Water Polo Tactics by Dave Maynard

Volume 1 Number 11September 1, 2009
Imagination is more important than knowledge - Albert Einstein.

Take Advantage of the Man-Advantage: The 3-3 Attack

Last month, we talked about the 4-2 man-up attack and what a little bit of movement can accomplish.  There are a lot of teams out there that, when given the man advantage opportunity, they swim to position in the 4-2 and go to work.  Especially when making that conversion from an even strength offense, there is a great opportunity to take the simple motion of swimming to position, and turning it into a scoring opportunity.  This is when the 3-3 man-up attack can come into play.

The 3-3 Man-Up attack set is not dangerous in and of itself.  The arrangement is essentially the same as the Umbrella even strength attack set-up, only the alignment is more linear.  Additionally, this doesn’t  lend itself to outstanding stationary shooting options as compared to the 4-2 set-up.  The defense still has to respect the shot, and if they don’t, you should take it.  The defense is playing a gap zone between the three players up top, so any outside should could lend itself to a breakaway up the pool (a goal of running a gap defense).  What the 3-3 set-up does is forces the top defenders, and the goalie, to move laterally through the water, constantly with the attack passing to one another.  When the time and ball location is right, that’s when you strike.  What do you strike with?  A drive, of all things, while the defense is in motion.

The following play utilizes motion from the middle (or 5 player) along the top line in the form of a drive.  The pass from the 6 position to the 3 position is the trigger for the play.  Watch the animation

As the ball is passed along the top line of players, the defense typically adjusts with the pass, always trying to cover two of the three players.  One player will always be open.  When the play starts, the attack has the choice on which side to force those defenders.  The play is to the strong side.  This forces the defense to shift to that side of the attack.  When the ball goes back to field-center, the defense, doesn’t have to switch.  In fact, they likely won’t, as this would leave the 5 position with a good look at the goal.  Additionally, all goalie movement is in that direction, so they don’t want the goalie to be moving backward.  The defense is controlling where the ball will be passed to on the next pass, the 6 position.  The 6 has to be quick and deliver the ball to the weak wing at the 3 position.  On the pass, the player in the 5 position drives closer into the Strike Zone.  The winger makes a dry pass to the driver, who performs a rear-back, and shoots cross cage.  Also notice the Hole-Set shifting to the weak side of the pool.  This drags their defender to that side of the pool.  The goalie too is focused on that area as well.  The pass is going to field-center, so shooting a cross cage angle isn’t as tight.  And doing all of these quickly will catch the defense having to swim farther to keep up with the play, and likely catch them out of position.

Here’s the bonus.  Let’s say you don’t get the opportunity to pass to the driver.  If the passing lanes are cut off, it’s better to hold on to the ball and let the movement run it’s course.  The driver heads to the low post, position 2, of the 4-2 attack set-up, and just like that that, you’ve converted your attack scheme from the 3-3 to the 4-2.  You did it with a drive that was geared toward generating a scoring opportunity.

Many coaches run this play with the 5 position driving.  You could easily do this with the 4 position driving to the strike zone instead.  See the following animation.

The ball at the 6 position is the trigger for the play, and there needs to be a little more patience with it as well.  The 4 position has to wait for the defenders to be committed to positions 5 and 6 before driving.  Passing the ball between the 5 and 6 position would accomplish this until finally the trigger is pulled with getting the ball to the 3 position and player 4 is off to the strike zone.  Without getting those defenders to commit, they could easily slough off their mark and look to clog the strike zone or pick off the cross-pool pass to the driver.  If the strike zone does get stuff, again, better to hold on to the ball at the 3 position, have the driver swim through and take the strong side low post position, and now you are in your 4-2 attack set-up.

Notice at no point do you pass the ball into the Hole.  This sets the table for a field steal and is not the goal of either of these attacks.  Therefore, in even strength, get the ball to the Hole.  When you’re a man-up, keep it on the perimeter.

The 3-3, as you can see, is not a shooting set-up like the 4-2, but rather a method of defense manipulation to allow you to drive a player to the strike zone and put the ball away with some snazzy passing and shooting.  Remember that neither of these plays is possible without motion among the attack.  Standing still is a great position to watch the game of water polo, but motion creates scoring chances where there normally are none.


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