Water Polo Tactics by Dave Maynard

Volume 1 Number 7 May 1, 2009
Imagination is more important than knowledge - Albert Einstein.

N.O.W. - Smoke & Mirrors

This is the fourth installment of the “Now Opportunity Wasted” (N.O.W.) series, and this time we are focusing on the Sprint, with a twist.

You have a speed demon in the sprint lane and we’ve already drawn up one way to attack right after you win the sprint.  What you will find, as the game, the tournament, and the season continues, is that teams will begin to respect your sprinters and mirror on defense, and almost drop back entirely and attempt to neutralize your immediate attack off the sprint.  Your team may have to concede to the idea of losing this attack after the sprint, but if you find yourself a couple goals down, going into the third or the fourth quarter, you will need a spark for your team.  Enter the “Underwater Play,” or what I like to call “Smoke & Mirrors.”

Typically, unless you are playing at one of the higher end facilities, the sprint lane is actually along the side of the pool, not down the middle.  That being said, this play is drawn up to reflect this.  You have speed on one side winning the sprint, you also need a pair of lungs and quick underwater swimming on the opposite side of the pool, and a little bit of acting by everyone else in water.

There have been several variations of this play throughout the years, however, I have had the greatest success with running “Underwater” as described herein.  And prior to going any further, you should have noticed that the N.O.W. plays have a primary target, but also several contingency plays to back it up.  This play has one (1) target ONLY and it’s success hinges completely on your sprinter winning the Sprint and the defense buying the misdirection laid down by the rest of the players in the water.

For discussion, each player is assigned a number in this animation, and we will refer to these players by said number.

There are no surprises with the initial set-up, as everyone lines up across the width of the pool.  As the whistle blows, notice at the top of the pool, players 6 and 7 converge on one another.  Player 6 will swim in front of player 7, giving the illusion to others in the water that two (2) players just turned into one (1).  After about 4 strokes, player 7 does a surface dive, and swims underwater hugging the side of the pool farthest from the sprint.  Several strokes later, Player 6 breaks toward the center of the pool hoping that the defense opposite him will follow along, drawing attention away from Player 7 who is still swimming underwater.

Once your sprinter wins the ball, they can make their way down the side of the pool to give the appearance of going to an offensive set-up.  The rest of the players in the water move to just inside the attack half of the pool between the center of the cage and the wall where the Sprint took place.  By positioning all of your players in such close quarters, it makes it difficult for the defense, at water level, to make an account of all players in the water, thus our “mirrors” portion of our illusion.  By this time, Player 7, who is still swimming underwater, should be behind the defense and can now curl toward the center of the cage.  While this is happening, it’s time for the “smoke” portion of our illusion.  EVERYONE on the attack is screaming for the ball.  Even the bench is shouting out numbers and pointing.  The ball is in the hands of the trailing player, Player 3, and they are looking to pass to someone, maybe even faking a pass or two.  Player 3 should be watching in their peripheral the Strike Zone between the posts of the goal inside the 5M.  This is the area that our underwater player, Player 7, WILL be popping out of the water.  When Player 7 emerges, and if our “smoke” and “mirrors” has worked accordingly, he should be wide open with only the goalie between him and adding another point to the team’s total.  This HAS to be a goal so make sure it gets to the back of the net.

This is an all-or-none play, so you HAVE to win the sprint.  Additionally, if our “smoke and mirrors” didn’t work, and the defense dropped back and is waiting for our underwater player, and even has them marked, the attacking team has to realize this and move into position in the attack zone and establish their front court offense.  Player 7, when they emerge, will become the Hole-Set.  All other players fill into position linearly down the pool so as to not waste too much time off your shot clock.

Also, this play has a time and place.  It’s best when used in the second half if your team is down by a couple of goals.  If effective, it has an immediate impact on the goal differential in an already close game, has taken little time off the clock.  Imagine this being a two (2) goal game, you’ve just scored off the Sprint with your underwater play, you make a defensive stand, and you score again on your next possession either in the front court offense or off the transition, and now the score is tied with approximately 1 minute into the quarter and your team has all the momentum in the game.  You have the tools, “N.O.W. score!!!!”


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WATER POLO PLANET.COM: the Alternative Voice    www.waterpoloplanet.com