How much quarters are in water polo?

Water polo is a team water sport played in a pool. It involves two teams of 7 players who must pass, catch, and shoot a ball into their opponent’s goal to score points. As a sport played in a pool, water polo incorporates unique game elements like the use of swimming, throwing, and catching skills to move the ball toward the goal. Understanding the amount of quarters in a water polo game provides insight into the game’s structure and gameplay.

How Long is a Water Polo Game?

A regulation water polo game consists of 4 quarters of 8 minutes each for a total game time of 32 minutes. However, the game clock is stopped frequently for penalties, timeouts, goals scored, and other stoppages, so a full game can last around an hour including the breaks between quarters.

Here is a breakdown of the timing for a regulation water polo game:

  • Quarter 1: 8 minutes
  • Quarter 2: 8 minutes
  • Quarter 3: 8 minutes
  • Quarter 4: 8 minutes
  • Total Game Time: 32 minutes

The four 8-minute quarters structure the game into distinct segments of play. The breaks between quarters allow both teams to strategize and make substitutions while catching a quick rest before the next segment.

Quarters in International Water Polo

For international competitions like the Olympics, FINA World Championships, and World Cup, the timing is slightly different than a standard game. The quarters are shorter but there are more of them:

  • Quarter 1: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 2: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 3: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 4: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 5: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 6: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 7: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 8: 7 minutes
  • Total Game Time: 56 minutes

With eight 7-minute quarters, international matches have a longer game time. The extended number of quarters allows for more breaks and strategy discussions between teams and coaches. It also extends the action for spectators watching top-level water polo competitions.

Quarters in Youth and High School Water Polo

For younger players like children and high school students, water polo games use shorter quarter lengths to match their skill levels and stamina:

Youth Water Polo (12 and Under)

  • Quarter 1: 4 minutes
  • Quarter 2: 4 minutes
  • Quarter 3: 4 minutes
  • Quarter 4: 4 minutes
  • Total Game Time: 16 minutes

High School Water Polo

  • Quarter 1: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 2: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 3: 7 minutes
  • Quarter 4: 7 minutes
  • Total Game Time: 28 minutes

Shorter quarter lengths allow young players to compete at an age-appropriate level while learning the game in a structured environment. The shorter game times also help maintain engagement and intensity from the players.

Quarters in Water Polo Overtime

If the score is tied at the end of regulation play, water polo goes into overtime to determine a winner. Overtime consists of additional 3-minute quarters played until a team scores the game-winning goal.

Here is the overtime quarter structure:

  • Overtime Quarter 1: 3 minutes
  • Overtime Quarter 2: 3 minutes
  • Overtime Quarter 3: 3 minutes
  • Overtime Quarter 4: 3 minutes
  • etc. until game-winning goal is scored

The 3-minute overtime quarters create a sudden-death atmosphere where the next goal wins the game. Teams ramp up their intensity in overtime to try and end the game quickly with a decisive score.


Whether it’s a standard game, international match, youth game, or overtime period, water polo is structured around quarters of play. A regulation game consists of 4 quarters of 8 minutes each. But at the international level, quarter length is reduced to 7 minutes and expanded to 8 quarters to extend playing time. Younger players compete with shorter 4-minute quarters based on their age. And overtime quarters are just 3 minutes long to quickly determine the winning team. Knowing the amount of quarters and their duration provides insight into water polo’s gameplay format across different match types and skill levels.

Game Type Number of Quarters Length of Quarters Total Game Time
Regulation 4 8 minutes 32 minutes
International 8 7 minutes 56 minutes
Youth (12U) 4 4 minutes 16 minutes
High School 4 7 minutes 28 minutes
Overtime 3+ 3 minutes Until game-winning goal

This table summarizes the number of quarters, quarter length, and total game time across the various water polo match formats.

Scoring in Water Polo Quarters

Understanding how scoring works in water polo quarters provides further insight into gameplay:

  • Each goal scored counts as 1 point.
  • Goals can be scored during live action play or penalty shots.
  • There are no point restrictions on how many goals can be scored in a quarter.
  • The team with the most total goals at the end of the game wins.

Since goals can be scored at any point, the action remains intense throughout each quarter. Teams try to rack up goals in their offensive possessions and defend well when the other team has the ball. Top teams average around 10-15 goals per standard game, but high-scoring games can see teams score 20+ goals each.

Penalty Shots

Penalty shots are a special scoring play awarded for significant fouls like impeding a player’s progress, pulling on an opponent’s suit, or sinking under water when guarding. The fouled player gets an uncontested shot from 5 meters out to try and score a goal. If successful, a penalty shot goal counts the same as any other goal. Teams often rotate their best shooters to take penalty shots during a game.

Substitutions During Water Polo Quarters

Another key element of water polo quarters is substituting players into and out of the game. Each team has a roster of typically 13-15 players and can freely substitute most players while the ball is not in play. Common substitution strategies include:

  • Swapping in fresh legs – Subbing out tired players for rested ones.
  • Matching up against opponents – Sending in players that match up better against the opponent’s current lineup.
  • Changing pace – Bringing in faster or slower players to change the tempo.
  • Riding the hot hand – Leaving in players on a scoring streak.

Coaches also substitute entire lines of field players at once, known as mass substitutions, to maintain intensity and chemistry. The breaks between quarters allow for all players to come in and out to strategize.

Here is a table showing common water polo lineup positions and typical substitution strategies:

Position Role Substitution Strategy
Driver Main scorer near the goal Swap in fresh scorers, ride hot hand
2-Meter Offense Scoring threat at 2-meter line Use tall players to exploit matchups
Wing Outside shooting and passing Change pace, match up speed
Set Ball handler and distributor Control tempo
2-Meter Defense Inside defender on 2-meter offense Use physical defenders
Goalkeeper Blocks opponent’s shots Based on goalie’s endurance and saves

Leveraging substitutions during quarters and at breaks is an important strategic element for water polo coaches. It allows them to manage player energy levels, exploit matchups, and adjust game plans as needed.

Quarters and Game Flow

The segmented quarters structure also impacts game flow and strategy. Since the shot clock resets after each quarter, teams are more aggressive about shooting toward the end of quarters before the clock resets. If a team has possession in the closing seconds, they’ll often hold the ball until the quarter runs out to retain control at the start of the next segment. The quarters also create a repetitive game rhythm of intense play followed by a short break.

From a coaching perspective, the quarter breaks allow for adjustments to strategy, substitutions, or defensive matchups based on how the preceding segment unfolded. Teams can enter each new quarter with a fresh game plan. And if a team built up a lead in one quarter, they may play more conservatively in the next quarter to protect it.

So the defined quarters promote a strategic ebb and flow from one segment to the next as teams press for goals, make adjustments, manage the clock, and leverage substitutions in this back-and-forth battle.

Quarters and Mental Strategy

The quartered format also creates a mental framework for players. Rather than viewing it as one extended 32 minute game, they can approach it as 4 separate 8 minute mini-games. This helps players stay focused and intense in the moment rather than getting overwhelmed by the bigger picture.

Breaking the game into quarters also provides opportunities for mental resets and motivation. Teams can put previous mistakes behind them and start fresh in the new quarter. And if a team lost one quarter, they have a chance to self-correct and win the next one. Quarters essentially create multiple opportunities for comeback wins if a team finds themselves trailing early on.

From an individual player’s perspective, a poor performance one quarter can be shaken off knowing you’ll get another chance in the next quarter. Mentally, the segmented match breakdown helps water polo athletes stay engaged and resilient throughout the entire duration of the game.

Water Polo Quarters by Skill Level

While a regulation game has 4 quarters of 8 minutes, the number and length of quarters does vary based on skill level. Here is a comparison:

Youth Water Polo

  • 4 quarters
  • 4 minute quarters
  • 16 minute total game time

Youth water polo uses shorter quarters to match younger players’ endurance and attention spans. This allows young athletes to learn the game in a structured environment suited for their age.

High School Water Polo

  • 4 quarters
  • 7 minute quarters
  • 28 minute total game time

The high school game expands quarter length while retaining the 4 quarter format. This incrementally increases game duration as players improve physically and mentally.

Olympic and International Water Polo

  • 8 quarters
  • 7 minute quarters
  • 56 minute total game time

At the highest elite levels, quarters are shortened to 7 minutes but expanded to 8 quarters total. This model provides more breaks for strategy while extending playing time for spectators.

So the number and duration of water polo quarters scales based on age and skill level. But the consistent use of segmented quarters provides structure as players progress in the sport.


Water polo consists of multiple quarters of play as part of its structured format. A regulation game has 4 quarters of 8 minutes each for 32 minutes of total game time. At the Olympic and international level, quarters are reduced to 7 minutes but expanded to 8 quarters total for 56 minutes of play. Youth and high school games use shorter 4 or 7 minute quarters based on age-appropriate conditioning and focus levels. The quarters create a framework of mini-games within the larger match, driving strategy, substitutions, scoring, and mental approach. Water polo’s use of defined quarters differentiates its pacing, gameplay, and strategy from other continuous sports.

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