Rules of Water Polo | How it is Played?

Water Polo is one of those water sports that are safe, inexpensive, and guarantee fun and entertainment. It is a competitive team sport which includes no complexities, and that’s why it is easier to play. The excitement of Water Polo is thought to have originated in Scotland in the late 19th century as a sort of “Water Rugby”.

By no means it is an easy-to-play game because it requires a superior fitness level as you’d constantly swim and splash around the water in order to gain possession of the ball. It features fast and furious action, for this reason it is not only fun to play but equally entertaining to watch.

Rules of Water Polo

Up till now, it has gained significant popularity in various parts of Europe, Brazil, China, Canada and the United States.

Object of Playing Water Polo

As said earlier, it doesn’t involve any complexities or typical calculations. The object of the game is to simply score as many goals as you can, and in the end of the game, the team with the most number of goals will be declared as the winner.

How to Play?

Water Polo is a water sport which consists of two teams having their own ends divided by a middle line. Both teams try to take possession of the ball and send it into the opposition’s goal post which is guarded by a goalkeeper. The interesting thing is players cannot run with the ball in the pool.

There are two types of fouls in Water Polo, major fouls and small fouls. To make sure you understand the whole game and what are the punishments of different types of fouls, it is recommended to give the next section of the article a thorough read.

General Rules of the Game

  • Each team has 13 players in total. Out of 13, only 7 players play in the pool at a time.
  • Players can use only one hand to hold the ball.
  • Only the goalie (goalkeeper) is allowed to touch the ball with both hands, that too only within the 5m of their own goal.
  • The match starts off with the ball kept in the middle of the pool and both teams stand in their goals. Once the referee blows the whistle, both teams charge towards the ball and any team can take possession of the ball from there.
  • The team that gets the possession of the ball has to shoot the ball at the goal within the next 30 seconds (regardless of the fact the ball successfully goes into the goal or not). Failing to do so would result in the opposition team given possession of the ball.
  • You can’t run in the pool with the ball in your hand.
  • You either have to pass it to your teammate from the same position where you have caught it or you can swim and push the ball in front of you by using water.
  • Players are not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool.
  • The goal is scored by pushing or throwing the ball completely between the goal post and crossbar.
  • There are two types of fouls in the game: Ordinary fouls and Major fouls.
  • If a player commits more than 3 major fouls, he is excluded from the game for the remaining match.
  • In case of tie, penalty shootout occurs to decide the winner of the match.

Time Duration of a Game

The game is played in four 8-minute periods, and players get a 2-minute break after each period. This makes the total duration of a game equal to 40 minutes.

Playing Field

The pools in which Water Polo is played must be 30 meters long and 3 meters wide. Moreover, the pool should be 1.8 meters deep.

The goalposts are 3 meter wide and 0.9 meter under water.

Here are two important markings marked a few meters ahead of both goals:

2-Meter line: This line is marked 2-meter ahead of both the goal posts at each end. If an attacking player is at this line or ahead of this line, he cannot receive a pass from his team mate.

5-Meter line: This line basically marks the goalkeeping area and it is used for taking penalties by the opposite team.

Playing Equipment

In a game of Water Polo, you need following equipment to play and ensure protection of players:

Ball: The ball used in Water Polo is constructed of waterproof material to allow it to easily float on the water. The ball comes in two different sizes: (68-71 cm in circumference), intended for men use, and a size 4 (65-67 cm in circumference), intended for women. The weight remains between 14-16 ounces.

Caps: These caps are used for head protection of players in the pool. Moreover, these caps make them identifiable from afar. These caps are also fitted with ear protectors for ear protection in the pool.

Mouthguard: A mouthguard is not mandatory but it is recommended because it doesn’t bother players while swimming and mouth injuries, when severe, can easily rule you out of the game or even tournament.

Ordinary Fouls

In Water Polo, ordinary fouls are small infringements which cost you possession of the ball. Here are some of the ordinary fouls that occur in a Water Polo game:

  • Grabbing the ball with two hands.
  • Taking the ball under water when you are tackled by your opponent.
  • Impeding an opponent who is not in possession of the ball.
  • Failing to shoot the ball or advance at the goalpost within 30 seconds.

Major Fouls

Likewise, there are major fouls which occur in severe offenses. For example,

  • Kicking or striking a player.
  • Deliberate splashing on the face.
  • Misconduct or disrespecting a referee.
  • Using foul language for an opponent.
  • Persistent foul play.

These are the major fouls and they result in exclusion from the pool for 20 seconds. Moreover, if a player commits 3 major fouls in a game, he is disqualified permanently from the match.


Referee’s job is to maintain order and discipline in the game. Referee’s decision is accepted as a final decision and consistently argumenting with a referee or disrespecting him can also result in exclusion from the game.

Famous Water Polo Tournaments

There are numerous water polo events played throughout the year. Some of the big ones are named below:

  • Water Polo Championship in Olympics
  • Water Polo Championship in Aquatics
  • Water Polo Intercontinental Championship

Water Polo is also played in national level tournaments in the USA and European countries.

Governing Body

The game is yet to have one exclusive governing body for the game at international level. Some countries like Turkey, Russia, Hungary and a few more have their own Water Polo federations which sanction the games played at national level.