Email Address Invalid. Please enter an email address in the format: [email protected]

Water Polo Glossary



    6-on-5 - Term that describes the offensive advantage that occurs when a player is called for a major foul and ejected for 20 seconds. During the ejection, the offensive 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."


    advantage rule - A rule unique to water polo, which says that if calling a foul would result in an advantage to the offending player's team, a referee may opt not to call a foul. This rule is meant to keep the game moving quickly, and increase scores.

    Amplitude kick - The range of motion in the kick that moves in a waveform. This term is most often used in reference to the size of the dolphin kick.

    assist - A pass from one offensive player to another that leads directly to a goal score. One of the player statistics commonly tracked.

    attacker - A field player on the team with possession of the ball.


    back door - Term for the offensive tactic in which a weak side player goes behind his/her defender to get open for a quick shot.

    backhand - A shot or throw in which a player tosses the ball directly behind him/herself.

    balking - See fake.

    ball out - The call from the referee signaling players to toss the ball to the referee, typically during a timeout or dead-time.

    ball under - An ordinary foul, called when a player holds the ball underwater while an opponent contacts their arm or hand. When defensive players put the ball underwater inside the five-meter line in order to prevent a goal, a penalty throw is awarded.

    bounce shot - See skip shot.

    brutality - A major foul, called if a player intentionally attacks, kicks, or hits an opponent, or otherwise intentionally endangers or attempts to harm another player. Players charged with brutality are ejected for the rest of the game, and the opposing team is awarded a penalty throw.


    caps - Made of cloth, and worn by each player, water polo caps have numbers and plastic ear guards. For high school and college games, visiting teams wear white caps, and home teams wear colored caps. Under international rules, the opposite is true: the home team wears white, and the visiting team wears color. Goal keepers must wear red caps to make them easily identifiable to the referees.

    center forward - The offensive 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 superb leg-strength and is one of the larger players on the team. Also called hole sets or 2-meter men, these players must have excellent passing and shooting skills.

    change of ends - Rule stating that at the end of each regulation time and overtime period, teams change ends of the pool.

    choice of ends - Rule stating that the team winning the coin toss at the beginning of the game gets to choose which end of the pool they want to defend first.

    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 goal keeper.

    counter attack - Quickly converting from defense to offense and pushing the ball toward the opponent's goal following a turnover. Similar to a fast break in basketball, this offensive strategy tries to take advantage of a turnover.

    crash back - When a team loses possession of the ball and all six players swim quickly back to defend their goal against the counterattacking team.


    dead-time - The time between when the whistle blows (signaling a foul) and when the ball is put back in play. The game clock stops during dead-time.

    dead-time foul - A foul committed during dead-time. Offensive fouls in dead-time do not result in a personal fault, but the offensive team loses the ball. Defensive fouls during dead-time are major fouls. Under international rules, dead-time fouls result in a face-off.

    donut - A goal that scores with a fast, hard shot thrown over the goalie's head and between his/her arms.

    double dead-time foul - A double-foul that occurs during dead-time. Both players are ejected, and play resumes with the original free throw.

    double hole - See double post.

    double post - Offensive tactic in which a team uses two center forwards. Each plays in front of one of the goal posts. Sometimes called double hole.

    double-team - Defensive tactic in which two defenders guard one offensive player.

    dribbling - Swimming with the ball. Skilled players learn to move the ball forward on the wake created by their alternating arm strokes, because defenders are not allowed to make contact with the offensive player unless he/she is touching the ball.

    drive - A fast swim by an offensive player toward the goal. Drives are made without the ball, and are intended to move a player into a position where they are open to receive a pass and then quickly shoot the ball.

    driver - Field players who specialize in escaping their defenders by swimming toward the goal. Drivers have outstanding hand-eye coordination, are good shooters, and by definition, must be fast swimmers.

    drop - A defensive strategy in which players drop toward the center of the pool to help block shots.

    dry pass - A pass made and caught without the ball touching the water.


    eggbeater - The name of the kick used by players not only to tread water but also to rise up out of the water for shooting, passing or defending. The feet move alternately in a circular pattern, with the arch of the foot facing the bottom of the pool.

    ejection - The punishment for defensive players who commit major fouls. Ejected players must swim to the ejection area and serve their 20 seconds before returning to the field of play. They are allowed to leave the ejection area early if a goal is scored or if the defensive referee signals that the player may return because there was a clear change of ball possession.

    ejection area - See penalty area.

    entry pass - A pass into the center forward, or hole set player.

    exclusion foul - See major foul.

    extra man - See 6-on-5.


    face-off - When two players, one from each team, are lined up by the referees to race for a ball thrown by the referee to a spot where neither has an advantage in getting it. Used when there is a double major foul (in live-time), when players from both team foul simultaneously (and the referees cannot tell who fouled first), or if the ball hits something above the pool.

    fake - A movement (usually of the offensive player's arm, body or eyes) that forces the (usually defensive) player to react in one direction, so that the player can actually move or throw in another direction.

    fast break - See counter attack.

    feinting - See fake.

    field player - Any player other than the goal keeper.

    FINA - The international governing body for aquatic sports, including water polo. (FINA also governs swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, and open water swimming.) FINA writes the rules for the game and sanctions international competitions, including the World Championships and World League play.

    five-meter 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 five-meter foul is also called when the defense holds, sinks or pulls back an offensive player who has inside water and control of the ball inside the five-meter line.

    flat - A field player. This offensive position plays generally outside the goal posts and 5 to 8 meters from the goal. Most drives are started from this position. See driver.

    forfeit - When a team fails to show up for a game, decides not to compete, or does not comply with rules. The referee is responsible for declaring the game a forfeit.

    fouls - Fouls are called against players and coaches who break the rules of play, and are a major component of the game. There are three kinds of fouls. See five-meter foul, major foul and ordinary foul.

    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, 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 drop the ball and dribble it, but may not shoot at the goal, even after dribbling, unless he/she is outside the 5-meter line and shoots with a continuous throwing motion.

    front - See fronting.

    fronting - A defensive tactic in which the hole guard defends the center forward (or hole set) by positioning him/herself in the passing lane, or between the hole set and the ball.

    full-tank - To play a scrimmage or game using the entire pool.


    goal (equipment) - The box and net into which the offense is trying to put the ball. The crossbar on a regulation goal is 3 feet (.9 meter) above the water and 10 feet (3 meters) wide. There is a goal at either end of the field of play, which floats on the water and is tied to the edge of the pool or lane rope.

    goal (score) - When the ball passes completely over the goal line, between the uprights and under the crossbar. One point is awarded to the offense, 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.

    goal judge - Official stationed at each goal line. They officiate goal scoring, corner throws, penalty throws and the entry/exit of players.

    goal keeper - The defensive player who plays closest to (nearly in) the goal. The goalie is excepted from several rules, as long as he/she remains inside the five-meter line. For example, the goalie may touch the ball with two hands simultaneously, and can punch the ball. The goalie is also allowed to stand during play. Outside the five-meter line, goalies must adhere to field player rules. They are not allowed to cross the half-distance line.

    goal line - The line that extends across the pool at the front of the goal. The field of play extends 1 foot (.3 meters) behind the goal line.

    goal throw - A free throw made by the goal keeper. Awarded when an offensive or defensive field player causes the ball to go out of bounds over the goal line.

    goalie - See goal keeper.

    greenie - A quick shot taken by a wing, driver, or point player off a pass from their center forward, or hole set.


    half-distance line - The line that extends across the pool at the middle of the field of play.

    half-tank - The center of the pool. Half-tank can refer to a location in the pool, or it can refer to playing a scrimmage with half of the pool. This is used in a similar way as "half-court" is used in other sports.

    hold, sink, or pull back rule - The rule that states that players are not allowed to hold, sink or pull back on offensive players who have inside water advantage. A major foul or five-meter foul can be called if this rule is violated, depending on the circumstances.

    hole D - Slang for hole guard.

    hole guard - The defender who plays between his/her own goal and the offense's center forward, or hole set.

    hole set - See center forward.


    impeding - An ordinary foul, called when a player interferes with the free movement of an opponent who does not have the ball. Also may be called if a player pushes or pushes off of another player.

    inside water - A term for the situation when an offensive player has created advantage by positioning him/herself between the goal and his/her defender. If a player has "inside water" on or inside the five-meter line and has control of the ball, a five-meter foul is called if he/she is pulled back, sunk or held by the defense. If a player has "inside water" outside the five-meter line, a major foul is called if he/she is pulled back, sunk or held by the defense, regardless of whether or not he/she has control of the ball.

    inside water shot - A shot, timed as part of a player's swimming stroke, taken by a player who is advancing toward the goal. See also pop shot and spring shot.

    interference - A major foul, called against players who attempt to play the ball before a free throw is taken, delay a free throw, prevent the ball from getting to the player who is supposed to make the free throw, or interfere with the arm of the player making a free throw.


    keeper - See goal keeper.

    kickout - Another word for an ejection because of a major foul.

    KO - Abbreviation for kickout.


    lane press - A defensive tactic in which defenders position themselves between the ball and their opponent (or, in the passing lanes), as opposed to between their opponent and the goal. This tactic is used to deny easy passes, force the offense to use more time, and increase the likelihood of an interception or a stalling foul.

    left-hander - A player who shoots with his/her left hand. When left-handed players receive a dry pass on the right side of the goal, they tend to be more effective in attacking the goal than a right-handed player.

    live-time - Play that occurs while the game clock is running.

    loading the ball - When an offensive player moves the ball from one hand to the other immediately prior to taking a shot.

    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.


    major foul - A foul signaled by two short bursts of the whistle. Players committing major fouls are ejected from the game either for 20 seconds or the remainder of the game. Players serving 20-second penalties must leave the field of play without interference to the game, and serve their ejection in the penalty area.

    man-down - When a team has one less player in the game than their opponent. See 6-on-5.

    man-to-man - A defensive strategy, in which each defender is charged with guarding one offensive player, no matter where that player goes in the field of play.

    man-up - When a team has one more player in the game than their opponent. See 6-on-5.

    marking - A defensive player taking a position that will prevent an offensive player from receiving a pass or otherwise being a threat.

    moving pick - A pick created by an offensive player swimming in the path of (rather than causing a collision with) a defender.


    natural goal - A goal scored during regular play, as opposed to a goal scored during a player-up/player-down or penalty throw situation.

    neutral throw - See face-off.

    no set - What a goalie (or other offensive player) yells to his/her teammates to indicate that the defense is too closely playing the hole set to successfully get a pass in.


    off-the-water shot - See wet shot.

    ordinary foul - Also called minor fouls, these rule violations are penalized by awarding a free throw to the opposing team. Examples of ordinary fouls: standing; stalling; touching the ball with two hands simultaneously; pushing the ball under water. Ordinary fouls are signaled 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.

    outlet - A pass thrown by the goalie after a save to a field player who is attacking the opposite goal.

    outside water shot - Any shot in which the offensive player stops swimming and holds the ball out of the water before shooting. Examples: power shot, lob shot and skip shot.

    overly-aggressive foul - A major foul, called when a player commits a foul with intent to cause bodily harm. Any foul to the head, neck or face of an opposing player is an overly-aggressive foul.

    overtime - Extra period played when the score is tied at the end of regulation time. If the score is still tied at the end of the first three-minute overtime period, a second three-minute overtime is played, both under regular rules. For high school and college games, if the score is still tied at the end of the first two overtime periods, the third (and subsequent) overtime periods are sudden-death. For international play, there is no sudden-death rule.


    pass - Throw the ball from one player to another.

    passing lane - A space through which the ball can be thrown from one offensive player to another.

    penalty area - The area where players who commit major fouls serve their penalty time. Typically this is the space behind the goal line to the right of the goal.

    penalty shot - See penalty throw.

    penalty throw - A free shot on the goal, taken from anywhere along the five-meter line. Awarded when an offensive player inside the five-meter line had a chance to score but was fouled, or if a foul prevents a goal. When the penalty throw is made, the only player allowed between the shooter and the goal is the goal keeper.

    perimeter player - All field player positions other than the center forward: wings, drivers and point players.

    period - Water polo games have four periods, the length of which differs according to the level of play. High school games vary from five to seven minute periods. College and international games consist of four 8-minute periods.

    personal fault - See personal foul.

    personal foul - Major and penalty fouls are personal fouls. Any player committing three personal fouls is excluded from the rest of the game.

    pick - Used to create space for an offensive player to pass or shoot by impeding defender's movement. See moving pick and stationary pick.

    point - The offensive player who (in a basic offensive strategy) is farthest from the goal and usually in the center of the pool. The point position is responsible for communicating with the rest of the offense and has frequent passing opportunities.

    pop shot - An inside water shot executed by using the non-dominant hand to "pop" the ball up and out of the water. The player treads higher in the water and uses the dominant hand to meet the ball at the apex of its flight and shoot at the goal. Pop shots frequently draw a five-meter penalty shot, as any contact the defender makes with the offensive player during the ball's flight is a foul.

    possession - Undisputed control of the ball.

    possession clock - The clock that counts down the number of seconds a team has to shoot at the goal. The shot clock is re-set (to 30 seconds) if the offense gets possession of a rebound.

    power play - See 6-on-5.

    power shot - An outside water shot executed by treading higher in the water and using that momentum to shoot the ball.

    press - A defensive strategy in which defenders tightly guard offensive players, usually in a man-to-man match-ups.


    quarter - See period.


    rare-back - An offensive player tactic to get open to receive a pass,which typically comes from the center forward. The attacker will swim toward the goal, stop abruptly, fall back, and prepare to receive a pass.

    rebound - To gain possession of the ball when it is loose in the field of play following an unsuccessful 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.

    red flag - Waved by scoring and timekeeping officials when players receive their third major foul. Players with three exclusion fouls are ejected for the rest of the game.

    referee - Official in charge of ensuring fair play throughout a game. There are 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.

    release - To get free of a defender; when an offensive player creates space between him/herself and a defender in order to receive a pass.


    save - A successful shot block by a goal keeper.

    setting the ball - To pass the ball into the center forward.

    shallow - Pool depth of less than 2 meters, or 6 feet.

    shot clock - See possession clock.

    sink - To push another player underwater. Sinking is a major foul if the sunken player is without the ball and has offensive advantage.

    skip 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 bounce shot.

    slough - A defensive tactic in which a defender intentionally commits an ordinary foul to force an attacker to take a free throw. The defender then leaves the attacker he/she was guarding in order to take up a position against another (usually more dangerous) offensive player, who is likely now double-teamed.

    splashing - A major foul called when a player intentionally splashes water in an opposing player's face.

    spring shot - An inside water shot executed by pressing the ball down into the water just enough to make it spring up (but not enough to draw a ball under foul). Following release, the player will lightly tap the ball into the goal.

    sprint - Determines possession of the ball a the start of each period of play. Players from each team line up at their respective goal lines. The referee stands at the half-distance line, blows the whistle to signal the start of the sprint, and drops the ball into the water. When the whistle sounds, players swim for the ball.

    stalling - An ordinary foul called when a team does not shoot or advance the ball within 30 seconds. Possession then goes to the opposing team.

    standing - An ordinary foul called when a player is standing on the bottom of the pool and actively taking part in the game. Goalies are excepted from this rule.

    stationary pick - When an offensive player swims his/her defender into an unseen offensive player. If the defender swims over the stationary pick, referees usually will not call a foul (see advantage rule).

    stop - See save.

    sub - See substitution.

    substitution - When one player enters the game, in place of a teammate. Substitutions can be made between periods, during time-outs or following a goal. Substitutions are also made for players who are ejected from the game due to a red card, two yellow cards, or three personal fouls.

    sudden-death - An overtime rule for high school and college games that ends the game as soon as a goal is scored. (In non-sudden-death overtime periods, play continues until the clock runs out, giving the team that did not score another chance to tie, or even win, the game.)

    swim-off - See sprint.

    switch - When defensive players swap responsibilities. Typically happens when one defender is "beaten" by the offensive player they had been guarding. Also happens when offensive and defensive players are mismatched, either size- or speed-wise.


    T shot - A shot executed by using the non-dominant hand to pick up the ball and load it to the opposite hand, which shoots the ball.

    tackling - Holding, sinking, grabbing or pulling on a player who has possession of the ball. This is not a foul unless it is done in a way that might cause injury.

    tank - A pool.

    time-out - A stop in play. In order to call a time-out a team must have possession of the ball, except following a goal, when either team can call a time-out. International rules allow for time-outs only if there is an injury or other unexpected problem. 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.

    tip - Typically, a shot that bounces out of bounds after being touched by the goalie or another defensive player.

    turn a defender - An offensive tactic used to gain inside water against a defender. The offensive player uses his/her strength to literally turn the defender 180 degrees, at which point the defensive player is usually forced to commit a foul.

    turnover - To lose possession of the ball, through sloppy passing, fouling, or a shot clock violation.

    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.


    USA Water Polo - The national governing body for water polo in the United States.

    USAWP - Abbreviation for USA Water Polo.

    utility player - A player who can play both offensive and defensive positions.


    walk the ball in - When an offensive player grips the ball and moves toward the goal either with an eggbeater kick or swimming strokes.

    weak side - The side of the pool opposite of where the ball is.

    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 where the attacking offensive player is moving.

    wet shot - A shot on the goal taken while the ball is controlled on the water; typically a quick wrist shot. Also called an off-the-water shot.

    wing - Offensive player who generally plays between the two and four meter lines and outside either/both goal posts.

    wing out - To move toward the side of the pool, in an attempt to get open to receive a pass.


    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.


    zone - A defensive strategy in which defenders are charged with an area, rather than one offensive player. Defenders will guard any offensive player who moves into their area.

Check out this Water Polo glossary to find the sport-specific definitions for which you have been looking. From A to Z, we've got all the words covered.
No Comments Yet
History of Water Polo
Water polo has a reputation for being tough, aggressive, and...
Water Polo Rules & Regulations
Understanding the rules is an important part of playing (or...
Water Polo Pool Dimensions
How big is a water polo ball, how long are the pools, and...
close X