The 2012 Olympics brought a lot of water polo to everyone’s living room. And it was in the women’s match that featured USA vs. Hungary that raised a couple of eyebrows, at least where I was at, specifically when the USA went on the man-up attack and Hungary was left to defend against their perimeter shooting game. The United States Women brought a well balanced team to the Olympics, one that encompassed both the perimeter game as well as the inside game. But it was the perimeter game that was giving Hungary a lot of problems because, when it all boiled down to it, this was where USA was getting their points. As a result, Hungary had to make a few modifications in the defensive game they were playing.
During the second half of the game, and other times throughout the tournament, Hungary Women deployed an unorthodox method of man-down defense, one that involved dropping two defenders down along the goal line, and utilizing the remaining 3 defenders to eliminate inside shooting, and thereby allowing the outside shot. Check it out…
So we follow the play through some even-strength perimeter play up to an entry pass and the resulting exclusion foul. Notice how players crash the center of the zone, to cover up against “the quick”, from the wings as well as from the position that is coming in take one of the low-post positions (in this case, it comes from the 2-spot). Then notice how the wing defenders drop back to the goal line and how the low-center defender and the high-post defenders shift based on the ball position in the pool. If the ball is at a high-post position, that defender slides out a little bit to challenge the shot, but not too far to leave the low-post attacker open for a quick pass and shot. Once the ball leaves, they retreat back to cover the low-post attackers. The center-defender shifts back and forth between the low-post attackers based on where the ball is. Outside of that, there is no other perimeter defense, unless, of course, you count the other two (2) players camped out on the goal line with one arm up. Interesting…
Something I noticed is that the Hungary players that were sitting on the goal line still had their shooting mirror hands up, guarding right handed shooters with their left arms out of the water, and vice versa. But here’s the thing, when you are dropped so far back on the goal line that you are acting like another goalie, in my opinion, there is no need to do this anymore. You’re job, when defending the goal line, is to cover the outside edge of the cage and reduce your goalie’s reach requirement to the sides. Now, your goalie only has to cover the middle portion and directly over your head. You, the defender on the goal line, should keep your post side arm up at all times, thus reducing the surface area of the goal, and leaving your outside shooters less of the edges to as a target. But you also have to keep in mind that the top corners also have to covered, so when you are doing this defensive tactic, you have to elevate out of the water in order to cover it.
Also be wary that a hand may not be enough. How many times have we seen a hard shot ball hit a hand only to have that hand break at the wrist and the ball find the back of the net anyway? Far too often. This is a tell-tale sign that the defender is sitting too low in the water.
Now you’re wondering, “So Coach, Does this tactic have merit?” It’s a viable defensive scheme that is used on every stage of the game from youth age-group all the way to the international game. But, here’s the thing kids… there are several factors that go into employing this kind of defensive tactic. You have to consider the other team’s perimeter shooting ability, your goalies ability, the attack’s effectiveness “under the pressure of no-pressure,” and the like. You cannot let a team that is capable of shooting from the outside, do so at will, so playing this type of a passive defense would be a mistake. And on the flip side, if you have a goalie that can’t cover everything in the cage, this gives you the ability to cover more of the net, thus helping the goalie out in a situation where you are outnumbered. The trade-off is you give the attack more than enough time to pick their shot. Is it worth it? Well coach, that’s your call. Good luck.
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