8 tips for water polo spectators

There’s nothing worse than being that spectator who stands up and cheers at a water polo match before realising it’s actually the opposing team who has scored a goal.

Or being the one shouting “cross it, cross it! Put it in the box!” only to be told that neither the cross, nor the box exist in the game of water polo.

So if you’ve not quite grasped the many technical intricacies of water polo, or still don’t quite understand the rules, here are eight tips for water polo spectators which might help fool others in to thinking you actually know what you’re talking about!

8 tips for water polo spectators

  1. Know your teams – the home team will usually play in white hats and the away team in blue, so make sure you know which team you’re supporting. If you’re supporting an individual, try and find out what hat number they will be wearing, so you cheer for the right person too. If it doubt, keep the cheering general!
  2. The swim-off – each quarter begins with both teams lined up, and a swim-off sprint to decide who gets to the ball first and therefore which team takes the first possession.
  3. “Shoooooot!” – try not to shout shoot every time the team you’re supporting gets the ball. However, in the last few seconds of the shot clock (the 30 second possession countdown), this is acceptable!
  4. Exclusions – if a player from the opposing team is ‘sent out’ or excluded, you may want to shout “man up!” to let your team know they are in an extra-player situation. If they score with this player advantage, when discussing the goal with your fellow spectators, appropriate comments would be “what a great man-up goal” or “they really exploited the extra-man situation”.
  5. Back shots – these are a real crowd-pleaser and are often used by centre forwards if the centre back has closed off the forehand or sling shot. Remember, it’s called a back shot. Not a ‘reverse slinger’, or a ‘backwards underarm slam dunk’!
  6. Corners – if the ball goes out of play after the goalkeeper has saved it, or if it’s put out intentionally by the defence, it’s a corner. If a shot is blocked by a defender, and deflected out of play, there is no corner and the possession turns over to the goalkeeper of the team who defended the play. Remember this one so you know when to shout “corner – ref that’s a corner” and when not to.
  7. Goalkeepers – the goalkeeper for each team will usually wear a red cap, so they should be easy to spot. You can’t go too wrong with shouts of “great save” as long as you’re sure the ball hasn’t crossed the line!
  8. Time outs – each team is permitted one time out per quarter, should they decide to use it. So don’t go sprinting off to the loo or for a coffee when you hear the buzzer, without being sure the quarter or game has finished, or you might miss some of the action.

Still baffled by some of the rules of water polo? Head to our About The Game page to read more about how it is played.

Water polo terms

You can’t learn about water polo or its rules without understanding the key water polo language and terms.

A quick read of our concise water polo dictionary below and you’ll be good to go. It’ll give you all the lingo you need to talk about water polo.

So man-up (sorry for such an unoriginal water polo pun!) and get reading.

Simply click on the drop down menu, choose your word, and a definition will appear below.

Determines possession of the ball at the start of each period of play. Players from each team line up at their respective goal lines. The ball is released at halfway and, at the signal of the referee, players swim for the ball.
Under FINA rules, the home team usually wear white caps and the visiting team wear coloured (traditionally blue). Goalkeepers must wear red caps to make them easily identifiable to the referees. Caps are numbered from 1 to 13 with goalkeepers wearing 1 and 13. Only seven players per team are allowed in the water at one time.
Unlike outfield players, the goalkeeper may touch the ball with two hands simultaneously. Outside the five-meter line, goalies must adhere to field player rules. They are not allowed to cross the half-distance line.
Attacking player who generally plays between the two and four meter lines and outside either/both goal posts.
Centre forward
The attacking player who establishes a position directly in front of the opponents' goal, between the two- and five-meter lines. This position is usually played by someone who has good leg-strength and is one of the larger players on the team. These players must have excellent shooting skills. Also known as hole forward or pit player.
Field players who specialise in escaping their defenders by swimming towards the goal. Drivers need outstanding hand-eye coordination, a good shot, and must be fast swimmers.
The attacking player who is farthest from the goal and usually in the centre of the pool. The point position is responsible for communicating with the rest of the attack and has frequent passing opportunities.
Centre back
The defender who plays between his/her own goal and the attack's centre forward, or hole set. Also known as hole guard.
Water polo games are played in four quarters, the length of which differs according to the level of play. International matches consist of four eight-minute quarters. The time remaining is stopped every time play stops.
Shot clock
The clock that counts down the number of seconds a team has to shoot at the goal. The shot clock is reset (to 30 seconds) if the attacking team gets possession of a rebound.
A shot or throw in which a player tosses the ball directly behind him/herself.
Counter attack
Quickly converting from defence to attack and pushing the ball toward the opponent's goal following a turnover.
Dry Pass
A pass made and caught without the ball touching the water.
Wet pass
A pass thrown so that it lands in the water, away from a defensive player. Sometimes this pass is thrown to a spot the attacking player is moving towards on the counter attack.
Off-the-water shot
A shot on the goal taken while the ball is controlled on the water; typically a quick wrist shot.
To lose possession of the ball through poor retention of possession, fouling, or a shot clock violation.
Ordinary Foul
Also called minor fouls, these rule violations are penalized by awarding a free throw to the opposing team. Examples of ordinary fouls are: impeding an opposition player; standing; touching the ball with two hands simultaneously; pushing the ball under water. Ordinary fouls are signalled by the referee with one short whistle blast; with one hand the referee will point to the spot of the foul, and with the other signal the team who has possession.
Free throw
After an ordinary foul, the player closest to the spot of the rule infraction is allowed a free throw. The throw must be made without delay from that spot or from the location of the ball if that is further from the defending team’s goal, unless otherwise directed. The defender may not challenge the player making the throw until he/she has released the ball. Instead of passing to a teammate, the player may also take the foul to themselves by momentarily letting go of the ball, but may not shoot at the goal, even after dribbling, unless he/she takes an immediate shot from outside the five-meter line.
Exclusion foul
Also called major fouls, these are signalled by two short bursts of the whistle. Players committing major fouls are excluded from the game until their team regains possession or 20 seconds have passed. Players serving major foul penalties must leave the field of play without interference to the game, and serve their ejection in a designated penalty area.
Penalty foul
Called when a player commits a foul that is directly intended to prevent a goal from scoring while the ball is inside the five-meter line. The player who commits the foul receives a personal fault, and the opposing team is awarded a penalty throw. A penalty foul is also called when the defence holds, sinks or pulls back an offensive player who has inside water and control of the ball inside the five-meter line.
Penalty throw
A free shot on the goal, taken from anywhere along the five-meter line. When the penalty throw is made, the only player allowed between the shooter and the goal is the goalkeeper.
Personal foul
Major and penalty fouls are personal fouls. Any player committing three personal fouls is excluded from the rest of the game.
When one player enters the game, in place of a teammate. Substitutions can be made between periods, during time-outs or following a goal. Running substitutions can be made by the player to be substituted moving to the re-entry area. Substitutions are also made for players who are ejected from the game due to a red card, two yellow cards, or three personal fouls.
Two-meter violation
When a player is within two meters of the opponent's goal line. This is an ordinary foul. The only time a player can remain in this position is if they are behind the line of the ball.
A stop in play. In order to call a time-out a team must have possession of the ball. In regulation time, teams are allowed to call as many as two 60-second timeouts. In overtime, teams are allowed only one timeout, no matter how many periods overtime lasts.
Official in charge of ensuring fair play throughout a game. There should be two referees, one on each side of the pool, whose responsibilities change with possession and direction of play. The referees' decisions on fouls, scores, possession and other rule infractions are final.
Lob shot
A shot on the goal that is lobbed over the field of play, and intended to fly over the hands of the goal keeper and drop under the crossbar.
When the ball passes completely over the goal line, between the uprights and under the crossbar. One point is awarded to the attacking team, so long as the ball was not punched into the goal and was touched by at least two players after the start, restart or free throw.
Bounce shot
An outside water shot executed by throwing the ball at an angle into the water, with sufficient force to make it bounce into the goal. Also called a skip shot.
Red card
Card shown by the referee to signal that a player (or coach) is ejected from the game for inappropriate conduct. The player or coach must leave the pool deck.
Yellow card
Card shown by the referee to warn a player (or coach) that their conduct is inappropriate. Two yellow cards are the equivalent of a red card.
Corner throw
A free throw taken at the intersection of the sideline and the 2-meter line. A corner throw is awarded when the ball goes out of bounds at the goal line and was last touched by the goalkeeper.
Term that describes the advantage for the attacking team that occurs when a player is called for a major foul and ejected for 20 seconds. For the duration of the exclusion, the attacking team, with 6 players in the game, is said to be "man-up," and the defensive team, with 5 players in the game, said to be "man-down." The situation is also described as a power play or extra-man situation.