Water polo is a competitive team sport played in the water between two
teams. The game consists of four quarters, usually of eight minutes,
in which the two teams attempt to score goals and throw the ball into
their opponent's goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the
game wins the match. Each team is made up of six field players and one
goalkeeper. Except for the goalkeeper, players participate in both
offensive and defensive roles. the goal keeper is allowed to use 2
hands at all times.
Water polo is typically played in an all-deep pool
seven feet (or two meters) deep.
Special equipment for water polo includes a water polo ball, which
floats on the water; numbered and coloured caps; and two goals, which
either float in the water or are attached to the side of the pool.
The game is thought to have originated in Scotland in the late 19th
century as a sort of "water rugby". William Wilson is thought to have
developed the game during a similar period. The game thus developed
with the formation of the London Water
Polo League and has since
expanded, becoming widely popular in various places around the world,
including Europe, the United States, Brazil, China, Canada and
4 Common techniques and practices
4.1 Offense strategy
4.2 Defense strategy
Water polo equipment
8 Major competitions
9 See also
William Wilson, Scottish aquatics pioneer and originator of the first
rules of water polo
Main article: History of water polo
The history of water polo as a team sport began as a demonstration of
strength and swimming skill in late 19th century England and Scotland,
where water sports and racing exhibitions were a feature of county
fairs and festivals. Men's water polo was among the first team
sports introduced at the modern Olympic games in 1900.
Water polo is
now popular in many countries around the world, notably Europe
(particularly in Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Russia, Italy,
Greece and Spain), the United States, Canada and Australia. The
present-day game involves teams of seven players (plus up to six
substitutes), with a water polo ball similar in size to a soccer ball
but constructed of air-tight nylon.
One of the earliest recorded viewings of water polo was conducted at
the 4th Open Air Fete of the London Swimming Club, held at the Crystal
Palace, London on 15 September 1873. Another antecedent of the
modern game of Water
Polo was a game of water ‘hand-ball’ played
Bournemouth on 13 July 1876. This was a game between 12 members
of the Premier Rowing Club, with goals being marked by four flags
placed in the water near to the midpoint of
Bournemouth Pier. The game
started at 6:00 pm in the evening and lasted for 15 minutes (when the
ball burst) watched by a large crowd; with plans being made for play
on a larger scale the following week.
The rules of water polo were originally developed in the late
nineteenth century in Great Britain by William Wilson. Wilson is
believed to have been the First Baths Master of the Arlington Baths
Club in Glasgow. The first games of 'aquatic football' were played at
the Arlington in the late 1800s (the Club was founded in 1870), with a
ball constructed of India rubber. This "water rugby" came to be called
"water polo" based on the English pronunciation of the Balti word for
ball, pulu. Early play allowed brute strength, wrestling and
holding opposing players underwater to recover the ball. Players held
underwater for lengthy periods usually surrendered possession. The
goalie stood outside the playing area and defended the goal by jumping
in on any opponent attempting to score by placing the ball on the
Main article: Rules of water polo
The rules of water polo cover the play, procedures, equipment and
officiating of water polo. These rules are similar throughout the
world, although slight variations to the rules do occur regionally and
depending on the governing body. Governing bodies of water polo
include FINA, the international governing organization for the rules;
NCAA rules, which govern the rules for collegiate matches in the
United States; the NFHS rules which govern the rules in high schools
in the USA and the
IOC rules which govern the rules at Olympic events.
There are seven players in the water from each team at one time. There
are six players that play out and one goalkeeper. Unlike most common
team sports, there is little positional play; field players will often
fill several positions throughout the game as situations demand. These
positions usually consist of a center forward, a center back, the two
wing players and the two drivers. Players who are skilled in all
positions of offense or defense are called utility players. Utility
players tend to come off of the bench, though this is not absolute.
Certain body types are more suited for particular positions, and
left-handed players are especially coveted on the right-hand side of
the field, allowing teams to launch two-sided attacks.
The offensive positions include: one center forward (also called a
"set", "hole-set", "center", "setter", "hole", or "2-meter man",
located on or near the 2-meter, roughly in the center of the goal),
two wings (located on or near the 2-meter, just outside of the goal
posts, respectively), two drivers (also called "flats", located on or
near the 5-meter, roughly at the goal posts, respectively), and one
"point" (usually just behind the 5 meter, roughly in the center of the
goal, respectively), positioned farthest from the goal. The wings,
drivers and point are often called the perimeter players; while the
hole-set directs play. There is a typical numbering system for these
positions in U.S.
NCAA men's division one polo. Beginning with the
offensive wing to the opposing goalie's right side is called one. The
flat in a counter clockwise from one is called two. Moving along in
the same direction the point player is three, the next flat is four,
the final wing is five, and the hole set is called six. Additionally,
the position in which a player is can give advantages based on a
player's handedness, to improve a shooting or passing angle (for
example, the right wing is often left handed).
The center sets up in front of the opposing team's goalie and scores
the most individually (especially during lower level play where flats
do not have the required strength to effectively shoot from outside or
to penetrate and then pass to teammates like the point guard in
basketball, or center midfield player in soccer). The center's
position nearest to the goal allows explosive shots from close-range.
Defensive positions are often the same, but just switched from offence
to defence. For example, the centre forward or hole set, who directs
the attack on offence, on defence is known as "hole D" (also known as
set guard, hole guard, hole check, pit defence or two-metre defence),
and guards the opposing team's centre forward (also called the hole).
Defence can be played man-to-man or in zones, such as a 2–4 (four
defenders along the goal line). It can also be played as a combination
of the two in what is known as an "M drop" defence, in which the point
defender moves away ("sloughs off") his man into a zone in order to
better defend the centre position. In this defence, the two wing
defenders split the area furthest from the goal, allowing them a
clearer lane for the counter-attack if their team recovers the ball.
Goalkeeper (water polo)
Goalkeeper blocking a shot
The goalkeeper has the main role in blocking shots against the goal as
well as guiding and informing their defense of imposing threats and
gaps in the defense. The goalkeeper is also the "quarterback", as he
usually begins the offensive play. It is not unusual for a goalie to
make the assisting pass to a goal on a break away.
The goalkeeper is given several privileges above those of the other
players, but only if he is within the five meter area in front of his
or her goal:
The ability to punch the ball with a clenched fist.
The ability to touch the ball with two hands.
In general, a foul that would cause an ejection of a field player
might bring on a five-metre shot on the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper
also has one limitation that other players do not have: he cannot
cross the half-distance line. Also, if a goalkeeper pushes the ball
under water, the action will not be punished with a turnover like with
field players, but with a penalty shot.
Common techniques and practices
The most basic positional set up is known as a "3–3", so called
because there are two lines in front of the opponent's goal. Another
set up, used more by professional teams, is known as an "arc",
"umbrella", or "mushroom"; perimeter players form the shape of an arc
around the goal, with the hole set as the handle or stalk. Yet another
option for offensive set is called a 4–2 or double hole; there are
two center forward offensive players in front of the goal. Double hole
is most often used in "man up" situations, or when the defense has
only one skilled "hole D", or to draw in a defender and then pass out
to a perimeter player for a shot ("kick out").
Another, albeit less common offense, is the "motion c", sometimes
nicknamed "washing machine offence", in which two "weak-side" (to the
right of the goal for right-handed players) perimeter players set up
as a wing and a flat. The remaining four players swim in square
pattern in which a player swims from the point to the hole and then
out to the strong side wing. The wing moves to the flat and the flat
to the point. The weak side wing and flat then control the tempo of
play and try to make passes into the player driving towards the centre
forward who can then either shoot or pass. This form of offence is
used when no dominate hole set is available, or the hole defence is
too strong. It is also seen much more often in women's water polo
where teams may lack a player of sufficient size or strength to set up
in the centre forward. The best advantage to this system is it makes
man-coverage much more difficult for the defender and allows the
offence to control the game tempo better once the players are "set
up". The main drawback is this constant motion can be very tiring as
well as somewhat predictable as to where the next pass is going to go.
Advancing the ball
When the offence takes possession of the ball, the strategy is to
advance the ball down the field of play and to score a goal. Players
can move the ball by throwing it to a teammate or swimming with the
ball in front of them (dribbling). If an attacker uses his/her arm to
push away a defending player and free up space for a pass or shot, the
referee will rule a turnover and the defence will take possession of
the ball. If an attacker advances inside the 2-metre line without the
ball or before the ball is inside the 2-metre area, (s)he is ruled
offside and the ball is turned over to the defence. This is often
overlooked if the attacker is well to the side of the pool or when the
ball is at the other side of the pool.
Setting the ball
The key to the offence is to accurately pass (or "set") the ball into
the centre forward or hole set, positioned directly in front of the
goal ("the hole"). Any field player may throw the hole set a "wet
pass". A wet pass is one that hits the water just outside the hole
set's reach. A dry pass may also be used. This is where the hole set
receives the ball directly in his hand and then attempts a shot at the
cage. This pass is much more difficult because if the pass is not
properly caught, the officials will be likely to call an offensive
foul resulting in a change of ball possession. The hole set attempts
to take possession of the ball [after a wet pass], to shoot at the
goal, or to draw a foul from his defender. A minor foul is called if
his defender (called the "hole D") attempts to impede movement before
the hole set has possession. The referee indicates the foul with one
short whistle blow and points one hand to the spot of the foul and the
other hand in the direction of the attack of the team to whom the free
throw has been awarded. The hole set then has a "reasonable amount of
time" (typically about three seconds; there is no
FINA rule on this
issue) to re-commence play by making a free pass to one of the other
players. The defensive team cannot hinder the hole set until the free
throw has been taken, but the hole set cannot shoot a goal once the
foul has been awarded until the ball has been played by at least one
other player. If the hole set attempts a goal without the free throw,
the goal is not counted and the defence takes possession of the ball,
unless the shot is made outside the 5-metre line. As soon as the hole
set has a free pass, the other attacking players attempt to swim (or
drive) away from their defenders towards the goal. The players at the
flat position will attempt to set a screen (also known as a pick) for
the driver. If a driver gets free from a defender, the player calls
for the pass from the hole set and attempts a shot at the goal.
A classic 4–2 man-up situation. The attacking white team has 4
players positioned on 2 metres, and 2 players positioned on 4 metres.
The 5 outfield defending blue players try to block shots and prevent a
goal being scored for the 20 seconds of man-down play. In the top left
corner, the shot clock can be seen, showing 28 seconds remaining in
the white attack.
Man-Up (5 on 6)
If a defender interferes with a free throw, holds or sinks an attacker
who is not in possession or splashes water into the face of an
opponent, the defensive player is excluded from the game for twenty
seconds, known as a 'kick out' or an ejection. The attacking team
typically positions 4 players on the 2 metre line, and 2 players on 5
metre line (4–2), passing the ball around until an open player
attempts a shot. Other formations include a 3–3 (two lines of three
attackers each) or arc (attackers make an arc in front of the goal and
one offensive player sits in the 'hole' or 'pit' in front of the
goal). The five defending players try to pressure the attackers, block
shots and prevent a goal being scored for the 20 seconds while they
are a player down. The other defenders can only block the ball with
one hand to help the goalkeeper. The defensive player is allowed to
return immediately if the offence scores, or if the defence recovers
the ball before the twenty seconds expires.
Water polo defense: A defender may only hold, block or pull an
opponent who is touching or holding the ball.
On defence, the players work to regain possession of the ball and to
prevent a goal in their own net. The defence attempts to knock away or
steal the ball from the offense or to commit a foul in order to stop
an offensive player from taking a goal shot. The defender attempts to
stay between the attacker and the goal, a position known as inside
Goalkeeper (water polo)
Even with good backup from the rest of the defenders, stopping attacks
can prove very difficult if the goalkeeper remains in the middle of
the goal. The most defensible position is along a semicircular line
connecting the goalposts and extending out in the centre. Depending on
the ball carrier's location, the goalkeeper is positioned along that
semicircle roughly a metre out of the goal to reduce the attacker's
shooting angle. The goalkeeper stops using his or her hands to tread
water once the opponent enters at about the 7 metre mark and starts to
lift their upper body using the eggbeater technique to prepare to
block the shot. Finally the goalkeeper tries to block the ball down,
which is often hard for the longer reaches, but prevents an offensive
rebound and second shot. As is the case with other defensive players,
a goalkeeper who aggressively fouls an attacker in position to score
can be charged with a penalty shot for the other team. The goalkeeper
can also be ejected for twenty seconds if a major foul is committed.
Also inside the five metre mark, the goalie can swing at the ball with
a closed fist without being penalised.
Advantage rule If an offensive player, such as the centre forward, has
possession of the ball in front of the goal, the defensive player
tries to steal the ball or to keep the centre from shooting or
passing. If the defender cannot achieve these aims, he may commit a
foul intentionally. The hole set then is given a free throw but must
pass off the ball to another offensive player, rather than making a
direct shot at the goal. Defensive perimeter players may also
intentionally cause a minor foul and then move toward the goal, away
from their attacker, who must take a free throw. This technique,
called sloughing, allows the defense an opportunity to double-team the
hole set and possibly steal the inbound pass. The referee may refrain
from declaring a foul, if in his judgment this would give the
advantage to the offender's team. This is known as the Advantage
Water polo is a contact sport, with little protective gear besides
swim suits and caps with ear protectors and thus injuries are common.
Among the most frequent serious injuries are those affecting the head
and shoulders. Those induced to the head are usually caused by elbows
or the ball itself, while shoulder injuries are a result of grabbing
or pushing while shooting or passing. Other injuries take place
underwater, such as leg and groin injuries, as many things can not be
seen from above the surface and not much padding is used to protect
Sunburn is a common minor injury in outdoor matches. The irritation of
the sunburn can be restrictive because of the sheer amount of movement
involved in the sport. Players will often neglect applying sunscreen
as this will impair the player's ability to grip the ball and rapidly
deteriorate the ball's physical grip due to the oily nature of
sunscreen. Having large amounts of sunscreen on during an official
match is banned by
FINA and most other state/national governing
Inner tube water polo
Inner tube water polo is a style of water polo in which players,
excluding the goalkeeper, are required to float in inner tubes. By
floating in an inner tube players expend less energy than traditional
water polo players, not having to tread water. This allows casual
players to enjoy water polo without undertaking the intense
conditioning required for conventional water polo.
Surf polo, another variation of water polo, is played on
surfboards. First played on the beaches of
Waikiki in Hawaii in the
1930s and 1940s, it is credited to Louis Kahanamoku, Duke Kahanamoku's
Canoe polo or kayak polo is one of the eight disciplines of canoeing
pursued in the UK, known simply as "polo" by its aficionados. Polo
combines paddling and ball handling skills with a contact team game,
where tactics and positional play are as important as the speed and
fitness of the individual athletes.
Water polo equipment
Water polo balls: old (left) and new designs
Swimming (sport) § Swimwear, and Swimming pool
§ Competition pools
Little player equipment is needed to play water polo. Items required
in water polo include:
Ball: A water polo ball is constructed of waterproof material to allow
it to float on the water. The cover is textured to give players
additional grip. The size of the ball is different for men's, women's
and junior games.
Caps: A water polo cap is used to protect the players' heads and ears,
and to make them identifiable from afar. Home team field players wear
numbered dark-colored caps; Visiting team field players wear numbered
white caps. Both starting goalkeepers wear red caps (sometimes
quartered), numbered "1" (substitute goalies' caps are numbered either
FINA international play or "15" for
NCAA play) Caps are
fitted with ear protectors.
Male swimsuit (left) and Female swimsuit (right)
Goals: Two goals are needed in order to play water polo. These can
either be put on the side of the pool, or in the pool using floaters.
Mouthguard: A mouthguard is not mandatory in most tournaments, but is
Swimwear: Male water polo players wear either swim briefs or jammers
(thigh-length trunks). Female players must wear a one-piece swimsuit.
Suit-grabbing fouls are common, so players often wear tight-fitting
suits, and may layer on several suits at a time for additional
security. Many swimwear labels also sell specialized water polo suits
that feature reinforced stitching and tougher fabric. Female water
polo suits are generally one-piece outfits which do not have open
backs, but zip securely up the back so as to not have straps that can
be easily grabbed.
Water polo at the Summer Olympics
Men's water polo at the Olympics was the first team sport introduced
at the 1900 games, along with cricket, rugby, football, polo (with
horses), rowing and tug of war. Women's water polo became an
Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney
Olympic Games after political
protests from the Australian women's team.
One of the most historically known matches often referred to as the
Blood in the Water match, was a
1956 Summer Olympics
1956 Summer Olympics semi-final match
between Hungary and the Soviet Union. As the athletes left for the
games, the Hungarian revolution began, and the Soviet army crushed the
uprising. The Hungarians defeated the Soviets 4–0 before the game
was called off in the final minute to prevent angry Hungarians in the
crowd reacting to Valentin Prokopov punching Ervin Zador.
Every 2 to 4 years since 1973, a men's Water
Polo World Championship
is organized within the
FINA World Aquatics Championships. Women's
water polo was added in 1986. A second tournament series, the FINA
Polo World Cup, has been held every other year since 1979. In
FINA organised the sport's first international league, the FINA
Polo World League.
There is also a
European Water Polo Championship that is held every
Professional water polo is played in many Southern and Eastern
European countries like Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Hungary,
Italy, Russia, Spain, etc. with the
LEN Euroleague tournament played
amongst the best teams.
There is also a World Club Water
^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th Edition (1911): "Water Polo" Archived
25 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 7 August 2006
^ Barr, David (1981). A Guide to Water Polo. Sterling Publishing
(London). ISBN 0-8069-9164-X.
^ "Morning Post". 13 September 1873. p. 1.
Bournemouth Visitors Directory 15 July 1876
FINA World Championship 2007: Classroom Resource Retrieved
^ polo. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved 20
September 2007, from Dictionary.com website
^ a b Snyder, p. 108
Polo Rules, Section WP 7.3: Advantage Rule Archived 23
October 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Catharine Lo and Dana Edmunds (August–September 2007). "Boards
Hana Hou! Vol. 10, No. 4.
Polo - Summer Olympic Sport". 10 August 2016. Retrieved 15
^ Snyder, Pete; Reutter, Mary Jo (2011).
Water polo for players &
teachers of aquatics (PDF). LA84 Foundation. p. 13.
^ "World Club Waterpolo Challenge". Retrieved 15 August 2016.
Snyder, Peter (February 2008). Water
Polo for Players and Teachers of
Aquatics (PDF). Los Angeles Olympic Foundation. pp. 148
Snyder, Peter (2014).
Polo Acuatico Para Los Jugadores y Maestros de
Deportes Acuaticos (PDF). Los Angeles Olympic foundation. pp. 148
Lambert, Arthur F; Gaughran, Robert (1969). The technique of water
polo: a text for player and coach. pp. 225 pages.
"Cathal Brugha Swimming and Waterpolo Club Handbook and Members Pack"
(PDF). p. 25. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Water polo.
Hale (Ed.), Ralph (May 1986). The Complete Book of Water Polo: The
U.S. Olympic Water
Polo Team's Manual for Conditioning, Strategy,
Tactics and Rules. Fireside. pp. 160 pages.
ISBN 0-671-55563-4. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list
Jones, Bryan (December 2004). SportSpectator Water
Polo Guide (Basic
Waterpolo Rules and Strategies). DLH Publishing. pp. 8 pages.
Nitzkowski, Monte (1994). United States Tactical Water Polo. Sports
Support Syndicate. pp. 379 pages. ISBN 1-878602-93-4.
Norris (Ed.), Jim (April 1990). The World Encyclopedia of Water Polo
by James Roy Smith. Olive Press. pp. 513 pages.
ISBN 0-933380-05-4. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list
Wiltens, Jim (August 1978). Individual Tactics in Water Polo. X-S
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"Tactical and Strategic Water
Polo Articles". Tactical and Strategic
Polo Articles. Water
Polo Planet.com. Retrieved 20 March
Polo Hall of Fame
List of water polo players
Achievements by nation
Blood in the Water match
Inner tube water polo
Pan American Games
World Club Challenge
Australian rules football
Circle rules football
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Eton wall game
International rules football
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Uppies and downies
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