About Water Polo

Overview

Water polo, or Water ball, is a team water sport. The playing team consists of six field players and one goalkeeper. The winner of the game is the team that scores the most goals. Game play involves swimming, treading water (using a sort of 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 a goalie. ‘Man-up’ (or ‘power play’) situations occur frequently. Water polo, therefore, has strong similarities to the land-based game of handball.

Seven players from each team (six field players and a goalkeeper) are allowed in the playing area of the pool during game play with up to four substitutes.

Visiting team field players wear numbered and usually White caps, and home team field players wear usually Blue caps (though any other contrasting colours are now allowed); both goalies wear red caps, numbered “1”. Both teams may substitute players while the ball is in their possession. During game play, players enter and exit in the corner of the pool, or in front of their goal; when play is stopped, they may enter or exit anywhere.

The 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 Serbia, Russia, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro, Greece and Hungary), 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 waterproof nylon.

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; 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 deck.

The Rules of Water Polo

The game clock is stopped when the ball is not ‘in play’ (between a foul being committed and the free throw being taken, and between a goal being scored and the restart). As a result, the average quarter lasts around 12 minutes ‘real time’. A team may not have possession of the ball for longer than 30 seconds without shooting for the goal unless an opponent commits an ejection foul. After 30 seconds, possession passes to the other team.

However, if a team shoots the ball within the allotted time, and regains control of the ball, the shot clock is reset to 30 seconds. Each team may call 2 one-minute time-outs in the four periods of regulation play, and one time-out if the game goes into overtime. During game play, only the team in possession of the ball may call a time-out.

Dimensions of the water polo pool are not fixed and can vary between 20×10 and 30×20 meters. Minimum water depth must be least 1.8 meters (6 feet), but this is often waived for younger age groups. The goals are 3 meters wide and 90 centimetres high. Water polo balls are generally yellow and of varying size and weight for juniors, women and men.

The middle of the pool is designated by a white line. Before 2005, the pool was divided by 7 and 4 meter lines (distance out from the goal line). This has been merged into one 5 meter line since the 2005–2006 season. Along the side of the pool, the centre area between the 5 meter lines is marked by a green line (if marked at all). The “five meters” line is where penalties are shot and it is designated by a yellow line. The “two meter” line is designated with a red line and no player of the attacking team can receive a ball inside this zone. in other words you cannot be in the red if the ball is not.

Players are not permitted to push the ball underwater in order to keep it from an opponent, or push or hold an opposing player unless that player is holding the ball. Water polo is an intensely aggressive sport, so fouls are very common and result in a free throw during which the player cannot shoot at the goal unless beyond the “5 meter” line. If a foul is called outside the 5 meter line, the player is either able to shoot, pass or continue swimming with the ball.

Water polo players need remarkable stamina because of the considerable amount of holding and pushing that occurs during the game, some allowed, some unseen or ignored by the referees (usually underwater). There are two types of fouls: one (like the scenario above) only results in the “fouler” giving up the ball and backing off; the other results in an ejection or kick out.

Ejections are usually given if someone is being a little too aggressive; i.e. drowning or smacking someone. A player can only have 3 ejections before being majored and can not play for the rest of the game. If a player gets a brutality he or she is also not able to finish the game. An example of a brutality would be excessively cruising or intentionally punching someone. Water polo is a physically demanding activity; action is continuous, and players commonly swim 2 kilometres or more during four periods of play.

Water polo is a game requiring excellent hand-eye coordination. The ability to handle and pass the ball flawlessly separates the good teams from the great teams. A pass thrown to a field position player is preferably a “dry pass” (meaning the ball does not touch the water) and allows for optimal speed when passing from player to player with fluid motion between catching and throwing. A “wet pass” is a deliberate pass into the water, just out of reach of the offensive player nearest the goal (the “hole set”) and his defender. The hole-set can then lunge towards the ball and out of the water to make a shot or pass.

A defender will often foul the player with the ball as a tactic to disrupt the opponent’s ball movement. Play continues uninterrupted in most cases, but the attacker must now pass the ball or continue swimming instead of taking a shot. (An exception allows players to quickly pick up the ball and shoot if fouled outside of the five meter mark.) However, as in ice hockey, a player caught committing a major foul, is sent out of the playing area with his team a man down for 20 seconds, but may return sooner if a goal is scored or his team regains possession. If the foul is judged to be brutal, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game, with substitution by another team-mate after four minutes have elapsed.

A player, coach or spectator can also be ejected for arguing with the referees. During a man up situation resulting from an ejection foul, the attacking team can expect to score by passing around to move the goalkeeper out of position. A player that has been ejected three times must sit out the whole match with substitution.

Water Polo Competitions

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.

The most famous water polo match in history is probably the 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 organised within the FINA World Aquatics Championships. Women’s water polo was added in 1986. A second tournament series, the FINA Water Polo World Cup, has been held every other year since 1979. In 2002, FINA organised the sport’s first international league, the FINA Water Polo World League.
There is also a European Water Polo Championship that is held every other year.

Professional water polo is played in many southern and eastern European countries like Serbia, Croatia, Russia, Italy, Spain, etc. with the LEN Euroleague tournament played amongst the best teams.