The playing area – is typically 30 X 20 meters with a minimum of 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) of depth. However this can vary depending on the pool being played in. The edge of the pool is marked with a red marker (2m line / offside line), yellow marker (5m line / foul line) and white marker (centre line). In the corner of the playing area directly opposite the official’s table is the “player changeover area”. This is normally highlighted by a red box, but depending on the pool this may just be the corner of the playing area. Next to this changeover area on the side is where the rest of team not in the water sit / stand.
Number of players – Each team is allowed 13 players, with seven (a goalkeeper and six field players) participating at any one time. Players tread water the entire game and cannot touch the bottom or sides of the pool. Except for the goalkeeper, players may handle the ball with only one hand.
The timing of the game – is played over four quarters, each quarter being a set time length with intervals between quarters. The timings of the games varies depending on the age group, competition and gender. As in basketball, two clocks are used to time a water polo game. One indicates the time remaining in the quarter and the other, called the “shot clock or 30 second clock”, indicates how much time remains for the offensive team to shoot the ball (the team is allowed 30 seconds to shoot the ball). Note that if the defensive team have a player ejected (sin binned) the shot clock is restarted for the offensive side. This all occurs if a shoot is taken and the offensive team regain position immediately.
Substitutions – are most common after a goal is scored, between periods, or for an ejected player. However players can also substitute at anytime during live play via the “changeover area”. Players must not in these situations dive in to the water or push off the side of the pool!
Physical contact – is the rule rather than the exception, as the players manoeuvre for position in front of the goal and in other parts of the playing area. The referee indicates fouls by blowing a whistle and using hand signals to point out the location of the foul and the attacking direction of the fouled player.
A goal – (1 point) is scored when the ball is thrown or pushed completely past the line of the goal and within the goal.
Starting the game and each quarter – Each quarter is started with the teams lined up on opposite 2m lines. On a signal (whistle) from the referee, the teams sprint toward centre pool where the referee tosses the ball into the water. The team gaining possession of the ball advances it toward its offensive end of the pool by swimming, dribbling or passing the ball. ·
Fouls – There are two types of fouls in water polo — ordinary fouls, which account for approximately 90 percent of the whistles during the game, and major fouls. Players are allowed three major fouls before they foul out of the match. Major fouls include exclusion and penalty fouls.
Main reasons for ordinary fouls include:
· Touching the ball with two hands;
· Taking the ball under water when tackled;
· Impeding an opponent who is not holding the ball;
· Pushing off an opponent; and,
· Stalling (failing to shoot or advance the ball within 35 seconds). This now includes throwing the ball back to the goalkeeper after the same team has moved the ball past the halfway line.
When the referee calls an ordinary foul, the offended team is awarded a free throw at the point of the foul, or behind the point of the foul if the free throw is taken immediately. The offensive team must put the ball in play within three seconds by releasing, swimming or passing the ball. A player cannot shoot the ball on a free throw, unless the foul occurred behind the 5m line / foul line. If the shoot is taken directly from the foul throw the shoot action must be immediate.
Common exclusion fouls include:
· Kicking or striking;
· Deliberate splashing in the face;
· An ordinary foul committed by the defence during dead time (after a foul occurs, but before the offended player has put the ball into play);
· Interfering with a free throw (the defensive player must retreat at least a metre from the player taking the foul throw);
· Misconduct or disrespect to the referee;
· Holding, sinking or pulling back an opponent not holding the ball;
· Having two hands up anywhere in the pool;
· Improper entry during a substitution during live play; and
· Exclusion fouls result in a player being excluded from the game for 20 seconds.
The excluded player (or his/her substitute) may not return until the 20 second exclusion time expires, a goal is scored or a change of possession takes place, whichever occurs first. A player with three major fouls is removed from the game with substitution. Deliberate kicking or striking with intent to injure (brutality) results in ejection of the offending player for the remainder of the game, substitution allowed after 4 minutes. These types of offences will also be reported by the referee and other sanctions may be brought to bear on the individual involved, such as match bans and or fines.
Penalty fouls are committed within the five-metre area where a goal probably would have resulted. The offensive player fouled while in control of the ball and facing the goal inside the five-meter line is usually awarded the penalty throw. A penalty foul is recorded against the player committing the foul. Any player in the game from the offended team can take the penalty throw. The shot is taken from the 5m line, with only the goalie defending.
The award of a penalty throw most commonly occurs in the following situation within the five-meter area:
· Any player, including the goalkeeper, pulling down or pushing away the goal;
· Any player, except the goalkeeper, playing the ball with both hands or a clenched fist;
· The goalkeeper or a defensive player taking the ball underwater;
· When an offensive player in control of the ball and facing the goal is fouled by holding, sinking or pulling back.
This is not the full version of the current Water Polo rules, these can be found on the FINA website (click here) and the SA Waterpolo Bylaws can be on their website (click here).