Water polo is a competitive team sport played in the water between two teams. The game consists of four quarters in which the two teams attempt to score goals by throwing the ball into the opposing team's goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins the match. Each team is made up of six field players and one goalkeeper. Except for the goalkeeper, players participate in both offensive and defensive roles. Water polo is typically played in an all-deep pool meaning that players cannot touch the bottom.
A game of water polo consists of the players swimming to move about the pool, treading water (often using the eggbeater kick technique), passing the ball and shooting at goal. Teamwork, tactical thinking and game awareness are also highly important aspects in a game of water polo. Water polo is a highly physical and demanding sport and has frequently been cited as one of the toughest sports to play.
Special equipment for water polo includes a water polo ball, a ball which floats on the water; numbered and coloured caps; and two goals, which either float in the water or are attached to the side of the pool.
The game is thought to have originated in Scotland in the late 19th century as a sort of "water rugby". William Wilson is thought to have developed the game during a similar period. The game thus developed with the formation of the London Water Polo League and has since expanded, becoming widely popular in various parts of Europe, the United States, Brazil, China, Canada and Australia.
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 Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Russia, Italy, Greece and Spain), 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 air-tight nylon.
One of the earliest recorded viewings of water polo was conducted at the 4th Open Air Fete of the London Swimming Club, held at the Crystal Palace, London on 15 September 1873. Another antecedent of the modern game of Water Polo was a game of water ‘handball’ played at Bournemouth on 13 July 1876. This was a game between 12 members of the Premier Rowing Club, with goals being marked by four flags placed in the water near to the midpoint of Bournemouth Pier. The game started at 6:00 pm in the evening and lasted for 15 minutes (when the ball burst) watched by a large crowd; with plans being made for play on a larger scale the following week.
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. Players held underwater for lengthy periods usually surrendered possession. 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 cover the play, procedures, equipment and officiating of water polo. These rules are similar throughout the world, although slight variations to the rules do occur regionally and depending on the governing body. Governing bodies of water polo include FINA, the international governing organization for the rules; the NCAA rules, which govern the rules for collegiate matches in the United States; the NFHS rules which govern the rules in high schools in the US and the IOC rules which govern the rules at Olympic events.
There are seven players in the water from each team at one time.
The offensive positions include: one center forward (also called a "set", "hole-set", "center", "setter", "hole", or "2-meter man", located on or near the 2-meter, roughly in the center of the goal), two wings (located on or near the 2-meter, just outside of the goal posts, respectively), two drivers (also called "flats", located on or near the 5-meter, roughly at the goal posts, respectively), and one "point" (usually just behind the 5 meter, roughly in the center of the goal, respectively), positioned farthest from the goal.
The center sets up in front of the opposing team's goalie and scores the most individually (especially during lower level play where flats do not have the required strength to effectively shoot from outside or to penetrate and then pass to teammates like the point guard in basketball, or center midfield player in soccer). The center's position nearest to the goal allows explosive shots from close-range.
Defensive positions are often the same, but just switched from offence to defence.
The goalkeeper has the main role in blocking shots against the goal as well as guiding and informing their defense of imposing threats and gaps in the defense. The goalkeeper usually begins the offensive play by passing the ball across the pool to an attacker. It is not unusual for a goalkeeper to make an assisting pass to a goal on a break away.
The goalkeeper is given several privileges above those of the other players, but only within the five-meter area in front of their own goal:
- The ability to punch the ball with a clenched fist,
- The ability to touch the ball with two hands.
In general, a foul that would cause an ejection of a field player might bring on a five-metre shot on the goalkeeper.
Common techniques and practices
The most basic positional set up is known as a "3–3", so called because there are two lines in front of the opponent's goal.
Another, albeit less common offense, is the "motion c", sometimes nicknamed "washing machine offence", in which two "weak-side" (to the right of the goal for right-handed players) perimeter players set up as a wing and a flat.
Advancing the ball
When the offence takes possession of the ball, the strategy is to advance the ball down the field of play and to score a goal.
Setting the ball
The key to the offence is to accurately pass (or "set") the ball into the centre forward or hole set, positioned directly in front of the goal ("the hole").
Man-Up (5 on 6)
If a defender interferes with a free throw, holds or sinks an attacker who is not in possession or splashes water into the face of an opponent, the defensive player is excluded from the game for twenty seconds, known as a 'kick out' or an ejection.
On defence, the players work to regain possession of the ball and to prevent a goal in their own net.
Even with good backup from the rest of the defenders, stopping attacks can prove very difficult if the goalkeeper remains in the middle of the goal.
Advantage rule If an offensive player, such as the centre forward, has possession of the ball in front of the goal, the defensive player tries to steal the ball or to keep the centre from shooting or passing.
Water polo is a contact sport, with little protective gear besides swim suits and caps with ear protectors and thus injuries are common.
Sunburn is a common minor injury in outdoor matches.
Inner tube water polo is a style of water polo in which players, excluding the goalkeeper, are required to float in inner tubes. By floating in an inner tube players expend less energy than traditional water polo players, not having to tread water. This allows casual players to enjoy water polo without undertaking the intense conditioning required for conventional water polo.
Surf polo, another variation of water polo, is played on surfboards. First played on the beaches of Waikiki in Hawaii in the 1930s and 1940s, it is credited to Louis Kahanamoku, Duke Kahanamoku's brother.
Canoe polo or kayak polo is one of the eight disciplines of canoeing pursued in the UK, known simply as "polo" by its aficionados. Polo combines paddling and ball handling skills with a contact team game, where tactics and positional play are as important as the speed and fitness of the individual athletes.
Flippa ball is a precursor variant intended for younger and beginner players to learn the basics of polo. It is played in shallow water and permits touching the bottom of the pool. Players rotate positions after each score.
Water polo equipment
Little player equipment is needed to play water polo.
- Ball: A water polo ball is constructed of waterproof material to allow it to float on the water. The cover is textured to give players additional grip. The size of the ball is different for men's, women's and junior games.
- Caps: A water polo cap is used to protect the players' heads and ears, and to make them identifiable from afar. Home team field players wear numbered dark-colored caps; Visiting team field players wear numbered white caps. Both starting goalkeepers wear red caps (sometimes quartered), numbered "1" (substitute goalies' caps are numbered either "13" for FINA international play or "15" for NCAA play) Caps are fitted with ear protectors.
- Goals: Two goals are needed in order to play water polo. These can either be put on the side of the pool, or in the pool using floaters.
- Mouthguard: A mouthguard is not mandatory in most tournaments, but is recommended.
- [[LINK|lang_en|Competitive_swimwear|Swimwear]]: Male water polo players wear either swim briefs or jammers (thigh-length trunks). Female players must wear a one-piece swimsuit. Suit-grabbing fouls are common, so players often wear tight-fitting suits, and may layer on several suits at a time for additional security. Many swimwear labels also sell specialized water polo suits that feature reinforced stitching and tougher fabric. Female water polo suits are generally one-piece outfits which do not have open backs, but zip securely up the back so as to not have straps that can be easily grabbed.
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.
One of the most historically known matches often referred to as the Blood in the Water match, was a 1956 Summer Olympics semi-final match between Hungary and the Soviet Union, played in Melbourne. 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 organized 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, Montenegro, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Spain, etc. with the LEN Euroleague tournament played amongst the best teams.