Water Polo Tactics by Dave Maynard

Volume 1 Number 4 February 1, 2009
Imagination is more important than knowledge - Albert Einstein.

"N.O.W - Restart"

When I first started coaching with my brother (Coach Ed), we had the idea that the more we could mess with standard formations and movements, the more opportunities to score would present itself.  We then started looking at the game and started developing “N.O.W. Score” situations.  N.O.W. meaning “No Opportunity Wasted” and this will be the theme of the next couple of plays presented in this column.

When examining the restart, Coach Ed noticed that all the players line up across the width of the pool, the center player passes it back to the player behind them, and then everyone down the line swims straight up the pool and go to their positions.  We both found this terribly predictable and felt that this was an opportunity wasted.  Coach Ed developed the following play.

In order to keep things straight with positions here, we will refer to players at mid-pool as P2, P3, P4, etc., going from left to right, with the P7 being the player the ball is passed back to, as labeled in the animations below.  Positions will still be referred to as the standard number system 1, 2, 3, etc.

This play utilizes two picks.  The first, and likely the one that will get the most production is between P2 and P3.  The other is on the opposite side of the pool between P5 and P6.  Traditionally, P4 passes the ball back to P7 and P4 continues to swim to set the hole.   This is NOT what is going to happen.  Below is the diagram of how player movement will go without  the defense.

Play without the defense.

Key things to note are that P3 and P5 set the pick on the defenders of P2 and P6 respectively.  It is important that P2 and P6 swim behind P3 and P5 respectively, not in front of them.  In other words, the inside player sets the pick for the outside player.  And most important, a properly set pick WILL free up someone.  That “someone” all depends on how the defense reacts.  As the movement unfolds, you will notice that the Hole-Set, position 6, will actually be taken by P2.  P3, after setting the pick will go to the 1 position.  P4, after passing the ball back, will go to the 2 position.  P5, after setting the pick will go to the 5 position.  P6 will go to the 4 position.  P7, with the ball, then becomes the point, or the 3 position. 

The targets for the play are as follows:

  1. P2 driving through to the hole.  This player will have the best angle on the cage. 
  2. P3 going to the strong side wing.  It’s only logical if P2 is covered, that P3 would have inside water.  P2 has to recognize this and drive to the far side of the cage.
  3. P5 going to the weak side wing.  This simply sends the ball deeper into the field of play, and P5 will be left with inside water and a wet shot, or the opportunity draw penalty foul.
  4. P4 going to the 2 position.  If the pick is successful, it is possible P4’s defender will drop back to cover P2 breaking to the hole.  P4 is open for a pass, undefended, on the strong side of the cage, likely on or close to the 5M, with a rather high percentage shot on goal.  Additionally, by just passing to P4 could draw their defender out, open up P2’s driving lane, and P4 could pass to P2.
  5. P6 going to the 4 position.  This player being open is based on the defense not switching after pick.  The pass and shot have to be quick, both in the pass and the shot.  P6 has to get the best possible angle and get to the 5M, and if P6 is a lefty, all the better for shooting.

They key to this play is setting the hole from the outside of the line-up at center pool.  That one move alone opens up a lot of options and forces the defense to make quick decisions and adjustments to something that is not standard.  Below is the play, again, but this time with the defense.  Pay attention to the picks being set, and who is open as a result of them.

Play with defense.

Notice the pick between P2 and P3 has the defenders sticking with their original marks.  The pick between P5 and P6 shows the defenders switch.  As a result, P2 has inside water and a break for the goal.  Also, P5 has inside water on his defender.  Both are deep in the front court, and both are in very advantageous positions with respect to the defense.

Some would consider this rushing the shot clock.  But think of the mental aspect in this.  You have just gotten scored on, something that likely would have taken an entire shot clock and possibly more.  In response, you get the ball, come down the pool, players miraculously come open, and a goal (or penalty foul) is awarded within 15 seconds.  You’ve negated their goal in a matter of moments after they’ve scored, potentially taking the proverbial wind out of their sails.

You are now armed with a very simple play for the restart, “N.O.W. score!”


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