Water polo is a team water sport. The playing team consists of six field players and one goalkeeper. The winner of the game is the team that scores more goals. Game play involves swimming, treading water, players passing the ball while being defended by opponents, and scoring by throwing into a net defended by a goalie. 'Man-up' (or 'power play') situations occur frequently. Water polo, therefore, has strong similarities to the land-based game of handball.
Seven players from each team (six field players and a goalkeeper) are allowed in the playing area of the pool during game play. Visiting team field players wear numbered and usually White caps, and home team field players wear usually Blue caps (though any other contrasting colors are now allowed); both goalies wear red caps, numbered "1". Both teams may substitute players while the ball is in their possession. During game play, players enter and exit in the corner of the pool, or in front of their goal; when play is stopped, they may enter or exit anywhere. There are 7 people in the field including goal keeper.
The game is divided into four periods; the length depends on the level of play:
|Level of play||Team level||Time each period||Authority|
|FINA Water Polo World League||National||8 minutes||FINA|
|Serbian, Russian, Croatian, Italian Water Polo League||National||8 minutes||VSS|
|Senior club play||Club||8 minutes||FINA|
|US College||Varsity||8 minutes||CWPA|
|US College||Club||7 minutes||CWPA|
|US High School||Varsity||7 minutes||NFHS|
|US High School||Junior Varsity||6 minutes||NFHS|
|US High School||Freshman/Sophomore||5 minutes||NFHS|
|USA water polo||14 & unders||5 minutes|
The game clock is stopped when the ball is not 'in play' (between a foul being committed and the free throw being taken, and between a goal being scored and the restart). As a result, the average quarter lasts around 12 minutes 'real time'. A team may not have possession of the ball for longer than 30 seconds without shooting for the goal unless an opponent commits an ejection foul. After 30 seconds, possession passes to the other team. However, if a team shoots the ball within the allotted time, and regains control of the ball, the shot clock is reset to 30 seconds. Each team may call 2 one-minute timeouts in the four periods of regulation play, and one timeout if the game goes into overtime. During game play, only the team in possession of the ball may call a timeout.
Dimensions of the water polo pool are not fixed and can vary between 20×10 and 30×20 meters. Minimum water depth must be least 1.8 meters (6 feet), but this is often waived for younger age groups. The goals are 3 meters wide and 90 centimeters high. Water polo balls are generally yellow and of varying size and weight for juniors, women and men. The middle of the pool is designated by a white line. Before 2005, the pool was divided by 7 and 4 meter lines (distance out from the goal line). This has been merged into one 5 meter line since the 2005–2006 season. Along the side of the pool, the center area between the 5 meter lines is marked by a green line (if marked at all). The "five meters" line is where penalties are shot and it is designated by a yellow line. The "two meter" line is designated with a red line and no player of the attacking team can receive a ball inside this zone.in other words you cannot be in the red if the ball is not.
One player on each team is designated the goalkeeper, assigned to block any shots at goal. The goalkeeper is the only player who can touch the ball with both hands at any time, and, in a shallow pool, the only player allowed to stand on the bottom.
Players can move the ball by throwing it to a teammate or swimming with the ball in front of them. Players are not permitted to push the ball underwater in order to keep it from an opponent, or push or hold an opposing player unless that player is holding the ball. Water polo is an intensely aggressive sport so fouls are very common, and result in a free throw during which the player cannot shoot at the goal unless beyond the "5 meter" line. If a foul is called outside the 5 meter line, the player is either able to shoot, pass or continue swimming with the ball. Water polo players need remarkable stamina because of the considerable amount of holding and pushing that occurs during the game, some allowed, some unseen or ignored by the referees (usually underwater). There are two types of fouls one (like the scenario above) only results in the "fouler" giving up the ball and backing off. The other results in an ejection or kick out. Ejections are usually given if someone is being a little too aggressive; i.e. drowning or smacking someone. A player can only have 3 ejections before being majored and can not play for the rest of the game. If a player gets a brutality he or she is also not able to finish the game. An example of a brutality would be excessively cruising or intentionally punching someone. Water polo is a physically demanding activity; action is continuous, and players commonly swim 5 kilometers or more during four periods of play.
Water polo is a game requiring excellent hand-eye coordination. The ability to handle and pass the ball flawlessly separates the good teams from the great teams. A pass thrown to a field position player is preferably a "dry pass" (meaning the ball does not touch the water) and allows for optimal speed when passing from player to player with fluid motion between catching and throwing. A "wet pass" is a deliberate pass into the water, just out of reach of the offensive player nearest the goal (the "hole set") and his defender. The hole-set can then lunge towards the ball and out of the water to make a shot or pass. Scoring in water polo can be quite different than in other sports. For example, a "skip" or "bounce shot is fired intentionally at the water with considerable force so it will bounce back up. The ball usually hits the water within a meter of the net, where the goalie cannot anticipate and block the shot. Another shot, called a "lob" is thrown with a large vertical arc. Often these shots are more difficult to stop than a faster shot, as they are usually thrown across a net at such an angle the goalie must not only shift position from one side of the net to the other quickly, but also at the same time propel out of the water more than for other shots. Pump faking is effective when using any kind of shot. The player gets in the position to shoot but stops halfway through the arm-throwing motion, causing the defending goalkeeper to commit too early to block the subsequent shot.
A defender will often foul the player with the ball as a tactic to disrupt the opponent's ball movement. Play continues uninterrupted in most cases, but the attacker must now pass the ball or continue swimming instead of taking a shot. (An exception allows players to quickly pick up the ball and shoot if fouled outside of the five meter mark.) However, as in ice hockey, a player caught committing a major foul, is sent out of the playing area with his team a man down for 20 seconds, but may return sooner if a goal is scored or his team regains possession. If the foul is judged to be brutal, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game, with substitution by another teammate after four minutes have elapsed. A player, coach or spectator can also be ejected for arguing with the referees. During a man up situation resulting from an ejection foul, the attacking team can expect to score by passing around to move the goalkeeper out of position. A player that has been ejected three times must sit out the whole match with substitution.
Water Polo is a team water activity requiring swimming skills. Players must play both offense and defense, treading water or wrestling before turning back for the opposing team's possession. The front crawl stroke used in water polo differs from the usual swimming style in which water polo players swim with the head out of water at all times to observe the play. The arm stroke used is also a lot shorter and quicker and is used primarily to protect the ball. Backstroke is used by defending players to look for advancing opponents and by the goalie to track the ball after passing. Water polo backstroke differs from swimming backstroke; the player sits up a bit in the water, using eggbeater leg like motions with short arm strokes to the side instead of long arm strokes. This allows the player to see the play and quickly switch positions. It also allows the player to quickly catch a pass.
As all field players are only allowed to touch the ball with one hand at a time, they must develop the ability to catch and throw the ball with either hand and also the ability to catch a ball from any direction, including across the body using the momentum of the incoming ball. Experienced water polo players can catch and release a pass or shoot with a single motion. The size of the ball can overwhelm a small child's hand making the sport more suitable for older children. There are also smaller balls that can be used by younger children when playing.
There are seven players in the water from each team at one time. There are six players that play out and one goalkeeper. Unlike most common team sports, there is little positional play; field players will often fill several positions throughout the game as situations demand. These positions consist of the center (or hole set), the point (who also usually plays center back or hole defender), the two wings and the two flats. Players who are skilled in all of these positions on offensive or defensive are called utility players. Utility players tend to come off of the bench, though this is not absolute. Certain body types are more suited for particular positions, and left-handed players are especially coveted on the right-hand side of the field, allowing teams to launch 2-sided attacks.
The offensive positions include: one center (a.k.a. two-meter offense, 2-meters, hole set, set, hole man, bucket, pit player or pit-man), two wings (located on or near the 2-meter), two drivers (also called "flats," located on or near the 5-meter), and one "point" (usually just behind the 5 meter), positioned farthest from the goal. The wings, drivers and point are often called the perimeter players; while the hole-set directs play. There is a typical numbering system for these positions in U.S. NCAA men's division one polo. Beginning with the offensive wing to the opposing goalies right side is called one. The flat in a counter clockwise from one is called two. Moving along in the same direction the point player is three, the next flat is four, the final wing is five, and the hole set is called six.
The most basic positional set up is known as a 3–3, so called because there are two lines in front of the opponent's goal. Another set up, used more by professional teams, is known as an "arc," umbrella, or mushroom; perimeter players form the shape of an arc around the goal, with the hole set as the handle or stalk. Yet another option for offensive set is called a 4–2 or double hole; there are two center forward offensive players in front of the goal. Double hole is most often used in "man up" situations, or when the defense has only one skilled hole D, or to draw in a defender and then pass out to a perimeter player for a shot ("kick out").
The center sets up in front of the opposing team's goalie and scores the most individually (especially during lower level play where flats do not have the required strength to effectively shoot from outside or to penetrate and then pass to teammates like the point guard in basketball). The center's position nearest to the goal allows explosive shots from close-range ("step-out" or "roll-out", "sweep," or backhand shots).
Another, albeit less common offense (violation), is the motion offense in which two "weak-side" (to the right of the goal for right-handed players) perimeter players set up as a wing and a flat. The remaining four players swim in square pattern in which a player swims from the point to the hole and then out to the strong side wing. The wing moves to the flat and the flat to the point. The weak side wing and flat then control the tempo of play and try to make passes into the player driving towards the center who can then either shoot or pass. This form of offense is used when no dominate hole set is available, or the hole defense is too strong. It is also seen much more often in women's water polo where teams may lack a player of sufficient size or strength to set up in the center. The best advantage to this system is it makes man-coverage much more difficult for the defender and allows the offense to control the game tempo better once the players are "set up." The main drawback is this constant motion can be very tiring as well as somewhat predictable as to where the next pass is going to go.
Defensive positions are often the same positionally, but just switched from offense to defense. For example, the center forward or hole set, who directs the attack on offense, on defense is known as "hole D" ( a.k.a. set guard, hole check, pit defense or two-meter defense), and guards the opposing team's center forward (also called the hole). Defense can be played man-to-man or in zones, such as a 2–4 (four defenders along the goal line). It can also be played as a combination of the two in what is known as an "M drop" defense, in which the point defender moves away ("sloughs off") his man into a zone in order to better defend the center position. In this defense, the two wing defenders split the area furthest from the goal, allowing them a clearer lane for the counter-attack if their team recovers the ball.
The goalkeeper is generally one of the more challenging positions not only in the sport of water polo, but in any sport. A goalie has to be able to jump out of the water, using little more than one's core and legs, and hold the vertical position without sinking into the water, all while tracking and anticipating a shot. The goal is 2.8 m2 in face area; the goalie should also be a master of fast, effective lateral movement in the water as well as lightning fast lunges out of the water to block a shot. Another key job that the goalkeeper is responsible for is guiding and informing his or her defense of imposing threats and gaps in the defense, and making helpful observations to identify a gap in the defense that the defenders may or can not see. The goalkeeper is also the "quarterback", as he or she usually begins the offensive play. It is not unusual for a goalie to make the assisting pass to a goal on a break away.
The goalkeeper is given several privileges above those of the other players, but only if he or she is within the five meter area in front of his or her goal:
In general, a foul that would cause an ejection of a field player might only bring on a five meter shot on the goalie. The goalkeeper also has one limitation that other players do not have: he or she cannot cross the half-distance line. Also, if a goalie pushes the ball under water, it is not a turnover like with field players. It is a penalty shot, also called a 5-meter shot, or simply, a "5-meter".
At the start of each period, teams line up on their own goal line. Three players go to both sides of the goal; the goalkeeper starts in the goal. At the referee's whistle, both teams swim to midpoint of the field (known as the sprint or the swim-off); the referee drops the ball near the side of the pool (in American water polo). In International competition the ball is placed in the middle of the pool and is supported with a floating ring. The first team to recover the ball becomes the attacker until a goal is scored or the defenders recover the ball. After a goal is scored, the teams line up anywhere within their halves of play, but usually along the midpoint of the pool. Play resumes when the team not scoring the goal puts the ball in play by passing it backwards to a teammate.
When the offense takes possession of the ball, the strategy is to advance the ball down the field of play and to score a goal. Players can move the ball by throwing it to a teammate or swimming with the ball in front of them ("dribbling"). If an attacker uses his arm to push away a defending player and free up space for a pass or shot, the referee will rule a turnover and the defense will take possession of the ball. If an attacker advances inside the 2-meter line without the ball or before the ball is inside the 2-meter area, he is ruled off side and the ball is turned over to the defense. This is often overlooked if the attacker is well to the side of the pool or when the ball is at the other side of the pool.
The key to the offense is to accurately pass (or "set") the ball into the center forward or hole set, positioned directly in front of the goal (the hole). Any field player may throw the hole set a "wet pass." A wet pass is one that hits the water just outside of the hole set's reach. A dry pass may also be used. This is where the hole set receives the ball directly in his hand and then attempts a shot at the cage. This pass is much more difficult because if the pass is not properly caught, the officials will be likely to call an offensive foul resulting in a change of ball possession. The hole set attempts to take possession of the ball [after a wet pass], to shoot at the goal, or to draw a foul from his defender. A minor foul is called if his defender (called the "hole D") attempts to impede movement before the hole set has possession. The referee indicates the foul with one short whistle blow and points one hand to the spot of the foul and the other hand in the direction of the attack of the team to whom the free throw has been awarded. The hole set then has a "reasonable amount of time" (typically about three seconds) to re-commence play by making a free pass to one of the other players. The defensive team cannot hinder the hole set until the free throw has been taken, but the hole set cannot shoot a goal once the foul has been awarded until the ball has been played by at least one other player. If the hole set attempts a goal without the free throw, the goal is not counted and the defense takes possession of the ball, unless the shot is made outside the 5-meter line. As soon as the hole set has a free pass, the other attacking players attempt to swim (or drive) away from their defenders towards the goal. The players at the flat position will attempt to set a screen (also known as a pick) for the driver. If a driver gets free from a defender, the player calls for the pass from the hole set and attempts a shot at the goal.
If a defender interferes with a free throw, holds or sinks an attacker who is not in possession or splashes water into the face of an opponent, the defensive player is excluded from the game for twenty seconds (informally called a 'kicked out' or an ejection). The attacking team typically positions 4 players on the 2 meter line, and 2 players on 5 meter line (4–2), passing the ball around until an open player attempts a shot. Other formations include a 3–3 (two lines of three attackers each) or arc (attackers make an arc in front of the goal and one offensive player sits in the 'hole' or 'pit' in front of the goal). The five defending players try to pressure the attackers, block shots and prevent a goal being scored for the 20 seconds while they are a player down. The other defenders can only block the ball with one hand to help the goalie. The defensive player is allowed to return immediately if the offense scores, or if the defense recovers the ball before the twenty seconds expires.
If a defender commits a major foul within the five meter area that prevents a likely goal, the attacking team is awarded a penalty throw or shot. An attacking player lines up on the five meter line in front of the opposing goal. No other player may be in front of him or within 2 meters of his position. The defending goalkeeper must be between the goal posts. The referee signals with a whistle and by lowering his arm, and the player taking the penalty shot must immediately throw the ball with an uninterrupted motion toward the goal, no pumping or faking is permitted. The shooter’s body can not at any time cross the 5 meter line until after the ball is released. If the shooter carries his body over the line and shoots the result is a turn over. If the shot does not score and the ball stays in play than the play continues. Penalty shots are often successful.
A goal is scored if the ball completely passes between the goal posts and is underneath the crossbar. If a shot bounces off a goal post back into the field of play, the ball is rebounded by the players and the shot clock is reset. If the shot goes outside the goal and on to the deck (outside the field of play) then the ball is automatically recovered by the defense. If the goalie, however, is the last to touch the ball before it goes out of play behind the goal line, or if a defender purposely sends the ball out, then the offense receives the ball at the two meter line for a corner throw or "two meter" much like a corner kick in soccer or football. When the goalie blocks a shot, the defense may gain control of the ball, and make a long pass to a teammate who stayed on his offensive end of the pool when the rest of his team was defending. This is called cherry-picking or sea gulling.
If the score is tied at the end of regulation play, two overtime periods of three minutes each are played. If the tie is not broken after two overtime periods, a penalty shootout will determine the winner. Five players and a goalkeeper are chosen by the coaches of each team. A player cannot be chosen if he or she was ejected three times during the match. Players shoot from the 5 meter line alternately at either end of the pool in turn until all five have taken a shot. If the score is still tied, the same players shoot alternately until one team misses and the other scores. Overtime periods are common in tournament play because of the high level of skill of these superior teams.
Differing from FINA rules, after the two three-minute overtime periods in American college varsity water polo, the teams play three-minute sudden death periods until a team scores a goal and wins the game.
American High School water polo plays overtime as a "sudden death" period of a specified time limit. If this results in a tie, the teams engage in a shootout as described in FINA rules above.
On defense, the players work to regain possession of the ball and to prevent a goal in their own net. The defense attempts to knock away or steal the ball from the offense or to commit a foul in order to stop an offensive player from taking a goal shot. The defender attempts to stay between the attacker and the goal, a position known as inside water.
If an offensive player, such as the hole set (center forward), has possession of the ball in front of the goal, the defensive player tries to steal the ball or to keep the center from shooting or passing. If the defender cannot achieve these aims, he may commit a foul intentionally. The hole set then is given a free throw but must pass off the ball to another offensive player, rather than making a direct shot at the goal. Defensive perimeter players may also intentionally cause a minor foul and then move toward the goal, away from their attacker, who must take a free throw. This technique, called sloughing, allows the defense an opportunity to double-team the hole set and possibly steal the inbound pass. The referee may refrain from declaring a foul, if in his judgment this would give the advantage to the offender's team. This is known as the Advantage Rule.
Ordinary fouls occur when a player impedes or otherwise prevents the free movement of an opponent who is not holding the ball. The most common is when a player reaches over the shoulder of an opponent in order to knock the ball away while in the process hindering the opponent. Offensive players may be called for a foul by pushing off a defender to provide space for a pass or shot. The referee indicates the foul with one short whistle blow and points one hand to the spot of the foul and the other hand in the direction of the attacking team, who retain possession. The attacker must make a free pass without undue delay to another offensive player. If the foul has been committed outside the 5-meter line, the offensive player may also attempt a direct shot on goal, but the shot must be taken immediately and in one continuous motion. Because of this rule the hole set will often set up at or beyond the five meter mark hoping to get a foul, shoot, and score. If the offensive player fakes a shot and then shoots the ball, it is considered a turnover. If the same defender repetitively makes minor fouls, referees will exclude that player for 20 seconds. To avoid an ejection, the hole defender may foul twice, and then have a wing defender switch with him so that the defense can continue to foul the hole man without provoking an exclusion foul. The rule was altered to allow repeated fouls without exclusions, but is often still enforced by referees.
Major fouls (exclusion fouls) are committed when the defensive player holds, sinks or pulls back the offensive player away from the ball before the offensive player has had a chance to take possession of the ball. This includes dunking (sinking in FINA rules), intentional splashing, pulling back, swimming on the other player's back,stopping the other player from swimming or otherwise preventing the offensive player from preserving his advantage. A referee signals a major foul by two short whistle bursts and indicates that the player must leave the field of play and move to the penalty area for twenty seconds. The referee will first point to the player who commits the foul and will blow the whistle, then they will point to the ejection corner and blow the whistle again. The player must move to the penalty area without impacting the natural game play. If the player does not leave the field of play, the player will be kicked out for the remaining time of the game with substitution. The remaining five defenders, to cover the six attackers on a man up situation, usually set up in a zone defense in front of their goal. The attacking team can expect to score, by adopting a 4–2 or 3–3 formation, and moving the goalkeeper out of position. A player that has been ejected three times must sit out the whole match with substitution, much like the six personal fouls in basketball.
Drawing the ejection (forcing defense to commit a major foul) occurs when an offensive player takes advantage of a defensive player by using body position and/or grabbing on their wrists to make it appear as though the defensive player is committing a "major foul", therefore resulting in the ejection of that player and gaining a 6 on 5 advantage. Another common way to draw an ejection is by staggering stroke while being chased to make it appear as though the defensive player is pulling the swimmer back.
Brutality fouls A brutality is called when a player kicks or strikes an opponent or official with malicious intent. The strike must make contact with the player for a brutality to be called, and must be with intent to injure. Otherwise the player is punished with a misconduct foul, with substitution allowed after 20 seconds or a change of position. The player who is charged with a brutality is excluded from the game for 4 minutes, and the team is forced to play with one less player than the other team for that duration. In addition to the exclusion a penalty shot is also awarded to the opposing team, if the foul occurs during actual play. Previously, the team who was charged with a brutality would be required to play the remainder of the game with one less player, similar to a red card awarded in football. All brutalities have to be reported by officials and further actions may be taken by the relevant governing body. These actions could include more games added on to the one game suspension.
A misconduct foul is an unsportsmanlike act. For unacceptable language, violent or persistent fouls, taking part in the game after being excluded or showing disrespect, a player is ejected for the remainder of the game with substitution after 20 seconds has elapsed. There are two kinds of misconduct fouls that a player can incur. If a player physically assaults another player and the referee deems it not to be severe enough to warrant a charge of brutality, the lesser charge being Misconduct-Violence can be applied. If the incident does not involve physical (or attempted) contact, the referee can impose a Misconduct charge. In most competitions Misconduct-Violence carries heavier sanctions than Misconduct.
A penalty shot or 5-meter is awarded when a major foul is committed inside the 5-meter line and a probable goal was prevented by the foul. This is usually awarded if the defensive player in on another players back. This usually means that the offensive player is in front of and facing the goal. The penalty shot is attempted from 5 meters. Any defenders flanking the player taking the shot must be no closer than 2 meters. The goalkeeper must be on the goal line. In high school rules, the goalie must keep their hips even with the goal line. They are allowed to lean their upper body over in order to kick up higher. The referee blows the whistle and the player must shoot immediately.
Even with good backup from the rest of the defenders, stopping attacks can prove very difficult if the goalkeeper remains in the middle of the goal. The most defensible position is along a semicircular line connecting the goalposts and extending out in the center. Depending on the ball carrier's location, the goalie is positioned along that semicircle roughly a meter out of the goal to reduce the attacker's shooting angle. The goalkeeper stops using his or her hands to tread water once the opponent enters at about the 7 meter mark and starts treading water much harder, elevating the body, arms ready for the block. Finally the goalie tries to block the ball down, which is often hard for the longer reaches, but prevents an offensive rebound and second shot. As is the case with other defensive players, a goalkeeper who aggressively fouls an attacker in position to score can be charged with a penalty shot for the other team. The goalkeeper can also be ejected for twenty seconds if a major foul is committed. Also inside the five meter mark, the goalie can swing at the ball with a closed fist without being penalized.
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When passing or shooting, the hips of the player should line up in the direction in which the ball is thrown. When passing, shooting or receiving a ball, the player rotates the whole of the upper body, using egg-beater which is the circling of feet under water to keep the lower body in the same position, then releasing the ball with hips lined up in the direction of the throw. For extra accuracy and speed when releasing the ball, a player uses body momentum to follow through at the end of the throw.
There are two basic passes in water polo: the "dry" pass and the "wet" pass. Only one hand may come in contact with the ball at any time. When passing to a field position player, a dry pass (meaning the ball does not touch the water) is thrown a few inches above the head of the catching player and to the left or right side depending on the receiver's dominant hand. The dry pass allows for optimal speed when passing from player to player, who do not have to pick the ball up out of the water to throw. A fluid motion between catching and throwing is the goal. An expert thrower's hand creates back spin, making the ball easier to catch. In order for the player to catch the ball above their head, they must egg beater harder which brings their body higher out of the water.
The wet pass is a deliberate pass into the water. This is usually done when making a pass into the hole set. To make a successful wet pass, the ball lands just out of reach of the offensive player and defensive team. The hole set can then lunge towards the ball and out of the water to make a shot or pass. This is a very effective offensive strategy if a team has a strong hole set. The only thing the passer must look out for is a possible double-team on the hole set. If that happens, the player must look for an open player or pass the ball closer to the hole set to avoid a turnover. Also there are about three types of set goals. First is the sweep. The sweep shot is where an outside rim player passes the ball wet into set. Then the set player will reach out for the ball while his/her hips are pointing towards the goal; the player will then come out with their arm straight will aim towards the high corner of the net and fire the ball.
Any part of the body can be used to score a goal except for a clenched fist.
Shots usually succeed when the goalie is out of position. At long range from the goal, shots are easy for goalkeepers to stop. If a shot is taken at a distance it is best to shoot cross cage and into one of the four corners (SP), but closer ones are very difficult. Close-range shots tend to be harder to come by (since players close to the goalpost are usually under very great pressure), but in these situations usually a soft tap-in, with or without a feign, is enough to beat the goalkeeper. Close-range shots may come from the center-forward in open play, utilizing either quick backhand-shots, sweep-shots, layout or other creative shooting positions.
There are three basic outside water shooting techniques. The first is a straight forward power shot. Top level water polo players can generate ball speeds between 50–90 km/h (30–56 mph). The player propels his body out of the water and uses his momentum to shoot the ball into the net. Though very powerful, this shot requires precise targeting. If the shot is off the mark, the ball will either be blocked by the goalie or rebound off the goal post. Another shooting technique is the bounce shot or skip shot. Instead of shooting directly into the net, the player throws the ball at an angle directly into the water. If done properly and with enough force, the ball will bounce off the water and into the goal. The bounce shot usually takes the goalie by surprise. But, if done from far enough away the goalie can plan to block the ball low on the water instead of bringing the hands up in the air. Alternately, the ball can be thrown sidearm with heavy backspin. This will cause it to slide along the surface of the water. The lob shot is high arching shot intended to pass over the goalie's hands and under the crossbar. It is most effective taken from an angle on either side of the goal post; this provides a large area behind the goalie into which the lob can drop on its downward arc. This shot confuses the goalie and usually forces the goalie to kick up out of the water too early and miss the block. If the goalie is to block the shot, they have to lunge upwards and back, stretching their opposite arm in an attempt to meet the ball's lobbing trajectory.
Outside water shots require a player to cease swimming, and usually occur outside the 2 meter zone. Players may perform an inside water shot, also known as a "wet shot". "Wet shots" are shot from water level by players who are currently in control of the ball. Wet shots are performed when the player has open water between him and the goal because the defender is behind him or her. A "wet shot" is valuable as the player does not have to stop and lift the ball up for a shot, making it easy for the trailing defender to steal it. Instead, the player can keep the ball in front of them while performing one of the following shots: The t-shot or bat shot is executed by scooping the ball with the non-dominant hand, "loading" the ball to the dominant hand, and propelling the ball forward. The pop shot is a quick shot executed by cupping the ball with the dominant hand from underneath the ball and releasing it, usually into a corner of the goal. This shot is timed with a player's swimming stroke, and should flow comfortably from the dribble. Other inside water shots include the screw shot, which can likewise be executed directly from the stroke, and a spring shot where the player pushes the ball slightly into the water (but avoiding a "ball under" foul) and then allows a sudden release. While beginning players will have difficulty integrating these shots into their stroke, resulting in weaker shots as compared to outside water shots, inside water shots by experienced players have sufficient force to skip past the goalkeeper. One thing the shooter must watch is how close they get to the goalie because they can come out of the goal and take the ball.
Another popular shot is the back hand. It is usually used by the 2-meter offense player. When the ball is set the hole keeps it in front of them until they reach for it and shooting it behind them while looking away from the goal. This shot is a hard one to make; their arm and elbow have to be in a perfect position in order for the ball to go towards the net, as the shot is taken "blindly". The center defender is neutralized in this shot, and the goalie is usually too close to the action and has no time to respond.
Baulking (a kind of pump fake a.k.a. hezie or hesitation shot, often referred to in the UK as; 'dummying') is effective when using an outside water shot. The player gets in the position to shoot but stops halfway through. This puts the defense on edge, causes the defenders to stand lower and lower in the water as their legs fatigue, and partially immobilizes the goalie by wasting his blocking lunge. This can be repeated until the player decides to release the ball. A good baulk takes a great amount of hand/arm and leg strength to maintain a high position in the water and the ball aloft in the shooting stance. The goalkeeper is particularly vulnerable to baulking as he must extend both his arms wide out of the water, which is intended to make him/her appear bigger and more imposing, thus, more difficult to beat. However, this places a massive strain on the goalie's legs, which are working in a rapid eggbeater motion. This causes the keeper to tire quicker as it is assumed a shot is imminent, thereby making them easier to beat.
Judging exactly when to shoot can be tricky, as a blocked or a wide shot results in a turnover. This can be very risky in some situations, for example when a team has gained an advantage by swimming a counter attack. A failed shot in such a situation turns the advantage into a severe disadvantage, as the opponents left behind find themselves in numerical superiority and are thus presented with an excellent opportunity to score.
International players will typically have the best shots, with well known players such as Conor Johnston and Boris Jakovic being renowned for their shooting ability. International players need the best shots as defenses can become so tight and well worked players are often left with no other option than to shot, therefore outside shots make up the majority of goals within professional water polo.
Swimming with the ball might be the easiest way of advancing the ball down the pool when no other teammates are open for a pass. When swimming with the ball, it is important that the player keeps their elbows high in order to stop opposing players from gaining possession of the ball. Also, the player must keep their head out of the water to see the rest of the pool and make the appropriate play. The ball should ride in the wake that comes off the chest of the player and they should use their arms to keep the ball in front of them. Players can also hold the ball in their hand and swim backstroke.
Water polo is a contact sport, with little protective gear besides swim suits and caps with ear protectors. Among the most common serious injuries are those affecting the head and shoulders. Those induced to the head are usually caused by elbows or the ball itself. One case would be when the defense guards the offense, the defense are right behind offense trying to steal the ball or trying to stop the ball from scoring or being passed. So as a result of the offense trying to shake off the defense to either score or pass the ball, a lot of elbowing and forceful removal from the defensive grab is needed. Many times the head being the main body part out of the water is injured in such a way. Many times these injuries are intentional and can sometimes anger many players to take revenge. Another common injury would be in the shoulder. Throwing or shooting the ball with a "cold arm" can strain the shoulder if not warmed up properly. Also occasionally, the defensive player will sometimes pull the arm to foul the offensive player. This can also injure the shoulder. With the arm, fingers are also usually harmed, due to not catching the ball right or blocking the ball. Many sprained fingers or on a more serious scale, fractured fingers has resulted from water polo. One of the most injured player on the field are the goalies. They have to endure the ball thrown at them at a fast speed and are expected to either catch it or "throw it down" to prevent the ball from going into the goal and scoring. When blocking shots the ball can hit the fingers instead of the whole hand causing fractures and strains. Goalies have also been known to suffer nosebleeds. Other injuries take place underwater as many things can not be seen from above the surface and not much padding is used to protect the players.
Sunburn is a common minor injury. The irritation of the sunburn can be restrictive because of the sheer amount of movement involved in the sport. Players will often neglect applying sunscreen as this will impair the player's ability to grip the ball and rapidly deteriorate the ball's physical grip due to the oily nature of sunscreen. Having large amounts of sunscreen on during an official match is banned by FINA and most other state/national governing bodies.
Eye irritation from pool chlorine is also common because players cannot wear goggles. They are regarded as a safety hazard because they may cause cuts, bruises or suction injuries during player-to-player contact or if the player is hit in the face by the ball.
Inner tube water polo is a style of water polo in which players, excluding the goalkeeper, are required to float in inner tubes. By floating in an inner tube players expend less energy than traditional water polo players, not having to tread water. This allows casual players to enjoy water polo without undertaking the intense conditioning required for conventional water polo.
Surf polo, another variation of water polo, is played on surfboards. First played on the beaches of Waikiki in Hawaii in the 1930s and 1940s, it is credited to Louis Kahanamoku, Duke Kahanamoku's brother.
Canoe Polo or kayak polo is one of the eight disciplines of canoeing pursued in the UK, known simply as "polo" by its aficionados. Polo combines paddling and ball handling skills with an exciting contact team game, where tactics and positional play are as important as the speed and fitness of the individual athletes.
Little player equipment is needed to play water polo. Items required in water polo include:
The history of water polo as a team sport began as a demonstration of strength and swimming skill in late 19th century England and Scotland, where water sports and racing exhibitions were a feature of county fairs and festivals. Men's water polo was among the first team sports introduced at the modern Olympic games in 1900. Water polo is now popular in many countries around the world, notably Europe (particularly in Serbia, Russia, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro, Greece and Hungary), the United States, Canada and Australia. The present-day game involves teams of seven players (plus up to six substitutes), with a water polo ball similar in size to a soccer ball but constructed of waterproof nylon. Water Polo was influenced by a man named Stephane Licina, who also played the sport.
The rules of water polo were originally developed in the late nineteenth century in Great Britain by William Wilson. Wilson is believed to have been the First Baths Master of the Arlington Baths Club in Glasgow. The first games of 'aquatic football' were played at the Arlington in the late 1800s (the Club was founded in 1870), with a ball constructed of Indian rubber. This "water rugby" came to be called "water polo" based on the English pronunciation of the Balti word for ball, pulu. Early play allowed brute strength, wrestling and holding opposing players underwater to recover the ball; the goalie stood outside the playing area and defended the goal by jumping in on any opponent attempting to score by placing the ball on the deck.
Men's water polo at the Olympics was the first team sport introduced at the 1900 games, along with cricket, rugby, football, polo (with horses), rowing and tug of war. Women's water polo became an Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games after political protests from the Australian women's team.
The most famous water polo match in history is probably the 1956 Summer Olympics semi-final match between Hungary and the Soviet Union. As the athletes left for the games, the Hungarian revolution began, and the Soviet army crushed the uprising. The Hungarians defeated the Soviets 4–0 before the game was called off in the final minute to prevent angry Hungarians in the crowd reacting to Valentin Prokopov punching Ervin Zador.
Every 2 to 4 years since 1973, a men's Water Polo World Championship is organized within the FINA World Aquatics Championships. Women's water polo was added in 1986. A second tournament series, the FINA Water Polo World Cup, has been held every other year since 1979. In 2002, FINA organized the sport's first international league, the FINA Water Polo World League.
There is also a European Water Polo Championship that is held every other year.
Professional water polo is played in many southern and eastern European countries like Serbia, Croatia, Russia, Italy, Spain, etc. with the LEN Euroleague tournament played amongst the best teams.
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