Be Hip on Defending the Driver

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University
07/29/04

One of the most important concepts to learn when defending a driver is the position of the hips. The hips should be up and close to the surface of the water. This is because if your hips are down when you start your swim to defend the driver then the first several strokes are used to place your body in a horizontal position. In other words, the first couple of strokes are used to raise your hips to the surface rather than pull you forward. These wasted strokes can cause the driver to get ahead of you; thus, placing the driver in a good position to cut you and achieve inside water. If the driver gets inside water in the strike zone then the defender had better have both hands in the air to avoid a four meter or an ejection call. Some referees allow you to raise one hand and to stroke the water on the side of the driver with the other hand; however, if you use the hand that is not in the air to push on either the back or the legs of the driver then you will be in the referees past history. Because you will be in the penalty box resting those weak legs that should have been egg beating strong enough to have allowed you to keep both hands up in the strike zone.

To make certain we are on the same page, I will give you my definition of the strike zone. It is a rhombus that has as its top side the face of the goal; its bottom side is the four meter line; its left side is an imaginary line drawn from the left goal post to the four meter marker on the left side of the pool bank; and its right side is an imaginary line drawn from the right goal post to the four meter marker on the right side of the pool bank. In the golden-olden days if a driver with the ball 1) had the inside position on the defender in the strike zone and 2) was impeded in any way by the defender, then the driver was almost always awarded a four meter call.

Please note that a shot from a driver with the ball in the strike zone has the highest percentage of scoring when the driverís shooting hand is in the center of the pool. As the right handed player moves further to his or her right, the shooting angle diminishes and the percentage for the shot to score decreases. This is also true of the left handed player when he or she moves to his or her left. Consequently, when defending the drives of a right handed shooter, you want to force the driver to his or her right for a possible poor percentage shot. You also want to force the drives of a left handed shooter to the driverís left for the same reason. Again you can do this with the placement of your hips. If you angle your raised hips a little to the right handed driverís left side (or your right side), then it will make it easier for the right handed driver to drive to his or her right. This path is easier for the driver to take, because your hips are not in this driving path? Eight out of ten players who are tired will usually take the path of least resistance. This is where you want the right handed player to drive Ė to his or her right for the poor percentage shot. Placing your hips on the left handed driverís right side (or your left side) will work equally well. Remember if you square off your hips on a driver, then the driver can drive to either your left or right without any resistance. (Note: Hand checking or chugging is another way to force a driver to a side; however, I was told players are no longer allowed to do this.)

How far away should you be from the driver when defending for drives? The speed of the driver determines the distance you should be from the driver. If the driver is slower than you, then get in the driverís face Ė Alan Huckins, a former assistant coach of mine used to say that if the driver is chewing gum then you need to be close enough to name the flavor. If the driver is faster than you, then you need to back off, but never more than a couple of arm lengths. This way you can use a forty-five degree swimming angle to stay with the driver. (Note: If you have to do double duty, drop and defend the driver, then the above rules of thumb donít work.)

Finally, when should you start defending the drive? When the driver starts his or her drive you should start your defense of the drive. Some defenders think because they are faster swimmers than the drivers they are defending they can start late. That is a major no, no, because all a smart driver needs is one stroke in front of the defender. With that one stroke advantage a good player can cut you and have inside water, and then no matter how fast a swimmer you are that driver owns you. How long will a good player be able to hold inside water on the defender? He or she can usually hold it until the cows come home; that is, until they get a shot off, a four meter call, an ejection or until the two-meter player throws the ball back out to a perimeter player. Remember, none of these tips will work if you are not hip to the placement of your hips when guarding a driver.

Email Coach Hunkler at rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com