Water polo: history, rules, equipment

Water polo

In the article “Water polo” you will learn the history of the development of the water sports game, the basic rules of the game, talk about equipment, answer popular questions.

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Water polo is an Olympic team sport that combines elements of basketball and soccer, but the match itself is played in water rather than on a court. In this game, two teams of six people try to throw the ball into the opponent’s goal, which is defended by a goalkeeper.

History of water polo

Water polo is a fascinating water sports game with a long and interesting history. It originated in the late 19th century in England, when the idea of adapting rugby to play in water appeared. The first water polo matches took place on the River Thames in London in the 1870s.

Water rugby quickly spread around the world, and in the early 20th century began to include organized international competitions. The first water polo rules were drafted by Scottish journalist and swimming coach William Wilson in 1877. These rules were adopted by FINA (International Swimming Federation) as international rules in 1911.

Interesting fact! The temperature of water in the water polo pool is strictly regulated – 26.5 degrees. This figure was obtained by scientists as a result of numerous studies. If the water temperature drops by 3 degrees, athletes experience stiffness of movement and muscles work worse. In warm water, body temperature and sweating increase, rapid fatigue and sluggish play are observed.

In 1900, water polo was included in the program of the Summer Olympics in Paris, and it has remained one of the most popular sports at the Olympics ever since. For a long time, only men’s teams competed at the Olympic Games, but in 2000, following political protests by the Australian women’s team, women’s water polo was added to the Olympic program.

Vladimir Akimov
Vladimir Akimov

The first water polo match in Russia took place in 1910 in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. Fifteen years later the first USSR championship was held, and in 1928 water polo was included in the Spartakiade program.

In the 70s of the last century our national water polo team proved its superiority in the world, it set the style of play and determined the direction of development of this discipline at major international tournaments. Our team accounted for two victories at the Olympic Games and World Championships, five – at the European Championships. We have twice won the World Cup.

Russian athletes have been admired by many coaches and athletes around the world. Alexey Barkalov is recognized as one of the most respected athletes in water polo – for his long contribution to the development of this discipline he was inducted into the World Swimming Hall of Fame. Vladimir Akimov has been a central figure in various competitions since the mid-70s. He has three European Super Cup victories, as well as a victory at the Olympic Games and the World Championships.

Over the years, the rules of the game have improved, tactics and strategies have evolved, and water polo has become an even more dynamic and exciting sport. Nowadays, water polo is popular in many countries, both among professional and amateur athletes.

Basic rules of water polo

The rules of water polo consist of many aspects that determine the course of the game and the behavior of the players. Water polo is a team sport played in a pool 30 meters long, 20 meters wide and 2 to 3 meters deep. Players must be excellent swimmers, strong and tough, as the duels require a high level of physical fitness.

Water polo ground
Water polo ground

The aim of the game is to throw as many goals as possible into the opponent’s goal and not to let in your own. The match consists of four periods of eight minutes of net time with a break between halves of 2 minutes. If the match ends in a draw, there will be extra time (two periods of 3 minutes each) and, if necessary, a penalty shootout.

Each team consists of six field players and one goalkeeper. A team has 30 seconds of net time to attack. If it does not throw the ball or take a shot on goal in that time, the ball goes to the opponent. If the ball hits the crossbar and bounces back during the shot, or if the opponent breaks the rules, the possession time is reset and the team is given another 20 seconds.

A team may make 6 substitutions during the game. Substitutions are made after a goal is scored, between periods, during a timeout, or if a player is ejected from the game due to fouls. The team coach may take two one-minute timeouts per game.

The drawing of the ball in water polo
The drawing of the ball in water polo

During the match, the players pass the ball to each other with only one hand. Only the goalkeeper has the right to touch the ball with both hands, and it is forbidden to hold the ball under water (drown). No player other than the goalkeeper can touch the bottom of the pool.

Each period in the match begins with the ball being drawn. He is thrown into the middle of the pool, and at the whistle of the referee, both teams must swim to the middle. The team that does it first will own the first thirty-second draw.

Water polo is strictly regulated, and there are certain rules regarding the physical interaction of the players, which excludes rudeness and the inadmissibility of certain actions.

For a minor foul (pushing an opponent away, reaching over the opponent’s shoulder or flooding him), the team is punished with a free throw. If a player violates the rules repeatedly, he can be removed for 30 seconds.

For a significant foul (holding a player with two hands, floating on the player’s back, splashing in the opponent’s face, kicking, etc.), the player is punished with a yellow card and a 20-second penalty, and the opponent is given the right to make a free throw.

For a gross foul (a blow that can injure or unsportsmanlike behavior), the player is shown a red card, and the offending team will play in the minority for 4 minutes. In addition, the referee puts a penalty kick (a free throw from 5 meters) into the goal of the offender. You can also earn a penalty if a violation of the rules is committed by the defending team in the aisles of the six-meter zone.

Water polo equipment

In water polo, the swimsuit or cap is not just an item of equipment, it is an additional player on whom much of the game depends. During the game, real battles unfold underwater, and the most serious challenges fall to the swimsuit. If you use a low-quality swimsuit during the game, you will be able to change 3-4 of them during 4 periods, as they will be torn by the opponents.

Polybutylene terephthalate fibers
Polybutylene terephthalate fibers

The water polo leotard is 3-4 times stronger than a regular leotard, allowing it to withstand a tensile load of up to 70 kg. This swimsuit uses polybutylene terephthalate (a hard, colorless polymer), which has better strength, stiffness and chemical resistance.

Polybutylene terephthalate fibers do not wear out for a long time, preventing the fabric from unraveling and tearing. In addition, they do not absorb moisture, so even in chlorinated water such material retains all the properties.

Distinguish a professional swimsuit for the water floor can be distinguished by one more feature – it is quite poorly stretched. This is all because there should not be a gram of elastane in its composition.

Water polo ball was one of the first to find a shell created entirely from synthetic materials. High-quality rubber made it waterproof. The modern ball consists of 3 layers: the ball chamber made of soft rubber, the ball frame made of strong nylon threads and the surface layer with anti-slip tread in the hand.

Water polo cap
Water polo cap

Water polo is the only sport in which women and men play with different balls. The women’s ball is 4 centimeters smaller in diameter than the men’s, because the average size of a woman’s palm is slightly smaller. The pressure inside the ball should be 0.9 bar.

The most vulnerable place for a water polo player is the ear. Very often during a fight, it is possible to injure the eardrum of an opponent with water or a hand. The appearance of the tread on the water polo cap has reduced the risk of eardrum rupture to zero.

The earpiece is made of high-strength plastic and protects the ear canal from direct impact, so the diaphragm is not threatened by dangerous pressure. Since then, the water polo cap is no longer just a distinctive uniform of the player.

Water polo not only develops muscles and improves physical fitness, but also teaches competitive spirit, strategic thinking and the ability to work as a team. This sport is suitable for both amateurs and professionals. You can enroll your child as early as preschool age (from the age of six).

About water polo


Different colors of caps make the work of referees easier, as they can make quicker and more accurate decisions on game moments, taking into account the players' belonging to the teams. Usually one team wears a blue cap and the other team wears a white cap. Goalkeepers very often wear red caps, which makes them easy to identify because they have special rules and responsibilities.

Swimming goggles can limit the player's view and make it difficult for him to see during the game. Players need to have good peripheral vision and a quick reaction to the actions of their opponents, so using glasses for swimming can be inconvenient and ineffective in this sport. In addition, during active movements in the water, swimming goggles can slip off the face and lead to discomfort.

This sport was inspired by a game that resembled a water version of polo, where players on horses scored a ball into a goal. Water polo uses swimming instead of horses, and the game itself takes place in a swimming pool.

The word “polo” itself came from the Indian language (balti), where it meant “ball”. So “water polo” can literally be translated as “water ball game”. In early versions of water polo, players did play with a ball that resembled a polo ball, and the game itself was played in a rougher style. Over time, the rules have been refined and water polo has evolved into a more structured and technically demanding sport.

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