What are water polo players called?

Water polo is an exciting and physically demanding sport that has been around for over a century. Played in a pool, water polo combines elements of swimming, handball, and wrestling. Teams of six field players and one goalkeeper compete to throw a ball into the opposing team’s net to score goals. With its origins tracing back to the rivers and lakes of mid-19th century Britain, water polo grew into an Olympic event in 1900. Today, it is popular worldwide at both recreational and competitive levels. But what exactly are the athletes who play this unique sport called?

Water Polo Players

The athletes who participate in water polo are most commonly referred to simply as water polo players. They may also be called water polo athletes or water polo competitors. More specific positions on a water polo team have their own names:


The player positioned in front of the goal to block shots is called the goalkeeper or goalie. They wear a different color cap than the rest of the team so they can be easily identified. Goalkeepers are allowed to touch the ball with two hands, unlike field players. They anchor the defense and communicate with teammates to direct play. Excellent reflexes, positioning, and awareness are key goalkeeper skills.


The driver is typically the team’s best swimmer and advances the ball down the pool through dribbling and fast swimming. They need to be able to rapidly change directions and explode out of the water to get away from defenders. The driver often attempts shots on goal when attacking.

Hole Set

The hole set is the center player who attempts to establish position in front of the opponent’s goal. They function similarly to a center in basketball, using their size and power to get open for shots on goal, collect rebounds, and play physically with defenders.


Wings are positioned on the sides of the offensive formation. They swim along the sideline and stretch the defense. Wings move the ball to more central offensive players and the driver while also taking perimeter shots themselves. Having speed, endurance, and good passing skills allows wings to excel.


Flats play on the perimeter around the front half of the offensive end and assist in both moving the ball and providing additional scoring options. Playing flat requires versatility in shooting, passing, and dribbling. Flats may also be involved in screening for teammates and playing defense.


The point sits farthest from the goal at the rear end of the offensive formation. They start offensive plays and provide another long-range shooting option. On defense, the point guards the opponent’s driver. Strong ball handling and outside shooting ability allows points to thrive.

2-Meter Defender

The 2-meter defender has the crucial job of guarding the opposing team’s hole set at close range. They need to play very physically without committing fouls. The 2-meter defender attempts to limit the hole set’s positioning and scoring while not allowing offensive rebounds.

Specialized Positions

In addition to the common positions, water polo teams may strategically utilize players with specialized skills and roles:

Sprint Specialist

Some teams employ a swimmer who specializes in sprinting down the pool during transitions and counterattacks. Their swimming speed puts immense pressure on defenses.

Defensive Specialist

A defensive specialist focuses on guarding top offensive players, getting steals, and earning exclusions. They may play various defensive positions.

Power Player

A power player comes into the game to provide additional size, physicality, and shooting around the goal. Teams often substitute in power players in offensive situations.

Penalty Specialist

During power play opportunities, some teams deploy players with particularly good skills for capitalizing on penalty shots and power play possessions.

Positions by Number

In water polo, players at different positions typically wear certain uniform numbers:

#1 – Goalkeeper

The goalkeeper is #1 so they can be easily visually identified by all players and officials.

#2, #4, #6, and #8 – Defenders

Defenders occupy the even-numbered caps from #2 to #8. The center-most defenders wear the lower numbers like #2 and #4.

#3, #5, #7, and #9 – Forwards

Forwards wear odd-numbered caps from #3 to #9. The center-most offensive players sport the lower odd numbers like #3 and #5.

Women’s Water Polo Positions

Women’s water polo features slightly different positions from the men’s game:


The center sets up in front of the goal similarly to a hole set in men’s water polo. Centers tend to be smaller quicker players in the women’s game.


Women’s water polo has two attackers positioned on the perimeter as scoring and passing threats. They often drive toward the goal.


Two points sit on the outside and can shoot from long range or drop down to set picks for drivers.


Two drivers fill the role of moving the ball up the pool through swimming and passing ability.


The wing acts as a defender who can also transition into counterattacks.

The positions in women’s water polo differ somewhat from the men’s game, but still require specialized skills and coordination between players. While some names vary, the goalkeeper and basic offensive and defensive roles remain similar.

Youth and Beginner Positions

At younger age groups and lower competitive levels where well-defined positions are not utilized, players may simply be identified by generic names indicating their general roles:


The goalkeeper position remains a specialized role even at beginner levels. Goalies require specialized equipment and positioning knowledge.


Defenders focus on preventing goals by guarding opponents and getting the ball. No specific defensive positioning is used.


Players in the middle area of the pool who play both offense and defense. Middies may pass, shoot, or drive with the ball.


Attackers concentrate on offense by shooting, passing, and driving toward the goal. Less defensive responsibility.


Fast swimmers who use their speed to outpace opponents during transitions up and down the pool.

Beginner water polo teaches fundamentals and basic positioning concepts before the nuances of set positions. Rotating all players through offense and defense is common early on.

Names of Water Polo Teams

Water polo teams themselves can be identified by various names:

Club Team

A club water polo team is comprised of athletes who join together locally and compete, often as an affiliate of a larger club organization.

Scholastic Team

Water polo teams fielded by middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities compete against similar scholastic institutions’ teams.

Youth Team

Broadly defined as teams for children and adolescents under 18 years old, youth water polo teams compete according to age divisions.

Masters Team

Masters water polo teams have adult players, often 30 years of age or older. The masters level provides competitive opportunities for older athletes.

National Team

The best players from a country comprise the national team, which competes globally in major tournaments like the Olympics.

Nickname Positions

Water polo players in certain well-defined positions often acquire nicknames over time:

Hole/2-Man – Center Forward

The hole set player stationed in front of goal acts like a center forward in soccer, which leads to nicknames like hole and 2-man.

Driver – Point Guard

Drivers are nicknamed point guards after the ball-handling facilitators in basketball.

Goalie – Keeper

Goalkeepers are sometimes referred to simply as keepers as they try to keep shots out of the goal.

Wing – Shooter

Wings are compared to basketball’s shooting guards and called shooters for their perimeter shooting.

Flat – Utility Player

Flats are utility players who fill gaps wherever needed, like baseball’s utility infielders.

Slang Position Terms

In addition to formal names and nicknames, water polo players and coaches use some informal slang terms:

Eggbeater – Goalie

The constant leg cycling motion that goalies use to maintain position is compared to mixing with an eggbeater kitchen tool.

Cherry Picker – Attacker

An attacker who waits unchecked near the goal for outlet passes resembles a cherry picker in hockey.

Launch Pad – Driver

Quick and explosive drivers who propel long passes are nicknamed launch pads.

Rims – Goals

Players refer to goals as rims, as in putting the ball through the rim to score.


The names used for water polo players depend on several factors. Position, experience level, gender, and context all contribute to the terminology. While ubiquitous terms like goalie and driver are used frequently, more niche terms like cherry picker and launch pad reflect the culture and strategies of the sport at its highest levels. Knowing the correct water polo vocabulary helps fans, athletes, and coaches appreciate and communicate the details of the game. Whether cheering on your child’s youth water polo squad or analyzing an intense Olympic match between international rivals, understanding exactly what water polo players are called provides deeper insight into the nuances of positions, assignments, and responsibilities.

Position Common Names Nicknames Slang Terms
Goalkeeper Goalie, Keeper Keeper Eggbeater
Driver Driver Point Guard Launch Pad
Hole Set Hole, 2-Meter Offense 2-Man, Center Forward  
Wing Wing Shooter  
Flat Flat Utility Player  
2-Meter Defense 2-Meter Defender    
Attacker Attacker   Cherry Picker
Goal     Rim

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