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News Release

High School Water Polo Rules Changes Address Risk Minimization, Pace of Play, More Scoring Options


INDIANAPOLIS, IN (May 1, 2020) — A total of 16 rules changes were approved in high school water polo for the next two years with a focus on risk minimization, improving the pace of play and providing more scoring options on offense.

All rules revisions recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Water Polo Rules Committee at its April 1 meeting held virtually were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors. All changes will be a part of the 2020-22 NFHS Water Polo Rules Book which will be available in late August.

As a means of creating more scoring opportunities, a 6-meter line will be in place next year, allowing offensive players more space in the front court and giving the center forward more room to receive the ball. The 5-meter line will continue to be used for penalty throws.

A number of changes were approved in Rule 4-21 regarding how goals are scored, including that a goal can be scored on a direct shot on goal from a corner throw.

In Rule 4-21-1, at least two players must intentionally touch the ball after a free throw or restart of play inside 6 meters. If the foul is inside of 6 meters, the player must pass the ball to another player before a goal can be scored.

In Rule 4-21-2, if both the foul and the ball are outside of 6 meters, a player may put the ball into play and then shoot.

“This change also allows players to put the ball into play and shoot directly from a corner throw, creating a faster, simpler game with more scoring opportunity,” said Sandy Searcy, NFHS director of sports and staff liaison to the NFHS Water Polo Rules Committee.

Other changes in Rule 4-21 include altering the signal for awarding a free throw outside but within one meter of the 6-meter line (4-21-3), clarifying that both the foul and the ball must be outside the 6-meter line for a player to take a direct shot (4-21-4) and removing the corner throw from a list of situations in which a direct goal cannot be scored after a restart (4-21-5).

In another change aimed at improving scoring opportunities, the committee altered Rule 4-20 regarding goalkeeper privileges, which now states that “the goalkeeper may move beyond and touch the ball past the half-distance line. The goalkeeper may shoot from anywhere in the pool and may take a penalty shot and/or participate in a shootout.”

“In addition to following the national trends of the sport, this change creates consistency to benefit players, coaches and referees, and it provides more scoring options for teams,” Searcy said.

In another change in Rule 5-10-1 designed to address pace of play, a free throw now will be taken at the spot of the ball except if the foul is committed by a defending player within the defender’s 2-meter area, the free throw shall be taken on or outside the 2-meter line.

“This speeds up the game by playing the ball where it lies,” Searcy said. “Previously, when the foul occurred behind the ball, the referee had to blow multiple whistles and interject himself or herself in the game by making the player throw the ball backward where the foul occurred, which slowed the flow of the game.”

With risk minimization in mind, the committee added a new Rule 1-26, which permits players to wear a soft-padded cap, but it must meet the requirements of Rules 1-20 through 1-24 and Rule 2-4.

The committee noted that coaches, athletes and parents/guardians should review the manufacturers’ warnings about proper usage and performance limits of such products.

In another change affecting several rules, interval time has been defined as any time the ball is removed from the water by the referee.

Several new rules were added to Rule 7 – Exclusion Fouls. In Rule 7-3-13, if a player voluntarily leaves the field of play, under the sideline or goal line other than his or her own re-entry area, the player shall be permitted to re-enter the field of play from the re-entry area nearest to that player’s goal line or from anywhere after one of the following: a goal scored, a time-out or end of the period.

A new Rule 7-22 addresses a tactical foul and states that “it shall be an exclusion foul if a player on defense commits an ordinary foul outside of 6 meters and does one of the following (but not limited to) as a “tactical foul” to prevent the player from shooting a direct shot: a) knocks the ball inside 6 meters, b) knocks the ball farther away from the goal or c) throws the ball away. If the tactical foul is committed in the final minute of the game to prevent a goal, it is a penalty foul.”

In Rule 8 – Penalty Fouls, a new Rule 8-9 addresses an attacking player from behind within 6 meters, which states that it is a penalty foul for a defending player to foul or impede an attacking player from behind within the 6-meter area in a probable goal situation regardless of whether he or she is holding the ball.

A complete listing of the water polo rules changes will be available on the NFHS website at Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page and select “Water Polo.”

According to the 2018-19 NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, a total of 22,475 boys participated in water polo in 862 schools, and 21,735 girls participated in the sport in 881 schools in eight states across the country.

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About the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)

The NFHS, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, is the national leadership organization for high school sports and performing arts activities. Since 1920, the NFHS has led the development of education-based interscholastic sports and performing arts activities that help students succeed in their lives. The NFHS sets direction for the future by building awareness and support, improving the participation experience, establishing consistent standards and rules for competition, and helping those who oversee high school sports and activities. The NFHS writes playing rules for 17 sports for boys and girls at the high school level. Through its 50 member state associations and the District of Columbia, the NFHS reaches more than 19,800 high schools and 12 million participants in high school activity programs, including more than 7.8 million in high school sports. As the recognized national authority on interscholastic activity programs, the NFHS conducts national meetings; sanctions interstate events; offers online publications and services for high school coaches and officials; sponsors professional organizations for high school coaches, officials, speech and debate coaches, and music adjudicators; serves as the national source for interscholastic coach training; and serves as a national information resource of interscholastic athletics and activities. For more information, visit the NFHS website at