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Glossary/Key Terms

Basic Water Polo Terminology

  • 2-Meter Line:  The imaginary line that runs from one side of the pool to the other, 2 meters in front of the goal, parallel with the goal line.  It is designated by a red mark or cone at the side of the pool.
  • 5-Meter Lline: The line at each end of the pool crossing 5 meters in front of the goal, designated by a yellow mark or cone at the side of the pool.  A player may shoot at the goal from beyond this line without taking a free pass after an ordinary foul, if the shot is made with one continuous motion.
  • Ball:  The Water Polo ball is a yellow rubber ball with a gripable surface.
  • Ball Under:  If the ball gets pushed underwater this results in a turnover.  The referee will blow one whistle blast, press one hand down in a pushing motion, and then point in the direction of the team with possession.
  • Caps:  Water Polo protective caps have ear protectors, display numbers and generally the home team wears the dark caps and the visiting team wears the white caps.  Goalies generally wear red caps.
  • Defensive Players: These players try to stop their opponents from scoring.
  • Dribble: This technique allows a player to move the ball in the pool by swimming with the ball in front of the face and between both arms using a modified freestyle crawl stroke or breaststroke (with head above water). 
  • Direct Shot: A shot taken on goal after an ordinary foul was committed outside the 5m line.  Shot must be immediate and without hesitation.
  • Drive: To swim quickly toward the goal without the ball in an effort to become open for a pass.
  • Driver / Attacker: Offensive field players with possession of the ball who attack the opponent’s goal.  Drivers are commonly good shooters and fast swimmers.     
  • Drop: A zone defensive strategy.  
  • Dry Pass: A pass in which the ball never touches the water.
  • Eggbeater Kick: This form of treading water uses an alternating breaststroke kick that helps to elevate a player above the surface of the water.  The player can then block, pass & shoot with free hands.
  • Flats:  The left flat {Position 2} and right flat {Position 4} are offensive field players generally play on or near the 5-meter line and are positioned on either side of the Point {Position 3}.  Together with the two wings, these perimeter players are positioned in a semicircle around the Hole. 
  • Fouls:  These are very common in the sport and are categorized into the following:
    • Ordinary / Minor Fouls – The Referee will signal a short whistle blow, point one hand to the direction of the team in possession of the ball. The player who is fouled is awarded the ball and the ball is put back into play with any water polo move.
      • Examples:  One common foul is when a defender tries to get the ball and hits the arm of the offensive player.
    • Exclusion / Major Fouls – The Referee will signal two short whistle blows. After the first whistle the Ref will point at the player who committed the foul and after the second whistle the Ref will point to the ejection area where the player will remain for 20-seconds.
      • Examples:  Blatant or intentional holding, grabbing, kicking, pushing, interfering with a free throw, and sinking another player.
    • Penalty Fouls – The Referee will blow the whistle and raise 5 fingers to signal that a foul was committed.  If a major foul occurs inside the 5-meter line when it was probable that a goal would have been scored, then the Referee will call a Penalty Foul.
    • NOTE:  Personal fouls are comprised of Exclusion & Penalty fouls.  Any player receiving 3 personal fouls must sit for the remainder of the game.
  • Free throw: This is free pass granted immediately following an ordinary foul.  A defender cannot challenge the player with possession until the ball is put into play using a water polo move.  If the foul takes place beyond the 5-meter line then the player with possession can shoot at the goal if in a continuous motion (direct shot).
  • Goal:  A goal is scored after a ball passes completely over the goal line between the two goal posts and under the crossbar.  The term goal also describes the physical cage with net structure that players target for scoring points.
  • Goal line:  The line at each end of the pool crossing the front of the goal, designated by a white mark on the edge of the pool. 
  • Goalie:  The player on each team who remains directly in front of the goal and whose primary duty is to prevent the opposite team from scoring. The goalkeeper may touch the ball with two hands out to the 5-meter line.  Goalies may touch the bottom of the pool with feet.   Goalies are not permitted to cross the half-distance line.  
  • Half-Distance Line:  The midpoint of the playing field /pool where the ball is dropped at the start of play.
  • Hole Set / Center Forward:  This important offensive field player moves directly in front of the opponent’s goal near the 2-meter line.  The hole acts as a center forward and is responsible for making good passes to perimeter players {Wings, Flats and Points} and for communicating with the team.
  • Hole-D / Center Defender:  This defensive player defends the center position near the 2-meter line.  
  • Impede: To prevent the movement of a player.
  • Man-to-Man / Press:  A defensive tactic in which each defender closely guards an offensive attacker regardless where that player goes in the field of play.
  • Outlet Pass:  After the goalie gains possession he/she will try to pass the ball to a teammate who is swimming downfield towards the opponent’s goal.
  • Pass:  When a player with the ball throws it to a teammate or to an area of the pool in his team’s control.  Common types of passes include dry passes and wet passes.
  • Point:  The Point {Position 3} is an offensive player is positioned the farthest from the opponent’s goal, just outside the 5-meter line between the two Flat Drivers.  The Point plays a key role on offense with drives, picks, passes and shots.  Further, the Point must return to defense quickly when there is a turnover.
  • Referee:  Wears a white uniform and controls the players, game and playing area throughout a match primarily using a whistle and hand signals.  Depending upon the nature of the competition, there may be two referees monitoring a single game standing on opposite sides of the pool deck.
  • Shoot / Shot:  When a player attempts to throw the ball into the opponent’s goal.
  • Shot Clock:  A clock on the pool deck that counts down from 30 seconds the time remaining for a team to take a shot at the opponent’s goal.
  • Sinking: This is when one player forces another player underwater.  If this occurs, a major foul is called.
  • Skip Shot:  When a ball is thrown at an angle directly into the water and it then skips or bounces back into the air and into the goal.
  • Sprint:  At the start of every period each team lines up at its own goal line.  The Ref will drop the ball at the Half –Distance line and when the Ref blows the whistle the teams sprint to recover the ball first to gain control.
  • Tee shot:  A player will scoop the ball with the non-dominant hand, load it with the dominant hand, and propel it forward.
  • Timeout:  Each team may call a specified number of 60-second timeouts during regulation play.
  • Transition: When a team in the pool switches from offense to defense or defense to offense.
  • Turnover: When the team with the ball loses control due to a bad pass, a foul, a steal or a bad shot.
  • Wet Pass:  The player with the ball throws it in the water directly in front of a teammate so that the ball will be out of reach from a defender.
  • Wings:  The left wing {Position 1} and right wing {Position 5} perimeter players are positioned on either side of the opponent’s goal near the 2-meter line.  They are generally excellent passers and shooters.