THE COMPETITIONWater polo is played as a 6 on 6 game plus goalkeepers, so each team has 7 in the water at a time. How long is a game? Each water polo game is made up of four, 7-minute, quarters.
Players try to throw the ball into a goal. No one except the goalie may touch the ball with more than one hand at a time, and the ball is not to be totally submerged at any time. Swimmers will either pass the ball to other teammates, swim with the ball bouncing and floating between their arms as they move forward (sort of like dribbling a basketball) or take a shot at the goal to score a point.
A goal is when the ball completely crosses the goal line, an imaginary surface across the front of the goal. The ball could go part-way in and be pulled out by the goalie and would not be scored. If there is a tie at the end of regulation time, there are two overtime periods, each three minutes long. If there is still a tie after overtime, then a shoot-out is held. Five players from each team shoot for the goal. If there is still a tie, then the same 5 shoot again until one misses and the other scores a goal.
Like hockey, if a penalty or foul is committed, a player is removed from the game for a 20-seconds, which creates unbalanced situations. A player could be ejected for 4-minutes if they intentionally hit or kick someone. There are also fouls that result in ejection from the game, but the missing player can be replaced after 20-seconds. Fouls result in a change in possession of the ball or a penalty shot if it occurred within a zone 5-meters from the goal.
EQUIPMENTWater polo players wear colored swim caps (that tie under their chin) to identify themselves to their teammates and to identify the goalie. The caps have special plastic cups over ear holes to protect the player's ears.
The players wear swimsuits - sometimes two suits. At the Olympic level, the suits are specifically designed for water polo, with a firm fit (extra fabric could be grabbed by an opposing player) and are somewhat slick to make it harder for an opposing player to hold the swimmer.
The floating ball is made of a special material that allows it to be gripped when wet. Different size balls are used for men and women.
There are two floating goals, one secured at each end of the playing area. The goal usually has a flat front surface and is lined with a net. It is 3-meters wide and .9 meters high
The pool is deep enough (1.8 to 2 meters) to prevent swimmers from touching or pushing off of the bottom. The field of play is marked with lane ropes, swimmers are not permitted to touch or grab them in any way. They may not push off of them (or off of any wall) either. The pool is 30 meters long between the goals for men's games, 25-meters for women. The pool is 20 meters wide.
GOLD, SILVER, AND BRONZETeams must qualify for the Olympic games at qualifying tournaments. There are 12 men's teams and 8 women's team in the Olympic tournament.
The men's tournament starts with two, 6-team pools of round-robin play, with the top four teams from each of those advancing to quarter finals. The quarter final winners move on to the medal rounds.
All 8 women's teams play each other in the first round. The top four teams then advance to semi-finals, with the winners advancing to the gold medal game.