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Table of Contents


  The Manual for Coach and Player  

Chapter IV

Individual Defense

Pete Cutino

Dennis Bledsoe

We feel that the most important phase of water polo is defense. An effective offense will most often generate from a strong defense. In the modern game of water polo most successful teams use a tight pressing man to man.

The defensive man should keep constant pressure on the offense. All passes should be blocked or hindered if possible. Good pressure also may force the offense into mistakes in movement, as well as in passing. It is most important to be aware of the exact position of the ball at all times. This practice is a must for good anticipation.

Anticipation is the key to playing "heads up ball." All players should attempt to foresee and take advantage of all situations. Constant pressure causes opponents to hurry and often throw poor passes. This is the moment in which anticipation most often provides successful results.

All players should be trained to break toward their offensive end the instant the ball changes hands. Keeping the eyes on the ball, anticipation, and breaking as the ball changes hands, or before it changes, are important. Read the situation. If the ball is in the air, and it appears as though the defensive team should gain control, this is the key time to initiate the fast break. A one-half body length lead may very often result in a score.


In a tight pressing man-to-man, each individual must maintain pressure. If one man lays back and does not constantly press, the defense will probably fail. It is essential that each man does his job. This requires much of the individual. Each man has to discipline himself to this defense. All players should be made aware of, and understand, the purposes of the defense. They should be taught all aspects of the individual techniques, as well as team defense. (Covered in Chapter VII, Game Situations.)


The ball changes hands by: intercepted pass—missed or blocked shot —free throw awarded opposition-45-second or one minute turnover.

Forwards must assume defensive positions between the opponent and the  goal, thus cutting the path to the goal. This requires anticipation and if successful:

  1. Discourages backcourt drives and breaks,
  2. Forces the passer to turn his back on the person he wants to pass to and
  3. Enables teammates to steal poor passes—bait pass and get into passing lanes.

Stay in front of the two yard man

  1. Push him to the two yard line so he may be double teamed by the goalie.
  2. Contest all passes and force passes outside scoring area.
  3. Get jump on man, if ball changes hands.
  4. Always swim the hole man to your offensive area. He must follow. This will help nullify his offensive effect. The key man to initiate backcourt drives and get hole man out of scoring area.
  5. Eliminates that position or hole type game for opponents.

Keep pressure constant. Constant pressure is the most effective defense there is. If there is enough pressure, a team will not be able to bring the ball up-court and the clock will run out. If the pressure is good enough, the other team will begin to make desperation passes which most times can be picked off and turned into an extra man situation for your team and probable goal. One must be extremely careful to apply enough pressure, but not to foul because this gives I hem a free pass up-court.

  1. Block passes, keep eye on ball as well as the man you are guarding.
  2. Hinder passes.
  3. Discourage offensive breaks.
  4. Stops attempts to score.

ANTICIPATION IS THE KEY—because it enables one to foresee and take advantage of present and future situations.

PRESSURE CAUSES OPPONENT TO HURRY—thus it helps create had passes. (make mistakes)


  1. Call out your opponent to your teammates before the whistle. Be sure all men are covered and no one is unguarded.
  2. Make sure every man has an opponent before captain gives ready command.
  3. Get to your man as quickly as possible and as tight as possible
  4. Challenge the man with the ball immediately. Do not give him a target to pass to.
  5. Force the opponent to sides of the pool—never let him drive down the center. Protect the center.
  6. Head up at all times. Play position. (Stay between man and ball as much as possible.)


When the ball enters the defensive half of the pool, play between the man and the goal. When the ball is not in the defensive end, then play beside, or in front of, the offensive man. fig. 4-74

fig. 4-74


This is a most effective means of picking off an opponent's pass Many times a man passing from his own backcourt will look down court at his teammate, turn back around, and then throw without looking. Between the time the man looks and throws, if the defensive man moves in the lane between the two players he can, many times pick off the pass.

fig. 4-75


As soon as your team gets the ball, your two yard man has to swim down and set up. None of the other players are required to swim down every time; thus sometimes it is a good idea to help him out. If his man is breaking out of the hole on an exchange of the ball and you dire in a position to help out, do so. This is not, however, an excuse for the two yard man to let his man go free every time.


In a situation where there are two opposing players and only one defensive player, it is up to the goalie to call which man he wants to shoot. Most times he will call the man with the ball. This is because the man swimming in with the ball will probably be more tired and it gives the goalie more time to set on him.

The defensive man may stunt, fake at the ball carrier, to try and slow him down, but he should then cover his man so there is no question as to whether the man with the ball can pass. The goalie should he set and know who will shoot; the goalie should not be off balance.


It is very important that the defensive players always cover any free men behind them and closer to their goal. It is no excuse to say "It was not my man." Leave your man and cover the man farther back; there is a good chance someone will pick up your man.


There should be one man on each side of the penalty shooter in case of a rebound off the goalie or cage. The man on the shooting side should cut in front so the shooter does not get the rebound. fig. 4-76

fig. 4-76


Before the game begins, the guard should be aware of which hand his opponent shoots with and what type of shots he takes. If the forward is right-handed, then the most likely shot is a sweep. This is effected when the forward scoops the ball up in his right hand an keeping his arm straight, twists his body to the left and, in a whip like motion, his arm and hand follow as the shot is made.

The defensive man should make every effort to maintain a position in front of or beside the two yard man. If the defensive man is forc into a rear position, he should have his right hand on the shooter' right hip, and tuck him in close. The defensive man's body should no be vertical, but at about a 45-degree angle. The left hand should be i the air. The right can be used to push the ball away. If the forward can shoot with either hand, and he moves the ball to his left hand, the guard should switch from left hand up to right hand up. The guard's left hand then should contact the left hip of the forward.

fig. 4-77

Control two yard man

In actual competition the best place to play defense against a two yard man is in front of or beside him, attempting to cut off all passes. The guard must, in order to effectively front the two yard man, pressure the offensive man to the point that he is inside the four yard line. Long passes over the head of the two yard man may then be taken by tin. goalie. Short passes can be cut off and intercepted by the two yard guard. If the guard does find himself behind the two yard man, he should Id pressure him out past the six yard line and out of effective shooting range. If the guard and two yard forward are pressing for position, the guard should give some resistance, but allow the forward to move inside the four. As he moves inside, the guard should rotate in front of the 4 forward. fig. 4-78

fig. 4-78

Swim out two yard man

The two yard guard is the key man to initiate backcourt drives and vet the two yard man out of the scoring area. Get the jump on the two yard man when the ball changes hands, and drive to the opposite end "I the tank. Note: Always swim to the offensive area so the two yard man must follow. This will do two things. It will result in a man up situation, and it will force the two yard man to swim, thus pulling him out of position and very often cause him to tire and become ineffectual the a shooter.


Eighty to ninety-percent of the passes to the two yard forward come from the right wing. The defense should attempt to completely stall these passes and force the offense to pass from areas they are not used to passing from.


One method of stealing the ball from an offensive man is to make him think the guard is on his right by hitting his right arm and contacting the right side of the offensive man's body. At the same tin the defensive man should be moving left. The offensive man, thinking the defense is out of position, often will sweep the ball to his left at begin to dribble. At this point the steal is made.

fig. 4-79

BLOCK AGAINST A BACKHAND SHOT (If guard is out of position)

When guarding a two yard man, or anyone in good position to e cute a backhand shot, the most important objective of the guard is restrict the movement of the shooting arm. Getting a hand on the b is most often not possible. The guard will often have his hand and forearm under the shooting arm of the forward. In this situation when the shooter begins executing the shot, the guard should elevate arm and contact the shooter's upper arm with his forearm. This contact will lessen the power in the shot and deflect the movement of the arm up. The flight of the ball should be over the goal.

fig. 4-80

BLOCK AGAINST A LAYOUT SHOT OR PASS (Lunge block, right-handed shooter)

The guard should have the left hand in the air and the right hand In contact with the forward's right hip. As the forward rotates his body, turning right and moving into the layout position from a back to the goal position, the guard's right hand should slide from the right hip to the left hip (allow the man to twist) and press down; keep the 14 hand in the air. This defensive maneuver is a lunge block. If the tight hand holds and stops the twist of the center forward, the foul will be obvious.

fog. 4-81

fig. 4-82


To a front position — Front two yard man

With the right hand near the forward's left hip, begin a twisting move and spin or turn to the left until rotated in front. An alert forward can stop this move by maintaining position and moving his body into the guard. The spinning move must be done quickly and initiate when the forward's arm is down.

Hint — To roll right—give the forward reason to believe movement will be to the left, get the forward moving in that direction, the quickly rotate to the right.

DUCK UNDER — from guard behind position

As the forward extends his right arm, the guard should duck under the outstretched arm and move into a front position.
The last two defensive moves are not often accomplished against a outstanding player who is aware of the situation. However, world class players may be caught unaware once or twice in a game; therefore these are good moves to know.

HAND FIGHTING — the driver

When a man is attempting to drive down the center of the pool t] guard should provide resistance. He should not allow the driver to in the direction he desires. The guard should give the driver a path least resistance, or an area to swim to. The guard can guide the drive to either side by turning and slightly facing in the direction he wish the driver to take. The guard should position his body so that his hips are high in the water and square to the driving man. The hands should continue moving; when the driver moves into the stabilized guard, the hands are used as guides. Don't give ground—guide him the side. This is hand fighting. Do not attempt this with the h: down or the driver will move easily by.

fig. 4-83

CUT UNDER – Stop the driver

If a man is driving and the defensive man is not ahead enough to guide him, then if possible he should be stopped. While swimming full *peed and side by side, the defensive man should cut under and slightly in front of the driving man. This will effectively eliminate the drive and cause the offensive man to move to the side. The move to cut under should be made wren the offensive man's near arm is beginning its recovery phase. If he continues his stroke, he will foul. He must then change his course or back off. If not slightly ahead, be careful not to ut under because a foul may be called for impeding the offensive man. I I the offensive man dives or cuts under and in front, the defensive man should raise up his hand and chest.

DO NOT FOUL - then attempt to regain position and apply pressure as soon as possible.



After a failed shot, immediately cover the offensive guards (me closest to goal and most likely to receive the pass from the goalie A very tight man-to-man should be used here. The purpose is to forc the pass back to the goalie and slow or stop any fast break attempt This technique also allows the deep guards, those in the opponent' offensive area, to play loosely and possibly steal a poor pass. fig. 4-87

fig. 4-87


When a backcourt driver has the advantage and lead, for example a two yard guard leaving his man, he will pass and go. The man he passes to must be covered so tightly that he cannot pass back to a free man. This practice will stop most fast breaks. fig. 4-88

Be careful not to foul. This is the time when the offensive team will be over eager and likely to rush and make a mistake. Now is when anticipation is most important. If a mistake is made, a counterattacking score is available.

fig. 4-88


If a screen or pick is executed, the best method of maintaining good recoverage is for the man being moved out of position to call a switch. It s usually best for the defensive man to stay with his man unless he is w a position where he must switch. Attempt to fight through screens. Elimination of as many switches as possible will result in fewer defensive mistakes.


If a weak defensive player ends up covering a strong offensive player, then a switch should be made. In order to be effective at switching and minimizing mistakes, all defensive players must play "heads up" and be alert.


X1 momentarily holds 02 as X2 covers 01—play "heads up," play high, and communicate. (talk) fig. 4-89


  1. Defensive principles that become offensive principles
    • Take advantage of:
    • In other words, “Anticipate!”
  2. Take two yard man length of pool
  3. Hips up, if down the defender is easier to drive off of. See "Hand Fighting" in this chapter.
  4. On a free throw protect against the back door, protect the middle, watch out for quick short passes, ride high—hands at surface ready to move.
  5. Against a two yard man keep the hips high—don't over commit—tuck him in tight, control him, push him out.
  6. When ball enters defensive half of pool, play between man and goal.
  7. Hand fight with hips high and square to the driving man.
  8. Eighty-percent to ninety-percent of passes into the hole come from right wing.
  9. Backcourt drive (after your failed shot). Pass usually goes to wing. Cover wing tight so can't pass to breaking guard—force pass back to goalie, or force the offense to retreat.
  10. Good position can produce a stolen ball. During a drive they are in a hurry and vulnerable, throwing to sound.
  11. If a man dives under, back (raise up) with hands up; then pressure.
  12. Backhand shot—arm to elbow stops it.
  13. Beginning of game—be aggressive, let the other team know you're there.
  14. When hand fighting, keep the hips and body between the man and the cage.

    fig. 4-90

  15. Do not follow the offensive man; if the defensive player begins following, he will be ineffective.