Water Polo Rules

Water Polo Rules | Everything That You Must Know (Best Guide)

Water polo is a team sport that requires high fitness and competitive skills. It is played in a large pool where players have to swim continuously. Originally, it was called “football in the water,” which ironically don’t go well with the sport rules.

Britain is known as its founding country. It is also considered one of the oldest sports that has been played in the Olympics. As it was played in Paris games in 1900.

It is a thrilling game with one aim to score more goals than your opponent’s team. At a glance, it may seem pretty easy. But there are many technicalities one should know in order to play and enjoy the game.

That’s why our editors have done detailed research. This article is all about water polo rules, match duration, equipment, and other miscellaneous rules. We are happy to tell you that this article has been reviewed by a professional water polo player for authenticity and accurate information.

Water Polo Rules And Regulation

Here are the basic rules all players are bound to follow during the game:

  • The goalkeeper can use both hands within 5 meters of their area. Apart from the goalie, all other players can only use a single hand.
  • After every 8 minutes, there is a break for two minutes. During the quarter, teams can change their players.
  • All players are prohibited from touching the bottom of the pool.
  • A player can only retain the ball for only 30 seconds before shooting toward its goal.
  • Only three major fouls are allowed. After multiple major fouls, it results in a penalty.
  • If the score is tied in the end, then the winner is decided by either golden time or taking the shot.

The number of players, pool size, and basic rules remain the same in both professional and high-school water polo matches. But if you’re at the beginner level, then we suggest you keep the pool depth low and take early breaks instead of 8 minutes.

How many players are in water polo?

Water polo is a team sport. Both men’s and women’s teams consist of 7 in-water players, including a goalkeeper. Each player is assigned a specific pool area to defend and play. There are several offensive positions in water polo.

Usually, the players are divided into wings, drivers, and point and center positions. The rule of thumb is that the three player’s spots must make a triangle, which makes it easy to defend and score goals effectively.

Keep in mind that, officially, there are 13 total players. But at once, only 7 players are allowed in the pool. Teams can substitute a player in case of injury after a goal or during a half-period.

Water Polo Positions

As mentioned earlier that the team is comprised of seven players. So, each player has a specific position to accommodate the team. All seven positions are named as follows:

  1. Goalkeeper
  2. Left Wing
  3. Left Driver
  4. Point
  5. Right Wing
  6. Right Driver
  7. Centre Forward

Usually, all positions form one big triangle. Point and center forward are crucial positions and are mostly assigned to the strongest players. While overall, the goalkeeper has the toughest spot.

How long is a water polo game?

The official FINA and NCAA water polo league matches are 32 minutes long. The game is divided into four 8-minute long periods.  In international championships, if the score is tied, then a 3-minute golden time is given. 

During the golden time, the winner is decided by sudden death. But if the score is still tied even after overtime, then the winner is decided by playing shots. In both men’s and women’s water polo matches, the clock is stopped when the ball is not in play. 

Water Polo Equipment

Water polo is known to be a full-contact game where players may end up with an injury. That’s why along with the game equipment, safety essentials are also required. The field requirements are as follows:

Water Polo Ball

There are five different types of water polo balls. But all balls are inflatable and easy to grip. Generally, they are made of plastic or waterproof nylon and are bright yellow in color.

Usually, for men’s matches, a size 5 ball is used. While a size 4 polo ball is preferred. The standard weight is approx 14 – 16 ounces (400 – 450 grams)

Water Polo Caps

Players are legally bound to wear water polo caps. They protect their ears and head. The cap’s main function is to prevent vision blocking due to the hair. As per the regulations, players cannot take off their caps during the match.

The rule of thumb is that the caps should be in two colors, i.e. plain and dark, with the player number written over it. The number should be at least 8 cm wide and clearly visible.


Water polo nets are 3m wide and 0.9m (90cm) in height. The nets are usually either white or black. The used nettings are made of #21, #36, #42, #60, and #96 netting.

Apart from this, players also need to wear a mouth guard and uniform. Referees also need cards and whistles to guard the game smoothly.

Water Polo Pool Size

Mostly, the pools are rectangular in size. They are either 20m x 10m or 30m x 20m in size. The pools are mostly 6 feet deep, but it may vary depending on the league or match type.

Fouls In Water Polo

The rule of thumb is that no player can intentionally harm their opponent during the game. Other prohibited things are:

  • Players cannot hold onto the slide.
  • Pushing your teammate or opponent is not allowed.
  • Apart from the goalkeeper, no player can strike the ball with their fist.
  • Players are bound to not hold water underwater while tackling during the game.
  • You cannot hold another player’s hand or head in any scenario.

All the fouls result in a penalty. Usually, a penalty is 20 seconds long. But after 3 major fouls, a player can be evicted from the game.

Rules Of Water Polo Game FAQs

Usually, the water polo pools are 6 ft deep. But in the championships and Olympics matches, the pools are kept 6.5 ft shallow.

No, you are not allowed to stand in the water polo game. All players are bound to keep on swimming until the quarter break.

Professional matches are divided into four equal periods of eight minutes. After every quarter, there is a relaxation period of 2-3 minutes.

Holding the ball with two hands is prohibited. The only goalkeeper can use both hands or strike it with their fist. Also, the players cannot hold the ball underground or kick their opponent intentionally.

Yes, it is a contact sport where players can touch and tackle their opponent. But kicking the opponent or holding them underwater is not allowed.

Wrapping It Up!

Water polo is a fun game that is played in the pool. The aim of the game is to score more goals than your opponent’s team. Each team has 13 players, but only 7 in-pool players are allowed, including a goalkeeper.

The match is 32 minutes long and has 4 quarter periods. Teams can change any player after the goal or during the break. If at the end of time, the match is a tie, then the winner is decided by shooting goals.

For safety purposes, all players are bound to wear protective gear and mouthguards. Even with the mouth guard, throwing the ball directly to your opponent’s face is not allowed.

We hope that this article helps you understand the water polo game rules more easily and swiftly. While in the meantime, be happy and keep on killing the waves!

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