Water Polo Rules and Regulations

Water Polo Supporters Basic Rules Guide:

Familiarise yourself with the pool layout, particularly the goals and the 2 metre & 5 metre lines.

Identify your team members, note what colour caps they are wearing , and which goal they hope to score in (this changes after the first 2 chukkas if 4 chukkas are being played).

Try to match the numbers on the caps and the positions being played with the names of individual team members.

Identify and keep an eye on the score board, which tells you which chukka is being played, how many minutes and seconds of the chukka or interval (time period in between chukkas) are still to run, and how many goals have been scored by the participating teams (usually designated by blue or white, according to the colour of cap worn).

Identify and keep an eye on the 30-second shot clock, which counts off the seconds which the attacking team has left in which to score a goal. Once the clock hits 0, it returns to 30 and the direction of play reverses.

Once you have worked out roughly what is going on, look out for patterns of play by your own and the opposing team (partnerships, formations, etc).

Keep a close eye on the referees, whose hand signals are generally self-explanatory. The main fouls are summarized below, but at higher levels they can be quite esoteric, particularly when the referee is highly qualified.

Water polo is a team water sport, played in a pool with 7 players: 6 field players and 1 goalkeeper. Each team has up to 6 reserves on the bench. One team wears numbered white caps, the other numbered dark caps (generally blue) and goalies wear red caps with the number "1" in either white or blue.

The field players are the drivers, fetches and wings; the centre forward or hole man, a specialised goal-scorer who takes up position in front of the opponent’s goal; and the centre back or hole man marker, a specialist defensive player who takes up position to neutralise the opposing team’s hole man. The goalkeeper (goalie) defends his/her team’s goal. Substitutes may replace players during the intervals, after a goal has been scored, during a time-out or at any other time during the match when the player to be substituted has left the pool. (See diagram for the pool layout and rough positions of players.)

There are usually 2 referees, each covering 2 adjacent sides of the pool, 2 goal judges, a time keeper and a secretary. At school level, there are generally fewer supporting officials.

Fouls are common and part of the stop/start nature of the game.

Ordinary/minor fouls result in reversal of play or free throws for the opposing team. They include swimming beyond the goal line before the referee’s signal to start the game; assisting a player at the start, holding the ball underwater; holding the ballwith both hands if not a goal-keeper; holding onto or pushing off from the goal posts, rails or sides of the pool; standing on, walking on or pushing off the pool floor; punching the ball with a clenched fist; touching a referee’s neutral throw before it reaches the water; deliberately impeding the free arm movement of an opponent unless he has picked up the ball; pushing an opponent without the ball; pushing off from an opponent with one’s hand to prevent a tackle, or with one’s feet to gain a swim advantage; interfering with play within the 2 metre area of the opposing goal except when behind the line of the ball; wasting time by not playing the ball immediately after being awarded a free throw; having possession of the ball for more than 30 seconds without shooting; and taking a penalty throw incorrectly. In the latter case, a free throw is awarded from the spot of the foul. The player taking the free throw may pass the ball or drop it and begin dribbling. At least 2 players must touch the ball after a free throw before a goal can be scored.

A penalty from the 5m line is awarded against one’s team for fouling an opponent and preventing a probable goal in the 5m area; entering the water improperly while defending; interfering intentionally with play while leaving the water as an excluded player; kicking or striking an opponent or committing an act of brutality against a player or official. Any player other than the goal keeper may take the penalty throw from a point in front of the goal along the 5 metre line, with all players other than the defending goalkeeper being outside the 5 metre area and at least 2 metres away from the thrower. The throw must be made directly, without ‘mikking', and the goalkeeper must remain on his goal line until the throw is taken.

The awarding of personal faults and temporary exclusion (‘kick out’) from the game results from major fouls including ‘non-brutally’ kicking, striking, or otherwise attacking an opponent in any part of the body, but particularly the head, neck or face; sinking or pulling back an opponent who is not holding the ball; interfering with the taking of a free throw; re-entering the water improperly when attacking if one is an excluded player or substitute; continually and intentionally committing ordinary fouls; tackling a player before he/she puts the ball back in play; or using foul language. The offending player stays out of the game until the referee allows him back in when a goal is scored or the defending team regains possession of the ball. 

Permanent exclusion from the game or ‘cap off’ status (with or without immediate substitution, depending on the circumstances) is caused by a major foul such as being disrespectful or disobedient to the referee, having grease or oil on the body, committing an act of brutality or committing 3 major fouls. The offending player usually remains on the bench with his/her cap strings undone, but can also be banished from the playing area.

A yellow card can be given at the referee’s discretion to any coach or spectator who is being disrespectful or interfering with the game. A red card is given for a second offence or more serious disruption, and results in banishment from the pool side.