Water Polo Tactics by Dave Maynard

Volume 2 Number 2 January 1, 2010
Imagination is more important than knowledge - Albert Einstein.

The M-Zone Defense Getting There

The M-Zone Defense is a style of defense that is a staple in the European style of play.  When used properly, the defense can catch the attack off guard, possibly get them into a panic, suffocate the Hole, and open up the counterattack.

The M-Zone is a modified gap-style defense that has four perimeter defenders in a full gap defense and a double-team at the Hole position.  Additionally, the defense needs to know where the attack’s left and right handed shooters are, where the low percentage shots can come from, and NOT letting the ball get into the Hole.

Don’t get confused, the M-Zone is NOT the wonder defense.  It has holes and can be beat, if the attack is given enough time.  That is why the M-Zone is utilized in the last 10 to 15 seconds of the shot clock.  First, this style of defense requires a lot of movement on the part of the defense, so more effort and energy are needed. You will want to limit the amount of time to do this type of defense so the defenders do not run out of gas when it’s time to go on the attack.  Also, in that minimal amount of time, the attack has to process what the defense is presenting and the attack must try to manage a way to beat it.  We will talk about how the attack can beat this later.  First, we have to figure out the best way to get into position.

Each team will have some sort of standard defense to run, be it a full press with a Hole front, or a typical 2, 3, or 4 position drop zone style defense, or even a wing double-team in the Hole.  Each defense will have it’s own way for getting a double-team at the hole and sliding the rest of the defense into the gaps.

The gaps will be identified as the space between the two field position numbers.  For example, the 1-2 Gap is the space between the 1 and 2 position, or the strong wing and the strong flat positions.  Getting into those positions can be just as difficult.

The above shows a full zone defense, the ball at the 3.  The defense has to challenge this attacker, as they have good shooting angles.  The attacker will likely utilize the strong side of the field, hence the pass to the 2 position.  The 2 defender challenges and the 3 defender drops off again into his zone.  The pass goes back to the point, and this is when the shift to the M-Zone happens, as ALL defenders slip into their gaps.  The attack on the ball has to be from the shooter’s strong side.  With the 3 player being right handed shooter, the defensive challenge comes from the 4 defender as they enter the 4-5 gap. 

The above shows a full press with a Hole front defense, where the front defense in the Hole is lost.  The Hole defender or the goalie needs to call out the defensive shift.  The double-team to the Hole needs to come from the opposite side of the defense that the ball is on.  In this example, when the ball gets to the 4 spot, it’s the 2 defender that drops into the Hole for the double team.  With this, the defense knows where the next pass is going, the wide open 2 position.  So, the 3 defender slips into the 2-3 Gap, favoring the 3 attacker.  Once that ball goes to the 2 attacker, the 2-3 Gap defender challenges the shooter, as this is likely a right handed shooter, and as stated earlier, the defender on the shooting side of the attacker challenges.  Also with that pass, everyone else slips into their respective gaps, and you are now in the M-Zone.

What this yields for the defense is a defensive challenge on the attacker with the ball from an area not originally anticipated by the attack.  The attacker, when they get the ball, will likely get, what I call, “lollypop eyes” and be looking to pump-fake the goalie and try to squeeze off a shot.  If they get too into their potential shot, they may not notice the aggressive defense coming from the unknown.  If picked up late, this puts the attacker in “reaction mode,” thus shifting control of the attack, oddly to the defense.  If the attack is too late to pick it up, the ball is surrendered to the defense, and the rest of the defense that now shifted into a gap is now in a very good position to counterattack.

There are teams out there that just can’t match head-to-head in the Hole.  There are also teams that have a lot of speed and are looking for a way to utilize it.  The M-Zone allows a full time double-team at the hole, perimeter shifting in a full gap defense, and a great opportunity for a counterattack where you can utilize that speed.  It’s a little risky, but there can be a great payoff in the end.


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