OF WATER POLO
sport of water polo started in England over 100 years ago
as "water soccer". Players rode on barrels decorated with
a colorful horse head on one end and a fancy tail on the
other. Paddles were used both as mallets for hitting the
ball and as an aid to stabilize the horses. In the 1860's
the game was played with three players on each side, with
goals being scored by placing rubber balls on rafts which
were 60 yards apart. By 1876 teams consisted of seven players,
the game was controlled by a referee and two goals judges
and two halves of seven minutes were played. In 1908, water
polo became the first team sport in the Olympic Games. In
2000, we will be joining the Olympic realm with the first
ever Women's teams taking part in the Sydney 2000 Olympics,
including Team Canada.
water polo is a game offering a combination of the ultimate
in individual skill and endurance and the demands of disciplined
teamwork. Water polo can be played in a pool, lake or river.
The game is played with two teams, each with seven players
in the water at a time. The object is to score goals by
players swimming, catching, passing and shooting the ball.
Except for the goalie, players are not allowed to touch
the ball with two hands.
is water polo?
Water polo was the first team sport ever played at the Olympic
Games. It is traditionally played in all deep water, however,
can be played in any type of pool or open water basin. Field
players can only use one hand, while the goaltender can
use both. For community water polo, there is no physical
contact and the rules of the game are different than adult
water polo. Referees walk up and down the side of the pool
blowing the whistle and instructing the community water
polo children the rules of the game. Each team has a coach
that stands on the side of the pool giving instructions
and positive feedback to their participants.
How many players are allowed in the water at one time?
There are two (2) teams in the water at a time, with each
team playing with six (6) field players and a goalie. One
team wears a light coloured bathing cap or protective water
polo cap, while the other team wears a dark coloured cap
so that both teams can be identified.
How are points awarded?
A goal (points) is awarded once the entire ball has crossed
the goal line between the posts and the crossbar.
How long is each quarter?
An international water polo game lasts 4 quarters of minutes
stop time. There is a 2 minute break between the 1st and
2nd quarter, a 5 minute half-time break, and a 2 minute
break between the 3rd and 4th period. If at the end of the
4 quarters the score is tied, there will be a 2 minute break
followed by 2 quarters of 3 minutes stop time of overtime.
There will be a 2 minute break between the 1st and 2nd overtime
period. If the score still remains tied at the end of overtime,
the game will be determined by a shootout.
What do the clocks represent on the side of the pool?
There are 2 types of clocks around the pool. The 1st clock
is the “game clock” which posts a countdown
of the time remaining in each quarter; the goals scored
for each team, and may even post other important information
such as penalties against each team and number of timeouts
remaining. The 2nd is the “possession clock”
better known as the “shot clock”. Each team
has 30 seconds to direct a shot towards the opposing team’s
goal. If the attacking team does not direct a shot within
the 30 second time frame, the buzzer will sound and the
ball will be given to the opposing team. If a shot is directed
towards the goal, and the attacking team regains possession
of their rebound, they will be awarded with a new 30 second
What is a minor foul?
A minor foul is awarded to the player in possession with
ball if the opposing player does not permit him from moving
forward or playing the ball. The referee awards the player
in possession of the ball a minor foul by blowing his/her
whistle once. The minor foul gives the attacking player
a “free” pass, meaning the player in possession
of the ball cannot be attacked while passing the ball to
a teammate. If a minor foul occurs outside of the 5-meter
area (yellow marker) the player in possession of the ball
may direct a shot towards the net without hesitation or
fear of being attacked by the defender.
What is considered a penalty?
A penalty is called a “major foul” and occurs
when an athlete commits a more physical minor foul, or prevents
a player from attacking the net. The player does not have
to have possession of the ball to draw a major foul against
the defending player. A player awarded a major foul must
swim to the corner where the team’s bench is located
and sit in the penalty area for a period of 20 seconds.
The player may only re-enter the game once a goal is scored
against, or the 20 seconds has elapsed.
What is considered a penalty shot?
A penalty shot is awarded when a major foul occurs in the
5-meter area when an attacking player is in a scoring position.
The attacking team will select a player to take a shot without
hesitation from the 5-meter line. No other player is allowed
in the 5-meter area during the penalty shot, while the goaltender
must remain on his/her goal line until the referee blows
What does the term “dunking” mean?
The term “dunking” occurs when the entire ball
is placed under the water. The referee will only blow the
whistle when the player in possession of the ball “dunks”
the ball under the water when a defending player surrounds
him/her. The ball will be given to the defending team if
the attacking player commits a “dunking” minor
What do the white, yellow, and red markers along the
The white markers along both sides of the pool represent
the goal line at each end of the pool, and the center line.
The red marker represents the 2-meter line, while the yellow
marker represents the 5-meter line. An attacking player
cannot enter the 2-meter area without possession of the
ball. If a player is inside the red line (2-meter area)
and receives a pass, the referee will blow their whistle
as the player is offside. The ball will be turned over to
the defending team. Attacking players earning a minor foul
outside the yellow line (5-meter area), can direct a shot
towards the goal without hesitation or fear of being attacked
by a defending player.
What is considered out of bounds?
When the ball leaves the field of play: the side of the
pool and the ends of the pool outside of the goal posts
and over the crossover.
Can a player touch the ball with two hands?
Only the goaltender may touch the ball with 2 hands inside
the 5-meter area. The goaltender cannot cross the half court
Water polo is a contact sport. What physical moves are
not permitted to occur?
When a player is not in possession of the ball, it is not
permitted to excessively hold, dunk, or prevent the attacking
player from swimming. A player in a scoring position with
possession of the ball may not be dunked, pulled back, or
held. All of the above will result in a major foul or penalty
How many fouls is a player allowed before ejected from
Every player is allowed 3 personal fouls made up of major
fouls (20 seconds) or penalty fouls (penalty shots).
What are the different positions?
Everyone in the water plays offense and defense with the
exception of the goaltender. However, the goaltender is
extremely important in the transition (counter) offense.
The main positions are the centre forward (hole player),
2M guard (hole check), goaltender, and driver. The centre
forward is the most important offensive position. The centre
forward is the center of any team’s offense and is
position on the 2-meter line in the offensive zone. The
drivers surround the centre forward in a horseshoe (umbrella)
formation attempting to pass the ball to the centre forward
or direct a shot towards the goal. The 2M guard (hole check)
is responsible for defending the centre forward.
How is the first possession of the ball decided in each
At the beginning of each quarter all 7 athletes lineup along
their goal line with the ball placed in the middle of pool
being held by a buoy. The referee blows the whistle and
the 2 opposing players in the middle of the pool swim for
the ball. This is called a “swim ball”. If the
pool facility does not have a buoy at the middle of the
pool, the referee will drop the ball near the side wall
at the half-court line.
What do the referee whistles represent?
When the referee blows a single whistle he/she is awarding
a minor foul, calling a goal, signaling the start if the
swim ball, signaling the start of the penalty shot, or signaling
the restart of play after a goal.
When the referee blows a double whistle he/she is signaling
a turnover foul (contra-foul). This is when the attacking
team commits a minor foul to gain a scoring advantage, and
the ball is then given to the defending team. A double whistle
followed by the referee showing all 5 fingers in the air
signals a penalty foul and that a penalty shot is being
When the referee blows multiple whistles he/she is signaling
a major foul. The referee will point at the player being
excluded for 20 seconds and direct them to their penalty
area while blowing their whistle. A referee may blow multiple
whistles to get the attention of the athletes in the water
if they haven’t heard the original whistle signal.
How do I join water polo?
Contact your local community centre, or community pool.
You can also contact the provincial water polo branch at