What is water polo?

What is water polo?

For most people, water polo can seem to be a pretty inaccessible sport. Or at least hard to access. Or both. Come and discover the reality of water polo.

Water. Polo. Basically, it’s polo, but in water. There’s a ball - so far, so good. So, how do the mallets work? And what about the horses? In the water? For real?
Of course not! Water polo's main nickname is “water football”. So, now you’re starting to get the idea, but we’re not done yet. I’m going to take you behind the scenes of the sport, to discover its origins, its rules and its arrival here at Decathlon.

What is water polo?

Where did water polo come from?

Water polo is an ancient sport. Legend has it that people were already playing it, albeit in a different form, in Antique Roman thermal baths. In reality, it’s considered that the sport was born in England, in the 1860s. Before becoming a pool sport, it started off as an outdoor sport: lakes, rives, seas and oceans were the playing fields back in the day. What was initially a way of showing off strength and swimming technique gradually became a sport, structured by rules to reduce injury risks. Effectively it’s no coincidence that players are known as the “gladiators of the pools”.

In 1900, water polo made its debut in pools with a big splash, at the Olympic Games in Paris. It was one of the first and only team sports represented at the time.

The year 2000 marked the latest major breakthrough, or rather it was the year that saw the competitions catch up with the times. It was in Sydney that the women joined the Olympic tournament, years after clubs had welcomed them to the sport.

Now that you’re up to speed on theory, why don't we move on to the practice of the sport itself? What equipment is needed? A ball, high-resistance swimwear, and caps with ear coverings. There you have it, now you’re ready to learn the rules of the game.

What is water polo?

How to play water polo

The same number of players and line-up organisation as handball apply, with attacks limited to 30 seconds. There is one ball size and a playing field defined in line with the format. Those are the main things to remember.

In detail, each team is made up of 6 field players, plus a goalkeeper, and each team can have 6 substitutes on the bench.
The game is played on a 30 m x 20 m playing field for men, and a 25 m x 20 m playing field for women. 3 areas are marked out: the centre field, where games are started and resumed, the 2-metre zone (or “red zone”) where attackers without the ball can’t go or receive a ball, and the 6-metre zone (“yellow zone”), which is the penalty zone and where free shots cannot be taken.

As for duration of play, you have 4 quarters of 8 minutes to score as many goals as possible. So, you then have 30 seconds to attack. You’ll start to feel the burn in your legs and your breathing is going to speed up... It is normal! ;)

As for fouls, the first rule is what happens under the water stays under the water. There isn’t a referee. For the rest, it’s pretty much common sense: attack the ball, not the player, don’t swim over other players, don’t catch the ball with two hands and don’t put it under the water. Here’s the one rule that will tire you out as much reading it as in play: you can’t touch or lean against any of the pool walls during play time. So if you’re tired, you’ll need to wait for down time at the end of the quarter, or to ask to be substituted.

What is water polo?

Water polo at decathlon

Up until now, we’ve covered academic water polo, but water polo is more than that. That’s what we’re going to see with the sport’s arrival here at DECATHLON.

Water polo here at DECATHLON is, above all, the passion of a man who was once upon a time an engineer at NABAIJI. His name is Yannick. He used to play on the French national water polo team (1990s/2000s). In 2017, he was able to gather an initial working group to lay the foundations for a specialist brand here at DECATHLON. Participants came from Spain, Italy and France. Determined to promote the benefits of the sport we’re passionate about, the ideas soon came together. Two years later, the first team dedicated to water polo was created and unveiled to our customers in-store in February 2020, under the name of WATKO.

The “wat-” is taken from “water” and the “-ko” is from “collective”, with a “k” because we can't forget that the great masters of our sport hail from Eastern Europe. From Hungary, to Serbia and even Russia, “collective” is spelt with a “K”.

Our motto: “where there’s water, there’s a game”. We uphold these values of accessibility and responsibility which are so important for DECATHLON. That means that every day, we’re working to come up with simple and fun ways to play, as well as products which are as easy to understand as possible. More than anything, we want to open our sport up to everyone, and make everyone want to play. This is because, in our vision, the sport isn’t just an academic activity. For us, water polo is, above all: water, a ball, a hand, and a drive to play and to score!
All of our products are designed and developed with these words in mind, and in the aim of moving the boundaries and sharing the joy of playing.

Now, there’s just one question left: when will we catch you poolside?