The Rules of Water Polo - A Brief Guide
By Chris Stephens
The full rules of water polo are long and complicated. This guide covers the main rules of the game as played at club level.
Water polo is all about possession – the team with the ball have the right to try and score a goal. If their opponents stop them unfairly, the referee awards a foul and lets them continue. Once they score a goal or lose possession, the other team get a turn.
If you do one of these, the referee will blow his whistle and give the other team a free throw.
- Stand, walk or jump off the bottom when playing (okay for the keeper within his 5m area).
- Use two hands to hold or play the ball (okay for the keeper within his 5m area).
- Punch the ball with a clenched fist (okay for the keeper within his 5m area).
- Push an opponent who is not holding the ball.
- Take the ball under water when tackled.
- Hold on to the wall/goalpost or push off from it during play.
- Be within 2m of the opponents’ goal ahead of the ball.
- Put the ball out at the side of the pool.
- Delay taking a free throw or take it from the wrong place.
You must take a free throw immediately. If you don’t pass the ball, you must either put it on the water or toss it up in the air to show that you’re putting it into play. Don’t wave it about!
If you do one of these, the referee will whistle loudly, point to you and signal you out. You must swim back to your re-entry area and get out without interfering with play. Your opponents get a free throw and you have to stay out for 20 seconds of play or until they score a goal. If your team regain possession, the referee can signal you (or a substitute) to get in immediately. If you commit three exclusion and/or penalty fouls during the game, you cannot play any more.
- Hold, sink, pull back or impede an opponent who is not holding the ball.
- Intentionally kick or strike an opponent or splash water in his face.
- Interfere with the taking of a free throw (you must move back before putting a hand up).
- Attempt to block a pass or shot with two hands outside the 5m area.
- Improper re-entry after an exclusion (diving or jumping into the pool or pushing off the wall).
- Misconduct (you will be “wrapped“ and cannot play any more).
These result in the other team being awarded a penalty throw at goal. You stay in the pool if you were playing at the time, unless it’s your third offence.
- A foul within 5m that prevents a probable goal. This includes holding, sinking, pulling back or impeding; attempting to block a pass or shot with two hands; punching the ball; taking the ball under water when tackled (this can happen if the goalkeeper keeps hold of the ball).
- A defender within 5m kicking or striking an opponent.
- An excluded player intentionally interfering with play (e.g. throwing the ball away).
- Illegal entry (rejoining after your third exclusion foul, or becoming an 8th player in the pool).
- Brutality (you will be “wrapped” and your team have to play man down for 4 minutes).
If the keeper deflects a shot out of play, the attacking team are awarded a corner throw. But if any other defender does this the defending team are awarded a goal throw.
If a defender commits an ordinary foul outside his 5m area, the attacking team can take an immediate direct shot at goal. Goalkeepers – stay awake!