Is Water Polo similar to Other Sports?

Water polo is like a combination of soccer, basketball, ice hockey and rugby, played in a deep pool 30 x 20 meters. You can learn about Water Polo very quickly if you appreciate the similarities between it and the above games. However, it is the unique characteristics of the game that makes water polo so interesting.


What is so different about Water Polo?

It is played in the water which makes it difficult for the referee to see exactly what is going on. Players, may use subtle pushes, and holds to improve their positions. While this may be totally foreign to most sports people, little push-offs, and pull-pasts, have been a part of water polo for so long that some instructional books exist which actually show how to get away with these moves.


How Physical is Water Polo?

Another interesting point is the way water polo rules distinguish between degrees of physical contact. The four rules which deal with this are; impeding; pushing, holding (sinking and pulling back), and brutality. With the exception of brutality, these rules, do not apply when an opponent is holding the ball, i.e., they can be tackled.

However, impeding ( which is basically swimming over someone ) and pushing are considered minor ordinary fouls while to "hold, sink, or pull back an opponent not holding the ball" is considered a major foul.


Water Polo rules and tactics similar to other games.



  1. Players score through rectangular goals defended by a goal keeper at each end.
  2. There are two types of "free throws":
    Indirect free throws (from ordinary fouls): no shot at goal is allowed closer than 7 meters from the goal.
    Penalty throws: for any foul inside the penalty area that stops a goal being scored. A direct shot at goal is allowed with only the goal keeper to beat.
  3. There is offside - however, the offside rule only applies when players are within two meters of the goal. Players are offside if they are in front of the line of the ball when they are "inside the 2 meters". Of course a player cannot be offside if he or she has the ball.


There are several similarities, with basketball:

  1. Teams must shoot at goal within a certain time after gaining possession; in water polo it is 35 seconds, in basketball it is 30 seconds.
  2. There are two types of fouls;

    Ordinary fouls which are like violations in basketball, and are punished as minor breaches of the rules, and

    Major fouls which are, like personal fouls in basketball, and are punished as a temporary exclusion from the game. These are bad for the flow of the game.

  3. If players get 3 major fouls awarded against them, they must be replaced, and cannot re-enter the game (in basketball it is 5 fouls).
  4. The clock is stopped every time the referees whistle is blown, extending the game further than the 4 periods of 7 minutes allowed (usually about l hour).
  5. In basketball, certain large players take up a position close to the basket (called the high or low posts). The function of the players is to score, or to distribute the ball to other players who will attempt to score. Water polo has an equivalent position called the center forward or "hole". This player tries to occupy a space directly in front of the goal.


Ice Hockey

The similarities with hockey include:

  1. Players are penalized if they are caught major fouling ( the only exception to this is when a penalty is awarded).
  2. Players are penalized for 20 seconds or until a goal is scored or the defending team regains possession.
  3. The "penalty boxes" are in the corners of the field, usually to the defending goal keeper’s right.



The similarities with Rugby include:

  1. Water polo is a physical contact sport and a player who is holding a ball may be tackled.
  2. The rules Only protect players from excessive violence. However, there, is no "completion of the tackle" as in Rugby. Water Polo referees are quite strict, and many fouls are awarded in tackles because defenders must be very skilled to tackle without fouling.


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