Overview of Game Play
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.
Moving the Ball
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).
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.
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 cannot 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 3 kilometers or more during four periods of play.
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.