To the uninitiated, water polo may look like some people tossing a ball around a pool. But for serious players it’s grueling and demands high levels of fitness, visual acuity and hand-eye coordination. Newcomers to the game find that simply treading water for a few minutes becomes an ordeal. Chasing a ball and trying to throw it through a set of goalposts is almost impossible. And anyone who’s played against less than scrupulous opponents will attest to the amount of dirty play that can go on under water: being dunked is nothing compared to thumbs in eyes or knees and heels in soft body tissue.
It’s an exhilarating game to play and involves easily as much tactical skill as fitness and agility. It’s a bit like basketball played in water, but with some of the rough-and-tumble elements of rugby.
Each side consists of seven main players, including the goalkeeper, and six substitutes.
Players try to throw the ball through the opposition’s goal. They may not hold the ball with both hands, so catching, turning and throwing the ball with either hand is a vital skill.
Players may not touch the bottom of the pool, so they constantly change direction and lunge up out of the water to catch high balls.
A match consists of four seven-minute periods separated by two-minute breaks. There are also some more complex rules, like the fact that the attacking loses possession of the ball if they don’t score within 45 seconds of getting possession.