How Long Water Polo Players Can Tread Water


When it comes to water polo, swimming is not the only skill one requires to be successful. In addition to a mastery of front and backstrokes, any competent water polo player must be able to tread water, and they must be able to do so for long periods. But just how long can the average water polo player tread water?

Water polo players tread water for entire 50 minute games and 120 minute long practices. However, these are just a reference point. Due to their high level of fitness, one can expect the average water polo player to tread water for up to 8 or 10 hours total.

As these are just estimations, we must take into account different factors that could affect how long players can tread water, like experience and fitness level. Due to polo players’ rigorous training, their treading abilities will exceed the average person. Keep reading to find out why.

Average Time that a Water Polo Player Can Tread Water

Due to the intense nature of the game, water polo players must be exceptionally skilled at handling themselves in the water. Mind you, this proficiency isn’t limited to brief stints of five to ten minutes. It has to be applied for up to an hour, and even longer!

There are four quarters in a match and—depending on the level—quarters range between five to eight minutes. However, this does not account for time stoppages. Since play is constantly stopping and restarting, quarters last about 12 minutes in real time, amounting to about 50 minutes total for an entire game.

During these periods, players must stay afloat for the whole time. They’re not allowed to touch the bottom of the pool or its edges. Players generally position themselves in two ways when treading water:

  • Shoulders at Water Level: This is the most commonly seen treading position during a match. It is much easier to sustain for extended durations of time.
  • Waist at Water Level: This is used at precise moments throughout a game. It’s generally only sustainable for a brief couple of seconds.

Considering the length of water polo matches, we can infer that players can tread water for an average time of about 50 minutes, as we’ve already established this to be the average length of a match.

In terms of overall ability, a true treading time approximation can be a bit difficult to judge. This estimation can jump up to 8 or 10 hours total, depending on personal fitness levels and experience.

Other factors, like technique, also come into play. Keeping the hands and the arms in the water while treading reduces the level of difficulty considerably and allows players to tread water for longer periods. Positioning the hands up in the air or holding a weight would seriously diminish players’ average treading times.

Why Water Polo Players Can Tread for So Long

Now that we know water polo players are experts at treading water, you may be wondering about why this is true. Water polo players are extremely fit, but that’s not the only reason behind their abilities. Water polo matches have many different rules that force players to stay afloat for long periods.

Prohibited from Touching the Bottom of the Pool

There’s a major rule in water polo that prohibits players from touching the bottom of the pool for the entirety of each quarter.

This rule is often hard to regulate since referees cannot clearly make sense of what goes on underwater. There are a lot of variables working against the referees. They’re stationed on land rather than the water, their attention has to be focused mainly on the current play, and all the movement underwater distorts visibility.

If a referee does somehow manage to catch a player that touches the bottom of the pool, a penalty will be enforced. In most cases, a foul is only called if it gives the player an unfair advantage over the other team or is blatantly obvious to the referee.

Treading water is necessary to avoid these game violations. Not only that, but it’s required to play successful offense and defense. Therefore, players hone in on these skills since they’re well aware of the fact that treading is a major component to player success.

Prohibited from Touching the Pool’s Sides

In addition to not being able to touch the bottom of the pool, water polo match regulations also prohibit touching the pool’s sides. If touching the pool sides were legal, players would be able to exploit this rule to their advantage.

As a hypothetical example, players might use the pool side to propel themselves off and move quickly towards the ball. Water polo is meant to test a player’s swimming and treading abilities. It’s not intended to see who can best drive themselves off of the pool wall. If that were true, every water polo player would be propelling themself off the pool sides every chance they got.

For this reason, this type of behavior is not allowed during any active play. This is yet another reason why players train vigorously to be able to effortlessly tread water.

Still Have to Tread Water During Play Stoppages

Another reason why players can tread water for so long is that they must do so even during play stoppages during a match. We touched on it earlier, but there are numerous instances where the clock pauses, so the game clock is not reflective of how much actual time passes during a water polo match.

The game clock is always paused when the ball is not in play. This means that every time the ball accidentally goes out of bounds, the clock doesn’t resume until another ball has been retrieved.

Another instance where the clock is stopped is when a goal has been scored. Since both teams have to reset, the action of the clock pauses to allow this to happen. Players, on the other hand, do not get to pause their continual action of treading water.

Other instances where the clock is stopped include foul calls and timeout calls (source).

Once the ball is back in play, the clock starts to run again. Whether for a foul or turnover, players must continue to respect game regulations throughout each quarter. Players are only allowed to rest during the two minutes between quarters or at the 15-minute intermission between the second and third quarters.

It goes without saying, but that’s not a high amount of rest time considering just how long water polo players have to tread water on top of swimming back and forth between pool ends. This is one of the key underlying reasons why water polo players are so efficient at treading water for extended time durations.

How to Tread Water Longer Like a Water Polo Player

As you can see, water polo matches are no joke! The sport molds inexperienced athletes into extremely fit and capable players. Though fitness is crucial, it’s not the sole reason for their water treading skills.

So how exactly do they do it?

The answer lies with their technique. In general, water polo players use two fundamental techniques to tread water:

  • the vertical sculling motion
  • the eggbeater kick

Though it requires time and practice, even a novice swimmer can master the art of sculling and the eggbeater kick.

Master the Art of Vertical Sculling

To be successful at water polo, players must master the art of vertical sculling. As a quick reference, vertical sculling in terms of treading water describes the back-and-forth motion of the arms that helps to keep a swimmer at the water’s surface (source).

This technique is extremely useful in water polo, as it allows the players to remain stable in the water while successfully observing the action of the ball and nearby players.

Sculling can be difficult to describe with words alone, so refer to the visual demonstration below to better understand this important treading technique:

This seems like a rather simple technique at first glance, but it can be difficult to truly master as there’s subtle nuances to the technique that can only be learned through hours of repetition. Over time, these small little technical details become second nature to any water polo player.

Become Proficient at the Eggbeater Kick

Another essential technique to master is the eggbeater kick. Water polo players use this specific motion to stay afloat with little effort. The eggbeater kick is a key reason why players can tread water for so long while still actively participating in the game with their hands. Without this skill, players would tire from treading at a faster pace than normal.

The action sounds like its name and resembles the motion one uses to beat an egg, only with their legs. To successfully perform it, you must:

  • First, position yourself in the water with shoulders near the surface.
  • Second, bring your legs up towards your armpits. Flex your feet, and stick them out towards your sides.
  • Third, push your feet out and around in a circular motion. Each kick should be performed in an alternate fashion, as opposed to a synchronous fashion.

Again, this can be a bit difficult to visualize, so refer to the video below for further instruction from 2x Olympic Women’s Water Polo Gold Medallist Maggie Steffens:

If performed successfully, the eggbeater kick allows the player to stay stable above the water without swaying back and forth. This allows players to see what’s going on in the water and to participate with their hands, which are not used in the eggbeater kick.

Like with many things, you have to notch a considerable number of repetitions under your belt to become proficient at this movement.

Sources: 1 2

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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