Water Polo Tactics by Dave Maynard

Volume 1 Number 5 March 1, 2008
Imagination is more important than knowledge - Albert Einstein.

"N.O.W - Transition"

This is the second installment of my “No Opportunity Wasted” (N.O.W.) series.  This time, we’re talking Transition.

How many times have you seen teams in transition swim straight down the pool.  The wings may square out for an outlet pass, but for the most part, the transition is linear.  Why?  It’s ridiculously predictable and only relies on the individual to break free down the pool to capitalize on a transition goal.  This isn’t swimming, there are no lane lines, so let’s stop thinking linear, and start taking advantage of some “organized chaos.”

“Organized chaos” is something that appears to be a complete disaster, but really is mapped out movements to generate possibility.  And if it looks confusing from the bleachers, or even the opponent’s bench, imagine what it will look like in the water.

In order to keep things straight with positions here, we will refer to players as their position numbers 1, 2, 3, etc.  Goalies have the number 7 for each end of the pool.

This play is very simple, in that it keeps with a rather standard transition.  It stays traditional by having the defenders from the 1 and 5 positions (the wings) squaring out being utilized as the goalie’s primary outside outlets.  The hole defender (6 defender) is the secondary outlet.  What I call “Hot Routes” come from the 3, 2 and 4 positions as they break up the field.  A “Hot Route” is a path up the pool created by the player that yields them inside water, and thus a scoring threat in the transition.  The question is, by design, how do they become a “Hot Route.”

As with any transition, the 3 defender (point) will likely be the first player down the pool.  If they get a jump on their counterpart, they could have inside water, and this is the first “Hot Route.”  The goalie should recognize this and try to get the ball up the pool to take advantage of the fast break.  It may not be there right away, and the goalie should examine other passes up the pool.  It still moves the ball up pool and doesn’t rely on one long pass to get it done.  Additionally, if it takes a little longer to get inside water from the 3 position, shorter passes would be better, as the gap has closed between the transition-attacker and the goalie.  Shorter passes at that point are favorable to avoid the goalie interception.  So far, nothing different from a standard transition.  And if we stopped talking right now, that would be the end of our lesson on transition.  But wait, there’s 5 other players in the water…

The next two players down the pool are likely the 2 and 4 defenders.  Rather than swimming right up the pool and trying to out-swim their opponent, these two players do a criss-cross, hoping that their counterparts follow them closely, and lead them into a mid-pool screen/pick.  The player that is seeing the tightest play on their counterpart would swim over the back of their teammate.  The screen/pick is set, and if performed correctly, the defense has to make a choice: a.) stick with their players or b.) call for a switch.  Either way, one of the transition-attackers will have inside water.  They both drive to the cage, defended or not.  The opponent who has good position on his player will have a choice to make, and the transition-attack can capitalize either way.  If the opponent goes after the ball, the other transition-attacker is open and the backdoor is wide open for a quick goal.  If the opponent stays with his mark, then the marked transition-attacker should clear out of the center of the cage to allow the transition-attacker as much room as possible to work for the goal.  Also important is the transition-attacker coming from the 3-defender spot.  If they don’t have anything, but the 2 & 4 transition-attackers do, they have to clear the zone in front of the net and let that play develop.  By staying in “the pit” they only clog the area, bring more defenders in, and suffocate the play.

The animated play shows the defense (X’s) transitioning to offense.  Notice the center pool cross between the 2 and 4 defenders and the pick/screen this creates, resulting in inside water for the 4 transition-attacker, now becoming a “Hot Route.”  The long pass up the pool from the goalie could be made, however the risk is great for an interception.  Had the 2 and 4 transition-attackers gotten out in front of the 3 transition-attacker, then the long pass is more feasible.  As detailed here, the goalie recognizes the inside water on the weak side of the pool, utilizes that outlet pass by the 1 transition-attacker square out, and then the feed pass up the pool to the 4 transition-attacker in the “Hot Route.”  The 4 could have shot, or, as drawn up, drew the nearest defender to him and then cross passes to the 2 transition-attacker  for the backdoor shot.  Also note that the 3 transition-attacker makes it down the pool, the clears out the strike zone for their teammates coming in.

You might be asking yourself, “That’s great coach, but what if it doesn’t pan out and no ‘Hot Routes’ are generated from these players?”  The solution is logic.  The 3 didn’t get the ball, so they clear out of the hole to the wing away from the ball.  The 2 and 4 come down, totally defended, didn’t get the ball, they clear out to the wing.  Is it time to fill in the Hole position?  Not yet.  The 6 defender still has the opportunity to make something happen.  If the 6 defender gets a jump on his counterpart, they too can become a “Hot Route” and should be given the room in front of the net to get the job done.  And if your hole defender is going to dump the energy into breaking up the pool to take advantage of the opportunity, his team should give him the room to make the best of his efforts.  If the 6 doesn’t get the jump, the would fill in at the 2, 3, or 4 positions.  The hole position can now be filled in and the ball is passed up the pool, and the remaining position of the front court offense is filled in.  Now the team is ready to play their front court offense.

Again, there are those who think this is rushing the shot clock or the game.  Remember “organized chaos” only looks chaotic to those who don’t know what’s going on, however, it generates confusion for the opposition, thus tipping a key aspect of the game in your favor.  Teams can be quite productive and successful utilizing their transition game to the fullest.  So, you’re armed with a very simple play for your standard transition, “N.O.W. score!”


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