How to Play Water Polo: A Beginner’s Guide

How to Play Water Polo

Water polo has been an exhilarating and dynamic sport for more than a century. It is a team sport that requires players to be skilled in swimming, treading water, and passing and shooting the ball. If you’re interested in learning how to play water polo, this guide will give you a comprehensive overview of the rules, equipment, and techniques needed to excel in the sport.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, this guide will provide you with the knowledge and skills to become a successful water polo player.

Basic Rules and Objectives

For those who are new to water polo, it is crucial to familiarize themselves with the fundamental rules and objectives of the game. Water polo is a team sport that takes place in a rectangular pool with two goals positioned at opposite ends. The primary goal of the game is to score more goals than the opposing team, which would lead to a victory.


In order to score a point, the ball must be effectively thrown into the opposing team’s net. The team that has the highest number of points at the end of the game is declared the winner. It is common to witness high-scoring matches, where both teams score over 20 points each.

Team Composition

A team comprises seven players: one goalkeeper and six field players. The goalkeeper is the sole player permitted to touch the ball with both hands and is accountable for safeguarding the goal. The field players are accountable for both defense and offense and must pass the ball to each other to advance it up the pool.

Basic Rules

Water polo matches are split into four quarters, with each quarter lasting eight minutes, resulting in a total of 32 minutes. If the game is tied at the end of regular play, it may proceed to overtime. Throughout the game, players are prohibited from touching the bottom or sides of the pool and must continuously swim or tread water.

Using two hands to pass the ball or holding the ball underwater is prohibited. If a player commits a foul, they may face exclusion from the game for a certain duration or the opposing team may be granted a penalty shot.

Understanding the basic rules and objectives of water polo is essential for both players and spectators. With these fundamentals in mind, you can enjoy the game and appreciate the skills and strategies involved.

Skills and Techniques

Water polo is a sport that requires a combination of physical and mental skills. In this section, we will discuss the essential skills and techniques you need to learn to play water polo effectively.

Swimming and Treading Water

One of the most important skills in water polo is swimming. You need to be a strong swimmer to move quickly and efficiently in the water. Freestyle, breaststroke, and backstroke are the most commonly used swimming techniques in water polo. You should practice these strokes regularly to improve your speed and endurance.

Treading water is another crucial skill in water polo. You need to be able to stay afloat in the water while using your hands to pass and shoot the ball. The eggbeater technique is the most efficient way to tread water in water polo. This technique involves moving your legs in a circular motion to create a constant upward force that keeps you afloat.

Passing and Shooting

Passing and shooting are essential skills in water polo. You need to be able to pass the ball accurately and quickly to your teammates to create scoring opportunities. Passing can be done using one hand or both hands, but only one hand can be used to hold the ball at a time.

Shooting involves throwing the ball into the goal while under pressure from defenders. You should practice your passing and shooting skills regularly to improve your accuracy and speed.

Defensive Techniques

Defensive techniques are critical in water polo. You need to be able to defend against opposing players and prevent them from scoring. One of the most effective defensive techniques is pressing, which involves getting close to your opponent and preventing them from receiving the ball.

Another defensive technique is stealing, which involves taking the ball away from your opponent. You should practice these defensive techniques regularly to improve your ability to defend against opposing players.

Training and Conditioning

Playing water polo requires a combination of endurance, strength, and skill. To perform at your best, it is important to train and condition your body specifically for the demands of the sport.

In this section, we will discuss the different types of training you should incorporate into your routine to become a successful water polo player.

Endurance Training

Endurance training is crucial for water polo players, as games can last up to an hour and require constant swimming and treading water. To improve your endurance, you should incorporate both aerobic and anaerobic exercises into your routine.

Aerobic exercises like running and cycling can improve your cardiovascular fitness, while anaerobic exercises like sprinting and interval training can improve your ability to perform short bursts of high-intensity activity.

Some examples of endurance training exercises for water polo players include:

  • Swimming laps
  • Treading water
  • Interval sprints
  • Running or cycling

Strength Training

Strength training is another important aspect of water polo training, as the sport requires a lot of upper body strength for throwing and defending.

In addition to upper body strength, it is also important to train your core and legs, as they play a crucial role in maintaining balance and stability in the water.

Some examples of strength training exercises for water polo players include:

  • Weightlifting exercises, such as bench press, shoulder press, bicep curls, tricep extensions, and more.
  • Bodyweight exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, dips, etc.)
  • Core exercises (planks, Russian twists, leg raises, etc.)
  • Leg exercises (squats, lunges, calf raises, etc.)

Skill-Specific Training

Finally, skill-specific training is important for water polo players to improve their technique and performance in the water. This can include drills and exercises that focus on passing, shooting, defending, and other skills specific to the sport.

Some examples of skill-specific training exercises for water polo players include:

  • Passing drills
  • Shooting drills
  • Defensive drills
  • Scrimmages and game simulations

Game Strategies and Tactics

Offensive Strategies

Water polo is a game of constant movement and quick decision-making. To be successful on the offensive end, you need to have a few key strategies in mind:

  • Move the ball quickly: In order to keep the defense off balance, you need to move the ball quickly from one player to another. This will create open passing lanes and scoring opportunities.
  • Spread the defense: By moving the ball around the perimeter, you can force the defense to stretch out and cover more ground. This will create open spaces for your players to drive to the goal.
  • Take advantage of man-up situations: When the defense commits a foul, you will have a man-up situation. Take advantage of this by moving the ball quickly and finding the open man for a shot.

Defensive Strategies

On the defensive end, you need to be aggressive and focused. Here are some key strategies to keep in mind:

  • Press the ball: The best way to disrupt the offense is to put pressure on the ball handler. This will force them to make quick decisions and possibly turn the ball over.
  • Communicate: Water polo is a team sport, and communication is key. Make sure to call out switches and help your teammates stay in position.
  • Protect the goal: The ultimate goal of the defense is to prevent the other team from scoring. Make sure to stay between the ball and the goal and be ready to block shots.

Set Plays

Set plays are pre-planned offensive strategies that can be used to create scoring opportunities. Here are a few examples:

Play Name Description
Quick Shot A fast break play that involves a quick pass to a player in front of the goal for a shot.
Drive and Dish A play that involves a player driving towards the goal and passing to an open teammate for a shot.
Screen Shot A play that involves a player setting a screen for a teammate, who then takes a shot.

By incorporating these strategies and set plays into your game, you can become a more effective and successful water polo player.

Equipment and Gear


To play water polo, you will need a ball. The official size of the ball is 68-71 cm in circumference and weighs between 400-450 grams. The ball is made of waterproof material and has a textured surface for better grip. There are different types of water polo balls available, including training balls, game balls, and soft-touch balls. Choose the one that suits your needs and level of play.

Caps and Goggles

Wearing a cap and goggles is crucial in water polo. The cap serves the purpose of identifying the team and shielding the player’s ears from harm.

The cap should fit snugly and cover the ears. Goggles are used to protect the eyes from chlorine and other chemicals in the water. Choose goggles with an adjustable strap and a comfortable fit.


Water polo is played in a pool, so it’s important to have access to a suitable facility. The pool should be at least 25 meters long and 20 meters wide, with a depth of at least 2 meters. The water temperature should be between 26-28°C. The pool should also have a goal at each end, with a net and a frame.

In addition to the basic equipment, you may also need other gear such as mouthguards, swimwear, and training aids. Mouthguards are used to protect the teeth and gums from injury. Swimwear should be tight-fitting and comfortable to allow for easy movement in the water.

Training aids such as fins, paddles, and kickboards can help improve your technique and build strength. Remember, having the right equipment and gear is essential for playing water polo safely and effectively. Make sure to invest in quality gear and take care of it properly to ensure it lasts.