Water Polo Tactics by Dave Maynard

Volume 3 Number 12 July 1, 2012
Imagination is more important than knowledge - Albert Einstein.


It’s a common theme in the game of water polo, and we have talked about it several times in the past… the man-up, the 6-on-5, the player-advantage, the “Power-Play”… no matter how you refer to it, typically, the team that generates most, and performs the best on the man-advantage attack will turn out to be the victor in the game.  It behooves every team out there to no only work on their man-up attack, but also to perfect it. 

But there is more to it than going into your 4-2 set-up, which we have talked about in the past, and work the ball.  Some teams can move very well against this set-up and can defend against it with great success.  The same can also be said about the 3-3 attack that some teams work with.  And we have even talked about how the 3-3 can transition a team into the 4-2 attack.  But what about going the other way???

That’s right, international teams will simply try to deploy the 3-3 attack to give themselves one scoring option before settling into the 4-2 attack, and there is nothing wrong with that.  And we have talked in the past that the 3-3 attack alone does not lend itself well to perimeter shooting.  But, what happens when you go the other way, from the 4-2 to the 3-3.  This can catch a couple of teams off guard.  And who are we really trying to catch off guard?  The high defenders, let’s call them the 4 and 5 defenders, are going to be our targets for confusion.

After having an exclusion called against your opponent, get to your 4-2 attack set-up right away.  Notice that the 4 and 5 defenders will mark up against the 4 and 5 attackers on the high posts.  Sure they may drop down to defend against the 2 and 3 low post attackers if they shift out, but we aren’t going to do that.  We want those shooting lanes open and defenders out of the way, so the 2 and 3 post attackers are going to stay low on the 2M as much as possible.  Typically, the perimeter passing lanes are open, so working the ball around the outside isn’t really a problem.  Work that passing and, little by little, the wing and the two top post players will shift to one side.  Watch what happens…

We’ve talked about simple shifting in the past, but this takes it a little step further.  Multiple players are shifting and shooting lanes are opening all across the goal.  The base-line defenders are doing what they need to do with covering the low post players and trying to cover the shooting lanes.  And with gradual shifting of all three players to the top you get a pseudo-3-3 attack set-up.  One of the defenders was dragged completely across with their mark (look at what is happening at the 4 position).  Once the 5 defender realizes that the shift is in place, they have to make a decision, stay at home with 5 attacker, or switch to a gap-zone defense to defend against the 3-3 attack scheme. 

In this scenario, the 5-defender changes to the gap zone, the 4-defender is late in the modification of defenses, and it’s a pump-pass-shoot-score situation.  And what if they don’t shift?  You have an undefended shot from an adjusted 6 position, and that isn’t bad either.  Finally, let’s say the defense makes the adjustment, goes to gap-zone defense on the perimeter, what do you do then?  You run the 3-3 attack, try to generate the shooting opportunity that it was designed for, and if there’s nothing there, you are back to your 4-2 attack set-up.  And if there’s a lefty at that 6 position shifting up, it makes the attack all the more dangerous, and shooting angles change tremendously.

But let’s look at what have you done in the process?  First, you have given your man-up attack several different options in being able to score a goal, which can only help this aspect of your team’s game further in the game.  Second, you have made the defense guess and put them into reaction mode, so the next time on the man-up, they won’t know what to expect and how to manage it.  Keeping the defense guessing gives you the upper hand, especially when it comes to your man-advantage attack.  Remember, own the man-advantage, and own the game.


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