Water Polo Tactics by Dave Maynard

Volume 2 Number 7 July 1, 2010
Imagination is more important than knowledge - Albert Einstein.

Tactic Basics Press & Front Defense

One of my fellow columnists is playing Masters Water Polo, and we got to talking about the team.  Apparently some of even the Masters level players are first timers and know very little of the basic tactics that many of us who have grown within the sport of water polo or have listened to the #1 water polo talk radio show, Talking Water Polo at the Planet, take for granted.  So for the next couple of columns, we are going to look at basic tactics from both the attack and defensive aspect of the game.  It’s these fundamental tactics that everything else builds from.  First, we are going to start with the Press & Front Defense.

The Press & Front is a staple for many water polo teams, being their initial defensive tactic.  It’s the combination of a pressure defense with a front of the Hole-Set position.  There are several goals associated with this.  First, it keeps the ball from going into the 2M position.  Second, it reduces perimeter play to safe and protected passing and reduces shot selection and ease.  Third it opens up the potential for perimeter steals.  And finally, it can feed the counter attack game.  It’s a defense that simply harasses the attack to the point that they cannot do anything with the ball other than protected passing and take a poor perimeter shot.

This defense is all based on the ability to keep the Hole-Set buried close to the 2M line and keep position in the passing lane.  By keeping the Hole-Set close to the 2M, the defense benefits from a double-team between the goalie and the Hole-D on any entry passes.  If a pass comes into the Hole, either the Hole-D or the goalie is going to come up with the ball.  If the Hole-D cannot maintain their position to cut off the entry pass as well as pinning the Hole-Set on the 2M, then the defense breaks down.  The animation below shows the Hole-D and Goalie movement with respect to the ball, and the Hole-Set’s position staying at the 2M.

What isn’t entirely clear in the animation, but will become so upon application, is the safe passing around the perimeter.  The passes between players when facing a pressure defense are often wet passes, away from the attacker leaving them to move to get the ball.  A pass any other way risks a steal.  Thus, the attacker has to move to gain the ball, reposition their body to even consider a shot.  By that time, the goalie is in position, the Hole-D has adjusted their position, and the attacker’s defensive counterpart is very close, which doesn’t lend itself to a very good shooting situation either.  With pressing and not fouling, the perimeter attacker is left only to pass to a teammate.

There are several things the defense, in this current set-up has to be aware of.  First, is when the ball goes down to the wing.  Notice the position of the players on the 2M.  If the Hole-Set “back peddles” along the length of the goal, it is possible that a high arcing pass from the wing position (either the 1 or 5) may make it to the hands of the Hole-Set and the backdoor of the goal is wide open.  Even swimming backstroke, this is an easy shot to convert.  The far side wing defender has to be aware of this type of play and be ready to crash on the play to break it up.

Another thing the Hole-Set can do is push the Hole-D out away from the goal, creating inside water to work.  The attack will look to get the ball to the wing or a low positioned 2 or 4 position, and pass the ball into the hole.  With inside water and the ball, this is a goal everyday and twice on Sunday.  Watch…

A good Hole-Set will try to use the movement of the Hole-D against them and push the Hole-D further away from the goal, creating inside water for the Hole-Set to work.  With upwards of 4M and more of pool to work with, the arc of the pass is shorter for an entry pass into the Hole-Set, making it easier for the Hole-Set to handle.  A little bit of muscle and the Hole-Set has the ball, with inside water, and looking at nothing but the goalie.  A little Cross-Over shot at the end and the ball is in the back of the cage.  The only thing the Hole-D is left with is a Penalty Foul at this point.  The entry pass is too far away from the cage for the Goalie to make a legitimate steal attempt.  The attack has just burned the Press & Front defense.  Again, the success of this defensive scheme lies with the Hole-D.  It is up to the Hole-D to realize they are too far out from 2M and are giving up too much inside water and decide it is time to abandon the fronted position on the Hole-Set.  A Hole-D can time this to the point that the Hole-Set gets the position they want then take a traditional rear defensive position against the Hole-Set. Now the Hole-Set has pushed their way out, and lost the position they wanted, and are left with a rear defense and setting Hole at about 4M, which essentially reduces their status in the water as a 6th perimeter player.

Again, the position of the Hole dictates the success of the Press & Front.  The Hole-Set can also look to fight for a better position to allow an entry pass, and try to get the defender to take a rear defensive position against them.  They keep their position near the 2M and wrestle for a better position against their defensive counterpart.  Should the Hole-D lose the position, it is time for the TEAM to enter into a different defensive tactic and hope that the Press & Front has killed enough clock to minimize the time that the Hole-Set has good position for entry passes…

..but that is a whole new topic.  We’ll see you next month for the next step.


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