team sport that combines the physicality of swimming with the tactical strategy of soccer. It is a demanding game that requires a deep understanding of the rules and regulations. The basic rules of water polo have been in place since the early 1900s and have been fine-tuned over the years to ensure fair and competitive gameplay. The rules of water polo are designed to protect players and to provide a level playing field for all involved.

Water polo is a fast-paced and thrilling game that can be enjoyed by players of all ages and skill levels. Knowing the rules and regulations of water polo is essential for both players and referees. This guide will provide an overview of the basic rules of water polo, including the objective of the game, the number of players, the field of play, and the equipment used.


Objective of the Game

The aim of the game is simple: to score more goals than the opposing team. Each team attempts to throw and catch the ball with their hands and move the ball towards their opponents’ goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the game is declared the winner.

The game is divided into four quarters, each lasting eight minutes with a three-minute break in between. At the end of the game, if the score is tied, the teams will play an extra period of time known as a “sudden death” until a winner is declared.

Number of Players

A typical water polo team consists of seven players: six field players and one goalkeeper. Each team can also have up to three substitutes, who can be substituted in at any time during the game. The goalkeeper is the only player who can touch the ball with both hands and must remain in the goal area.

Players are not allowed to leave the water during the game and must remain in their designated area. Any player who does leave the water must be substituted out and can only be substituted back in after the referee has given their approval.

Field of Play

The field of play is a standard Olympic-sized swimming pool, divided into two halves by a mid-line. The goal-lines are located at each end of the pool and are marked by a line of buoys. The goal area is located in front of the goal-lines and is marked by a semi-circle of buoys.

The pool is divided into four sections, each of which is designated for a different position; the center forward, left forward, right forward, and goalkeeper. Players must stay in their designated area of the pool at all times, and cannot move into another section of the pool without permission from the referee.


The equipment used in water polo consists of a ball, a goal, and the players’ swimsuits. The ball is a special water polo ball that is designed to be maneuvered in the water and is slightly smaller than a soccer ball. The goal is a metal cage that is attached to the side of the pool and is designed to keep the ball in the game.

Players must wear a swimsuit that meets the regulations of the governing body. The swimsuits must be made of a material that will not hinder the player’s movement in the water and must not have any pockets or zippers. In addition, players must also wear a swim cap and protective goggles during the game.



Water polo has a set of regulations that govern how the sport can be played. Fouls are one of the most important to understand. Fouls are penalties for breaking the rules, and are divided into major and minor fouls. Major fouls include deliberate striking, pushing from behind, holding, and sinking another player. Minor fouls include splashing water in an opponent’s face, impeding the progress of an opponent, and making bodily contact. When a player commits a foul, a free throw is awarded to the other team, and the player who committed the foul is removed from the field for 20 seconds. In addition, if a player accumulates three major fouls, they will be removed from the game and must sit out for the remainder of the match.


Substitutions are an important part of water polo, as they allow teams to make strategic changes to their lineup. A team is allowed to make unlimited substitutions, however they are limited to only three per quarter. Each team is also allowed to make two “coaching substitutions” which can be used to substitute an unlimited number of players at one time. The players that are substituted must remain in the water for at least five seconds before they can be replaced by another player.


If the score is tied at the end of regulation time, the game will be decided by a sudden death overtime period. During sudden death overtime, the first team to score a goal will win the game. If neither team scores in the overtime period, the game will be decided by a shootout. During a shootout, each team will have five attempts to score a goal. The team with the most goals after the five attempts will win the game.


Scoring Goals

Goals are the primary way to score points in water polo, and are worth one point each. A goal occurs when a player throws the ball into the opposing team’s goal, and the ball must completely cross the goal line to count. If the ball does not completely cross the goal line, it will not count as a goal.

Penalty Shots

If a major foul is committed in the five meter area around the goal, a penalty shot will be awarded to the other team. During a penalty shot, the player taking the shot will have five seconds to attempt to score a goal. If the player is successful, the goal will count as two points. If the player fails to score, the other team will be awarded a free throw.

Water Polo player setting to through ball towards defender.
Water Polo player setting to through ball towards defender. Credit: Photo by Patrick Case: https://www.pexels.com/photo/men-playing-with-a-ball-in-swimming-pool-3639466/



An effective offensive strategy is essential for a successful water polo team. The most important part of an offensive strategy is ball movement. Teams need to move the ball quickly around the field in order to create open shots and exploit weaknesses in the opposing team’s defense. In addition, teams should look to create space for their players by using pick plays and screens, which will make it easier for them to move the ball and create scoring opportunities.


Defensive strategies are just as important as offensive strategies in water polo. The most important part of a defensive strategy is to stay organized and communicate with teammates. A team should have a system in place to ensure that players are always covering the correct area and that any potential scoring opportunities are being shut down. In addition, teams should look to pressure the ball handler and force them into making mistakes. By doing so, they will be able to limit the opposing team’s scoring opportunities.


Water Polo is an exciting and challenging sport that requires both physical and mental strength from its players. The rules of the game are designed to keep players safe while providing a level playing field. Understanding the rules of Water Polo is essential for players to be successful and to enjoy the game. The main rules cover the playing field, equipment, scoring, fouls, and the start and end of the game.

Players must be aware of their environment and obey the rules of the game. They must use the appropriate equipment, such as a ball, paddle, swimsuit, and goggles, and must stay within the boundaries of the playing area. Fouls and misconduct are called by the referees and can result in penalties, such as the awarding of points to the opposing team. Players must be aware of the start and end of each period, and the timeouts called by the referees.

Water Polo requires its players to be in excellent physical condition, as well as being able to think strategically. Players must be able to swim, throw, and catch the ball, as well as defend against the opposing team. The basic rules of the game are designed to ensure that the game is fair. By understanding the rules of Water Polo, players can enjoy the sport and reach their potential as athletes.