How To Play: Water Polo Rules

Learn the basics of water polo, rules, etc.

Water polo is a rapidly growing sport in the United States and internationally as well. For anyone involved in playing or being a spectator, it is important to understand the rules of the game.

Teams are composed of about 12 players, depending on rules of the league. Seven players are in the pool at a time, which includes one goalie and six field players. Each field player plays both offense and defense, and the goalie is not allowed on the other half of the pool. There are many different arrangements of players in front of the goal (which may be attached to the pool deck or free floating on lane lines). The location of the players depends on the play that is being run, similar to basketball or hockey.

One important rule is that the ball can only be handled by one hand at a time. If a player holds the ball (which is the size of a volleyball, yellow and with rubber grip) with both hands, the referee calls a turnover and the posession of the ball goes to the opposing team. Also, there are important lines on the pool deck which delineate specific regions in which the rules of play are special. There is a mark 2 meters out from the goalpoasts on both sides of the pool called the "Two Meter Line." Players on offense WITHOUT posession of the ball are not allowed in the opposing team's 2 meter line, or a turnover is called. Only a player with the ball is permitted within the 2 meter line. There is also a "Four Meter Line," which is the location from which penalty shots are taken on the goal. A penalty shot is given to a player who is fouled within the four meter line while he/she is in an active attempt to score. A foul constitutes a hit from the defensive player, swimming over the offensive player's back, or other such shot interference. Clean defense involves positioning the defender's body between the offensive player and the goal and focusing on the ball rather than the individual player. A foul called anywhere in the pool outside the 4 meter line results in the referee blowing a whistle, and a stoppage of the clock while allowing the offensive player a free pass. Five seconds are given in which to complete this pass, and if the defensive player interferes with this, he/she will be ejected from the game for the standard period of 2 minutes. A designated corner of the pool is selected as the "ejection box" and a player may only re-enter the game upon the signaling by the referee that time is up, or else by a goal scored, whichever comes first.

The clock depends on the rules of play and the level of competition. Usually, men play four 7-minute quarters while women play four 6-minute quarters. There is a running shot clock of 35 seconds for each team which resets only if a shot is taken or there is a change in possession. Teams are usually allowed 2 time outs per game, although this may vary. Uniforms consist of swimsuits for both men and women, as well as a cap on the head with plastic ear protectors and the player's number on both sides. Away teams wear lighter color caps, while home wears the darker color.

In scoring, one point is given for each time the ball is thrown into the goal, and in some leagues there is a 2-point line several meters out of the goal. Each quarter begins with a sprint in which the fastest members of each team race toward the ball, which is placed at the halfway point on the water by the referee.

Water polo is an exciting, challenging, and fun sport. It is full contact and its competitiveness cannot be underestimated. The game is great to watch and even better to play- you may not imagine what goes on underwater that no one, especially not the referee, can see. Water polo is a growing sport for good reason, and it may soon be one of the leading sports for both men and women's athletics.

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