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The game of water polo is an international sport and is played by two teams of seven players, six field players and one goal keeper. Game play involves swimming treading water (using a kicking motion known as “eggbeater kick“), players passing the ball while being defended by opponents, and scoring by throwing the ball into a net defended by the goal keeper. Water polo, therefore, has strong similarities to the land based game of team handball. For further information on the history of water polo click here.
Basic Rules of Water Polo
The following information provides a snapshot of the rules of the game and should not be seen as a substitute for the Official Rule Book. The Official Rule Book should always be consulted and can be purchased from your local State or Territory or via www.fina.org.
Length of Game
The duration of a game of water polo is four eight minute periods. Time commences at the start of each period and the clock is stopped throughout the game during stoppages with time resuming once the ball is put back in the field of play either by a player taking the appropriate throw or when the ball is touched by a player following a neutral throw.
There are two minute intervals between time periods with a five minute break at half time. Should the scores be even at full time, two three minute periods of extra time will be played in the event that a definite result is required. Should scores remain level at the end of extra time a penalty shoot out will occur.
Starting the Game
At the start of each period players take up positions on their respective goal lines about one metre apart and no closer than one metre from the goal posts. A referee will blow the whistle to start the game and then release a ball into play in the middle of the pool.
Each team may request two timeouts in any game. An additional time out, in addition to any time outs not used during ordinary play may be requested during extra time. A timeout is one minute in duration and may be requested at any time and the game is immediately stopped.
Scoring a Goal
A goal is scored when the entire ball passes full over the goal line, between the goal posts and underneath the cross bar. A goal may be scored from anywhere within the field of play, however, the goal keeper may not touch the bal lbeyond the half way mark. A goal may be scored by any part of the body except a clenched fist.
Team Changes and Substitutions
Each team consists of seven players (including a goal keeper), and not more than six reserves who may be used as substitutes. All players not in the game at the time sit on the team bench situated on the side of the pool. At any time in the game a player may be substituted by leaving the field of play with the exception of when a referee awards a penalty.
Fouls & Free Throws
There are several different types of fouls which the referee will not permit including; ordinary fouls, exclusion fouls, penalty fouls, and personal fouls. In the event of a foul the referee may award a free throw or penatly throw. For further information please consult the Official Rule Book or www.fina.org.
Goal Keeper (GK)
The person playing this position has a vital defensive role while also supporting their teammates when in attack. Goal keepers must always be aware of their position in the goals relative to the ball in play. They have to focus on the ball at all times to ensure they are ready to make a save if a player decides to shoot. It’s also important for goal keepers to stay engaged in the game as they often have the best vision of the entire pool in both attack and defence. They play an important role in communicating what they see to their teammates. For example, in defence, they are responsible for calling defensive plays and positioning of blockers. In attack, they are responsible for communicating the time remaining on the shot clock and players who are in a good position to receive the ball.
Centre Forward (CF)
The centre forward position is on the 2m line in front of the goals. The outer positions (such as point, wings and drivers) are responsible for getting the ball into the CF. Balls are usually passed into the CF using a wet pass where the CF will attempt to take a shot or try to draw an exclusion. The CF position is a specialised position that requires a different set of skills compared to the perimeter players.
The Point (P) player in attack, often directs attacking play and is a good long-distance shooter.
Wings play on either side of the goal near the 2m line. The Wings’ aim is to set the ball and to get themselves open to receive passes, take shots and get the ball to the CF.
Drivers are constantly creating movement by driving down to the goal post and rotating around, or creating screens in order to free teammates off their defenders. Like Wings, their main job is to get the ball into the CF. Their proximity to the goal and their position relative to the CF make them invaluable components for scoring goals.
In defensive play:
Centre Back (CB)
The centre back position exists only during defensive play and is responsible for defending the centre forward in front of the goals around the 2m line. CB’s will position themselves on the CF’s based on the type of defence the team is playing. This means they could be behind, in front or on the side of the CF. Once the ball is passed to the CF, the CB will try to steal the ball and also prevent the CF from scoring.