How many members are in a water polo team?

A water polo team typically consists of 13 players. This includes 7 field players and 6 substitutes. The 7 field players consist of 1 goalkeeper and 6 field players. Water polo teams can have up to 13 players on their roster for a game. Teams will usually have additional players beyond the 13 on their overall roster that may not suit up for a particular game.

The Positions on a Water Polo Team

Here is an overview of the 7 positions on a water polo team during gameplay:

  • Goalkeeper – The goalkeeper is positioned directly in front of the goal and is the only player allowed to touch the ball with two hands. The goalkeeper attempts to prevent the opposing team from scoring a goal.
  • Point – The point defender is typically the best defender on the team and marks the opposing team’s strongest offensive player, known as the “hole set”. The point defender attempts to disrupt the opposing team’s offense.
  • Two-Meter Defensive Specialist – This defender specifically covers the opposing “two-meter offense player”. This is an offensive player positioned in front of the goal who attempts close shots on goal. The two-meter defender attempts to prevent this offensive player from getting into scoring position or taking shots.
  • Field Defenders (2 players) – These defenders cover various offensive players for the other team away from the two-meter area. They work to steal the ball, intercept passes, and prevent shots.
  • Field Offensive Players (2 players) – These players position themselves around the 5 meter and 2 meter area near the goal to set up scoring opportunities. The center usually plays slightly farther from the goal.
  • Point Offensive Player – This offensive player sets up on the perimeter opposite from the point defender. This player aims to move the ball and set up scoring opportunities.

In addition to the starting 7 players, there are 6 substitutes on the roster who can be substituted into the game at appropriate times. Overall, this makes 13 total players able to play for a water polo team during a game.

Substitutions and Position Flexibility

Substitutions are common in water polo and players may shuffle into different positions.

Some key things to note about substitutions and position flexibility in water polo:

  • Any of the 6 substitutes can sub into the game for any of the starting 7 players.
  • The goalkeeper position is usually specialized and not substituted frequently, but the substitute goalkeeper may enter for the starting goalkeeper.
  • Defenders often substitute for other defenders or offensive players may substitute for other offensive players.
  • Players can flex between offensive and defensive roles. Point defenders may sometimes swap out for offensive players.
  • The coach can dictate the substitution patterns and positional changes between players.

This fluid substitution pattern allows coaches to find advantageous matchups, get different looks, and keep players fresh. While players often specialize in certain positions, there is flexibility for players to adjust as needed during a game if the coach determines a change is tactically prudent.

Complete Rosters and Scratch Players

Water polo team rosters often have 15-20 players in total on the roster. However, only 13 of these players will typically suit up for a particular game.

Some key points on complete rosters and scratch players:

  • The full roster provides a deep pool of players for the team over the course of a season.
  • Younger, developmental players may be on the roster but scratched from games to meet the 13 player limit.
  • Players who are injured or resting may be scratched for certain games.
  • The coach decides which 13 players are best suited from the full roster for an individual game.
  • Players who are scratched for one game may play in the next game.
  • Having a complete roster with extra players provides contingency in case of injuries, illness or other absences.

In summary, while 13 players play in a game, the complete roster often includes extra players who practice with the team, develop their skills, and can step into games when needed over the course of a season.

Regulation Team Size

According to water polo rules, 7 players from each team compete in gameplay at one time. Teams are permitted to have up to 13 players eligible to play in a game. This limit of 13 players on the roster for a game is the regulated team size in the sport.

Some key details on the regulated team size per the rules:

  • During games, 7 players from each team will be in the pool with 6 players on the field and 1 goalkeeper.
  • Teams can substitute players in and out from their 13 player roster.
  • No more than 13 players from a team can appear in the game.
  • If a team has fewer than 13 players available, they can play with as few as 7 players.
  • Having fewer than 7 players results in a forfeit according to most league rules.

This regulated roster size balances having enough substitutes while also limiting potential competitive imbalances of teams having too many players. The 13 player limit allows for position specialization and substitutions while keeping the focus on the 7 vs 7 gameplay.

Youth and League Variations

For youth water polo below age 15, teams may play with 6 field players and have smaller roster sizes for games.

Some league specific variations include:

  • 10 & Under: Rosters of 10 – 12 players
  • 12 & Under: Rosters of 12 – 15 players
  • 14 & Under: Rosters of 13 – 15 players
  • High School: Varsity rosters of 13 – 20 players

The overall concept remains the same – 7 players competing at once with regulated roster sizes. But youth leagues adjust the totals appropriately for players still developing fundamental skills.

International and Olympic Team Rosters

For major international competitions like the Olympics, the typical roster size is 11 – 13 players. At the Olympics, teams can have a maximum of 13 players on their roster. Major national teams will often carry expanded rosters between 15-20 players in broader training and hold tryouts to get to the 13 player Olympic roster.

International water polo matches still adhere to the 7 on 7 gameplay format. But national teams aim to pick their absolute best 13 players from a larger training roster when competing in top events like the World Championships or Olympics.

Championship Teams and Total Players

Looking at some of the top championship college programs provides a picture of full team rosters:

  • 2022 NCAA Champion USC: Roster of 18 players
  • 2022 NCAA Runner-Up UCLA: Roster of 23 players
  • 2022 NCAA 3rd Place Cal: Roster of 29 players

These championship contending college programs carry expanded rosters to field their best possible 13 players come game time. Having a deep pool of talent pushes competition in practice and provides insurance at each position. The full roster is greater than 13, but the regulated number for games remains 13 total players with 7 competing at once.

Reasons for 13 Player Limit

Here are some of the main reasons water polo has a 13 player roster limit for games:

  • Position specialization – 13 players allows each key field position to have a specialized starter and substitute.
  • Playing time – More than 13 players makes it hard for reserves to get meaningful minutes.
  • Game flow – Subbing many players disrupts the flow and feel of the 7 on 7 gameplay.
  • Competitive balance – Capping total players reduces potential talent imbalances between teams.
  • Manageable roster – Coaches can effectively strategize with 13 players which are substitutable in different combinations.

The 13 player roster limit ultimately aims to maximize competitive intrigue between two balanced teams using their best 7 players at a time. This fosters a consistent gameplay experience for spectators and makes the matches more enjoyable.


In conclusion, there are typically 13 players on a water polo team’s roster for a game. This includes 7 starting field players (6 field players and 1 goalkeeper) who play at once. There are also 6 substitute players who can enter the game and fill any position. Teams may carry more than 13 total players across a full roster between 15-20 players. But the regulated team size for games tops out at 13 total players. This roster limit enables position specialization, frequent substitutions, and competitive balance for the 7 on 7 water polo gameplay.

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