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  The Manual for Coach and Player  

Chapter VIII: Part 1

Play Systems

Pete Cutino

Dennis Bledsoe

Many teams are overly conscious about patterns; many Olympic eamsns do not use them. More important than a pattern is to swim with quick bursts of speed, always move toward open water and stay at least two yards away from your teammates. A beginning coach, team, or player will be better off to use this open spot style of water polo until more of the fundamentals of the game are learned. More organization may be introduced after the players learn proper defense, ball handling techniques, and other general aspects of the game.

Most successful American teams use a center driving type of offense, such as the figure eight, which will be discussed. We believe this is a good offense to graduate into as the player's skill and knowledge improve.

If a center forward is used, he should be ideally a quick starter, and fast. This player should have the ability to gain a body length lead whenever necessary. Under ideal circumstances he should also be strong and big. If a team has no one that fits all the mentioned attributes, then adjustment must be made, depending upon the make-up of the rest of the team. An individual having the ability to hold a position is probably the most important.

Offenses are many and varied. The most appropriate type of team offense depends upon the caliber and abilities of the individual players, the knowledge of the coach and his ability to coach the offense. The best team offense in the world is useless if the players are not ready to attempt it, or if the coach does not understand the offense well enough to coach it well.

An overwhelming number of fine teams do not use an intricate team offense or pattern. As a matter of fact, a team is usually better off being as simple as possible. If a team and the coach understand the fundamentals of the game, the next most important aspect is to think as a unit; know what the other players will do before they do it.

The number one thought in the minds of the players and the coach must be the team, its movement and success. At this point do not concentrate on individual skills. Be aware of all teamwork aspects of the game. The player should think as though he is a cog in a big machine, not as a lone potential hero.

If a team concentrates on learning individual skills, the result will probably be a poolfull of excellent individual movement and your goalie seeing a lot of action.

This section will present several patterns which are considered valuable by the authors. The remaining offensive information will be presented in the form of hints. wing. All passes should come down one side unless plugged up, then use crosscourt passing.
fig. 8-188


The opportunities for a fixed play are few. After a goal has been scored, or setting up a counterattack from a penalty throw, are two times when the total team is involved.

Double Y

The purpose of this pattern is to advance the ball quickly into offensive water. This is a system of sequential hooks, so movement should never stop. It is usually done after a missed penalty shot or when there is time to set up. The theory and practice of hooks in sequence can and should be used any time a team wishes to advance the ball.

  1. The man closest to the cage drives several strokes downcourt and hooks back for a pass from his goalie (all team members begin driving for offensive end as soon as the ball changes hands). fig. 8-186

  2. Fig. 8-186

  3. As the pass is thrown, the man closest to the midtank hooks to the side; the first man receives the ball, rolls and passes to the midcourt wing who is still moving out. Wings should not stop movement; helps elude the defense. The halfcourt man takes the ball, continues swimming, rolls and passes to the deep wing (on two or three yard line). fig.8187

  4. The deep wing hooks as the ball is in the air and approaching the halfcourt man.

  5. A center driver begins a drive as the ball approaches the deep

The closest player to the offensive end should drive the center, hook to a wing, feed the next driver, then swim up the side and out. He should prepare to drive again. Two yard man may be used as a feeder. fig. 8-189Fig. 8-187 and 188

Fig. 8-189

Straight Line Flare

On the goalie's signal every other man moves in the opposite direction and wings are set in sequence. One moves, then two, then three, then four. In theory this is very similar to the Double Y. The ball can come up the same side, or move in a crosscourt pattern. fig. 8-190

Fig. 8-190

Fig. 8-250

Squeeze and Go

This is one of the systems used by the Cal team. Number 1 moves between 2 and 3 and breaks to the side of least resistance. Number 4 breaks to the opposite side as 1 clears the screen.

Goalie has the option of passing to 1 or 4. Number 1 will probably receive the pass. In a twenty-five yard tank number 5 should break away from the ball, leaving the passing lane and center clear. As number 1 receives the pass from the goalie, number 6 moves to receive a pass from number 1. Numbers 2 and 3 execute a cross (pick) and drive down the center. Number 6 feeds the open driver. In a thirty metre tank number 5 should move to the
opposite side and help advance the ball. fig. 8-191

Fig. 8-191

Backcourt Sprint

The drivers should be in good condition, have speed, and be good shooters. The major problem with this method is that the eventual shooter has sprinted the length of the pool. fig. 8-192

Hook and Circle

Bring the ball down one side; if the team is unable to advance the ball, then the individual team members should circle and try the other side. This method allows the best shooters to stay in the offensive area. fig. 8-193

Fig. 8-192 and 193

Double X

The purpose of this play is to get a quick shot with little time left. After a penalty shot or time out, all men should be positioned in the tank. fig. 8-194

The two yard man may shoot or preferably feed the driver. fig. 8-195

Fig. 8-194 and 195


Figure Eight

The figure eight is a breaking and center driving offense. The drive toward the goal may

begin from the center or outside wing position. The purpose of driving is to create a one

on one situation and it is the driver's job to beat or defeat the guard and score. Screening techniques may and should be employed at times in an attempt to free the driving man for an open shot. The driving man should penetrate inside the four yard line before cutting or hooking to a wing position. This helps move the ball deep into the opponents' territory. As he breaks to a deep wing position, the pass should be thrown. As he reaches the ball and rolls to pass, the next driving man should be on his way; the pass will go to him. Very often the first or second man through will not be open In shoot. If no pass can be made into the driver, the ball should be cleared out to the backcourt and another pass made into a deep breaking wing. Do not pass predominantly to one side of the pool; use both sides. All drivers should drive to the two yard line. If they do not, stop practice
and walk them through it.

Pool balance should be maintained. If the first driver breaks to the right, then the second man should break left. An attempt to break on I he same side of the pool that the ball is on should also be made. (Get between your man and the ball, then drive.) This is referred to as "ball side," (get ball side). If the ball stays on one side of the tank, then obviously if this rule (drive ball side) were strictly adhered to, all players would end up unbalanced and in one half of the pool. fig. 8-196

Fig. 8-196 and 197

In order to avert this problem and spread the defense two things should occur. fig. 8-197, 8-198

1. Move the ball around the perimeter, i.e., cross court passing, and,
2. Drive and hook away from the ball if pool balance is needed. fig. 8-199

Fig. 8-198-199

Two Yard Man — A two yard man or center forward may be used in this offense, especially in a large pool. The forward should try to stay in front of the center guard and likewise the guard should attempt to "front" the forward. If the center forward is plugged up and is of no use, then he should join the pattern and another man becomes the center forward.

The main job of the two yard man in this pattern is to feed driving men and set screens. fig. 8-200

Of course he may also shoot if the opportunity avails itself. If the defensive man plays on the side, then the two yard man should pressure into him and clear the working area. Drivers should almost be nose up on the two yard man before they hook.

Fig 8-200-201

If the center forward sets up in the two-to-four yard area and is fronted (guarded in front) by an opposing guard, he should move out to the side and receive the pass there. This provides maneuvering room, especially if the guard appears to be stronger and more determined than the center forward. Ideally the two yard man should move out and join the normal flow of the team's offense. In the figure eight offense the center forward can move back to the hole again after driving. If the team operates with one shooter who acts as a two yard man, then after releasing to the side, he may move back into the hole area.
fig. 8-201

Fast Break — During a fast break the first man into the forecourt should break to the side (hook) and receive the pass from the side and possibly be open for the shot. If not, he too should penetrate to the two yard line and hook. Crosscourt passing should be used, when possible.

If the second man down the tank is covered, then the motion initiated should continue. He should move to a wing position and at the same time another man from the backcourt should be breaking down the center. This is when the team involved with a figure eight offense continues the same movement. If another type of offense is used, then move into it immediately if the fast break has no positive results.


Fig. 8-202

Stalled Offense (stacked up) — If the offense is stalled and there is no motion the deep wings should move out and one at a time begin driving. Do not drive until the prior driving man has completed his drive and move. fig. 8-203

Fig. 8-203

Balance — Always maintain pool balance—most teams tend to stack up on the right side. fig. 8-204

Usually a stalled offense occurs when players are all on one half of the pool and there is little or no movement. If someone does try to move or drive he only runs into his own teammates. To get a stalled offense moving and regain pool balance one player must drive through and hook to the weak side (away from the ball) (Fig. 8-205), followed by another doing the same until balance is regained. An alternate maneuver consists of one player moving to the weak side (wing) and driving away from the ball, followed by two more players (Fig. 8-206). A signal or term should be chosen and any time the offense is stalled the team should call it out and attempt to rebalance and get the drives going again. Do not worry about scoring until balance is regained.

Fig. 8-204

Ideal pool balance is depicted in figures 8-207 and 8-208.

Fig. 8-207-209

After motion is regained, the two yard man should lock in again. He is the key to relieving the stall. He should swim out to the weak side number 1 and call for a driver to come across, number 2 (Fig. 8-209).