Water Polo Tactics by Dave Maynard

Volume 2 Number 8 September 1, 2010
Imagination is more important than knowledge - Albert Einstein.

The Basics Zone Defense

There are plenty of defensive schemes a team can bring to a game.  One that is in everyone’s playbook is the standard 2-4 zone defense.  Some teams will use their zone defense as their standard defensive scheme.  Others will shift from a press defense to a zone defense when their Hole-D has lost front position.  Either way, each team will utilize a zone defense at one point in time.  So, let’s take some time to go over the basics of this standard aspect of everyone’s defensive tactics.  The typical standard zone defense on just about every team is the 2-4 Zone Defense.  The numbers represent the defensive positions that will drop off of their attack counterparts and double team the Hole-Set.

The Hole-Set, by they very nature of their position in the pool, is the most dangerous player the attack has, be it the high percentage shooting position, or the ability to get an exclusion or Penalty Foul call against the defense off a good entry pass.  Therefore, it behooves the defense to keep the ball from getting to the Hole-Set.  Hence, utilizing a zone drop double teams the Hole-Set thus cutting off the entry pass, while the rest of the team maintains their perimeter press to help take away the outside shot from the other position.  Some coaches, when facing a team with no lefties, will utilize the 4 position to drop from, due to poor shooting angle (this is a cross body shot to go to the far side of the cage) and covering from that position can assist on most, if not all, entry passes with minimal movement, while still being effective in field shot blocking.

As shown above, you see the ball move around the perimeter and the Hole-D lose their front position.  In response to the position of the ball, the 4-defender drops to double team against the Hole-Set, leaving the 4-attacker, likely a righty, open on the perimeter.  When the 2-attacker gets the ball, and looks to the Hole-Set seeing the double team, they will look for the open attacker on the perimeter (the 4-attacker in this case) and get the ball to them.  The 4-attacker gets the ball back, is unchallenged on the perimeter and opts for the shot in their original position, and shoots.  Cross cage is a tough angle for a righty, who has to shoot over their defender dropping on the Hole-Set, as well as the Hole-D, while the goalie has good coverage on the near side.  In this case, the shot is blocked in the field.  However, there is nothing that says that the 4-attacker has to stay at their position in the field of play to take that shot.

The 4-attacker, once their defender drops off to double team the Hole-Set will likely opt to move closer to the goal in better their shooting angle and shot distance in an attempt to favor the shot against the block.  This is when the 4-defender, and the team in kind, need to make a decision.  Typically, teams will go to a 4-2 Zone Defense in this case.  Allowing one of those two position to take a shot closer than their set perimeter position drastically increases their shot potential and resulting shooting percentage.  The player that dropped to double team the Hole-Set has a choice to make.  Leave the double team and press the shooter, or stay with the double team and force the outside shot.  If the dropped player leaves the double team to challenge the shooter, the attack will have a clear pass into the Hole-Set.  In order to counter this, the defense will drop another player off the perimeter to double team the Hole-Set, hence the 4-2 Zone Defense.  If the 4 defender has the challenge his perimeter player, the 2 defender drops down to double team the Hole-Set, and vice versa.

Notice how the defense moves with the ball and the double team of the Hole-Set shifts with where the ball is at.  Also notice how the 3-defender eases off the press slightly to help cut off the direct pass between the 2 and 4 positions and practically force the pass to go through the 3 position.  The 3 doesn’t have a good shot due to the close proximity of their defender, so while the shot is available, it is likely not taken.  The 3 turns into a go-between for the 2 and the 4, allowing the 2 and the 4 defenders to make their adjustments a little easier as the attack’s intentions are telegraphed.

Teams employ the 4-2 Zone Defense when there is a lefty or a solid shooter at the 4-attacker position.  It’s a standard defensive play that many teams use throughout the course of a game, making it one of the most basic and fundamental defensive strategies and one that can be built off of even further.  How?  Well, that’s another column all together now…


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