© Gertjan Kooij / Beeldboot

New year, new rules? My impressions as a player

In recent years, FINA started testing a set of new regulations with the aim to evolve water polo by making it more dynamic and less physical. The main changes proposed are:

1- The field of 25 meters instead of 30 meters
2- From 7 to 6 players in the water and 6 to 5 on the bench.
3- Possession time of 25 seconds instead of 30 seconds and exclusion time from 20 seconds to 15 seconds.
4- Ball size used for women.

These changes were introduced fully or partially in various competitions, and after the Olympic Games we could possibly face a great revolution in our sport. As a player, I don´t want to focus on marketing questions but I would like to share the impressions that I´ve had playing.

1- The field of 30m to 25m.:

With this change implemented in the world league games, I only noticed the shortening of the field in a shorter transition times, whereas the attack time is greatly lengthened. As a result the game became more dynamic: on one hand there were big changes in final scores, resulting from less time needed to reach the goal, and in the game itself because of the possibility of more movement in attack. On the other hand, the physical part of the game became more intense due to the fact of having to defend much more each possession. Almost every action of center-forward could result in a counter foul or exclusion.

2- From 7 to 6 players in the water and 6 to 5 on the bench:

These changes are applied together with the shortening of the field. So far I have not played any official matches with this rule, and have only tried it in training matches. This rule has added a large dose of dynamics in the game and has not decreased the physical contact of the game for the same reason mentioned in point 1, the long possessions of each attack. Every counter foul results in a counter-attack with more space and consequently increases score percentage compared to current rules. The situations of man up also result in more scores, the reason being more space mentioned above. Tactics changed radically.

3. Possession time from 30 seconds down to 25 seconds, and exclusion time from 20 seconds down to 15 seconds.

These time reductions are also conditioned by the shortening of the field. The decrease in time of possession can be a good solution to the already mentioned problem of the increase in the struggle for longer possession in attack. And the shorter time for the excluded player to return to the field brings down the percentage of taking advantage of a man-up situation, resting importance from the exclusion.  

4- Ball size used for women

The change in the ball size was noticed but not that much. The smaller ball adds a difficulty for goalkeepers and increases the power of shots but does not open new possibilities of shots movements.

I am honestly not familiar with the decision-making process in changing these rules, but here is my opinion:

I am in favour of reducing the size of the pool because I think it creates a much more intense game as it is played more in areas where goals can be scored. To even out the increase of the “wrestling” in the water, I believe that shortening the time of possession could be a good solution. Regarding the change of ball size I am a bit indifferent, because I think it doesn’t make much of a difference. On the other hand I am against the reduction of the exclusion time, because it takes off the importance of an exclusion foul in the game.

Other changes regarding the number of players in the water and on the bench, despite achieving the goal of greater dynamism, represent a complete turnaround in the way this sport is played. Honestly, I think it's too much, and the Belgrade 2016 European Championships and its attendance record in a game of water polo (18,743 people) show us that our sport can indeed be attractive. Other improvements in areas as marketing, management and organization can yield more results without the risk of introducing a completely different sport.

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