Water Polo Tactics by Dave Maynard

Volume 3 Number 6 September 1, 2011
Imagination is more important than knowledge - Albert Einstein.

FAN MAIL: What to do with a Weak Goalie – Part 2

Remember my reader question from last month?  They were not only struggling with their own weak goalie, but they were also looking to exploit it on the attack.  Or maybe, they are looking for what the attack is going to try and do.  Enter part 2, attacking a weak goalie.

Remember I talked about the BGSU Club Water Polo Team back from the early 1990’s that I talked about.  Their goalie’s skills was rather typical of what you would see from weaker goalies across the sport.  I had the privilege of playing with two such goalies as well.  They had very weak legs, which means their vertical out of the water was minimal.  They were lucky to get chest out of water.  We would comment, “Whoa, you almost saw chest hair on that one!”  They were good sports, took it in stride, and went on trying to stop shots.  But as we jest, it’s certainly a something to note, that they typically don’t get out of the water very high.  And while their lateral movement won’t be that great, just about any goalie can understand angles and would be able to pick up shot timing.  So, the prime shooting locations against these goalies is going to be high.  They will likely have heavy hands, so don’t be afraid of shooting “5-hole” (or “Bunnies”) on this goalie either.  Lower shots tend to tip things in the favor of that goalie, as this is where there arms are, and whatever elevation they can get will be short, but more than enough to cover those low corners.  So, now that we know where to shoot, let’s talk about what the defense is going to do.

Just about every defense is designed to keep the ball out of the Hole-Set.  But let’s say the defense comes out in a Zone.  Most clubs are incorporating this type of defensive tactic, following suit with the top teams in the nation and world.  And some will do it because, well, that is what they have always done regardless of who was between the pipes, and they didn’t bother to read last month’s article.  Nevertheless, if they are smart, or as smart as you can be Zoning with a weak goalie, they are sloughing in from the 4 or the 5 position, figuring this is the weak side of the cage and your right handed shooter has to catch and shoot cross body against the goalie.  This gives the goalie a longer time to see the ball, get into position, and react as best they could to block the ball.  Some defenses will simply give the shot from these positions.  They won’t challenge, nor will they shift to make the adjustment.  If that’s the case, whatever help they had given their goalie is now completely gone.  But the shooter has to take the initiative.  Figure, if you are in your standard 4 position, you are sitting right around the 5M line.  Your Hole-Set, Hole-Defender, and 4-Defender are stuck at the 2M or 3M.  The rest of the defense is pressing, because they don’t want their goalie to get beat on a Pass-Shoot-Score.  It really is a one-on-one between the goalie and the 4-Attacker.

Now, as a coach, I have always empowered my players to take this shot.  Recall, we talked about this way back when we discussed beating the drop earlier on.  For those that missed it…

We incorporated this when we needed to move the ball around, get everyone shifting around the pool and keep the goalie in a state of motion.  The same will still work in this case, but it can be more calculated.

But, now that we add a weak goalie, there are a couple of other things that you have to do.  We mentioned it first, shoot high, aiming for the high edges of the goal.  Again, we are talking about a weak goalie, so were don’t have to nail corners, just high edges.  But are you going to take that shot from 5M out when your defender isn’t making a move to challenge you?  Well, if you do, you’re going to have a seat next to coach for a couple of minutes.  Don’t take the shot from 5M away when the defender is giving you another 2 meters of open water in from of you to use.  Take a look…

We will start at the end of the transition, the defense gets a break coming back because they don’t want to risk giving up anything on the transition game.  The attack brings the ball down and gets it to the open shooter at the 4 position.  The shooter has to bring that ball in, but don’t walk it, rather make an aggressive swim in toward the goal, closing that extra space quickly.  Once there, get your body under you, and make another pass-fake to the Hole-Set.  This will keep the sloughing player home on his double team, not wanting to hang his goalie out on a shot from the Hole.  A bonus, if you have an inexperienced goalie, they may bite on the Pass-Fake too and open up some room on the near side post.  Then, pump fake the goalie.  Again, those weaker goalies don’t have the legs to keep them elevated in the water, so they really have one burst to get up.  Look for that “bounce” by the goalie, because once they’ve done that, they’re, for the most part, dead in the water and will be using only their arm-reach to make any save.  So, right after the “bounce” let that ball fly and drain it in the back of the net.

Everyone will tell you that in order to score on a goalie, you should just shoot.  Shooting for the sake of shooting is not what we are doing here.  We still want to put the odds in the attack’s favor as much as possible.  Get close, use your pump fake and pass fakes to keep the defense where you want them.  Wait for the goalie to bounce, and when they do, that’s when you shoot.  And you’ll score every time.

Next month, we are going to talk about how to beat the Press and Front Defense, the tactic I prescribed for defenses with weak goalies.  It’s going to take a little more work, but the fruits of these labors will be just as sweet.  Until next month….


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