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National Federation of State
High School Associations


News Release

Separation of Offensive and Defensive Impeding Highlights High School Water Polo Rules Changes


INDIANAPOLIS, IN (April 22, 2022) — Offensive and defensive impeding have been separated in high school water polo rules to more clearly define penalties and actions.

These changes to Rules 6-9 and 7-21 of the NFHS Water Polo Rules Book were recommended by the NFHS Water Polo Rules Committee at its March 29 meeting held virtually. This change and three other rules revisions were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors and will be effective with the 2022-23 season.

The committee approved separate impeding rules since offensive impeding is an ordinary foul while defensive impeding is an exclusion foul. In making the change, the committee developed a new definition for defensive impeding. Rule 7-21 now reads as follows:

“An exclusion foul is committed when a player on defense impedes or otherwise prevents the free movement of an opponent who is not holding the ball, including swimming on the opponent’s shoulders, back or legs and ducking under to take away an advantage. ‘Holding’ is lifting, carrying or touching the ball, but does not include dribbling the ball.”

In other changes, hair-control devices and other adornments such as beads are now legal in high school water polo as long as they are securely fastened and do not present an increased risk to the player, teammates or opponents. This language has been added to Rule 2-4-4 in the NFHS Water Polo Rules Book.

“The Water Polo Rules Committee took another step in creating a more inclusive environment within the sport by relaxing restrictions on hair adornments,” said Sandy Searcy, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the Water Polo Rules Committee. “It was extremely important to the rules committee to create rules language that supported diversity of hair trends while minimizing risks of injury to the athlete, teammates and opponents.”

In a similar change, Rule 2-4-8 permits uniforms providing full body coverage to be worn for religious reasons.

“This change eliminates the need for state associations to authorize, per individual, in writing the use of suits providing full body coverage,” Searcy said.

Finally, the committee made a clarification to the rule regarding the “Method of Putting the Ball into Play.” The new language in Rule 4-19 reads as follows:

“A result of any ordinary foul, offensive foul or exclusion foul is a free throw. A player shall put the ball into play by demonstrating a clear separation of ball, hand and water, as in passing the ball, picking up and dropping the ball, tossing the ball in the air, tossing or placing the ball before swimming, or transferring the ball from one hand to the other hand above the water.”

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 most recent NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, a total of 22,475 boys participated in water polo, while 21,735 girls participated in the sport 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 19,500 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