Reminiscing About the Rules from the Cheap Seats

Richard Hunkler and Dante Dettamanti
Water Polo Planet

From reading some replies on the message board, it appears to us that some people have no clue as to how the game Dante and I are talking about was played. We will attempt to give a synopsis of this game from the cheap seats. After the sprint the team that won the sprint swims to their offensive positions which includes the 2 meter player. The 2 meter defender can give the 2 meter player one or two chugs (hand checks) to the chest between the 2 meter player’s arms or the 2 meter defender can try to get in front of the 2 meter player. But the 2 meter defender has to make these moves without holding the 2 meter player because the 2 meter player does not have the ball. The rules say you cannot hold, pull back, or kick a player not holding the ball.  If you do one of these things then you are ejected for 35 seconds.

Next the ball is thrown into the 2-meter player and if there is a miss-match the 2 meter player turns the 2 meter defender with the ball and either shoots or drops the ball trying for a penalty shot. Remember if a player does not have the ball in his or her hand then you cannot hold, pull back, or kick a player. Moreover if this is done within 4 meters of the goal then a penalty shot can be awarded. If the 2-meter player has not scored or won a penalty shot, but has the ball in his or her hand and the 2-meter defender plays the ball and knocks the ball out of the 2-meter player's hand; or the 2 meter player drops the ball an ordinary foul is awarded the 2-meter player.

Once an ordinary foul is awarded to the 2 meter player, he or she can pass the ball to any of his or her teammates. The 2 meter player has two choices on whom to pass the ball. The first option is passing to a player who is doing a V-out (releasing) on the perimeter and the second option is passing to a player who is driving toward the goal (more on that later).

If the 2 meter player chooses the first option and passes the ball to a perimeter player, the perimeter player can shoot the ball or pass it back into the 2-meter player again. So far we have only been talking about what the players on the ball side are doing. Already, however, 3 offensive players are a part of the action in the game, the 2-meter player and the two players on the ball side doing V-outs. (If you are not familiar with the term V-out then you can go to the WPP Glossary at Water Polo Glossary)

Now let us talk about what the players (drivers) on the weak side are doing. As soon as the ball leaves the passers hand and is on its way to the 2-meter player, the first designated driver is on the move, and he or she is trying for at least two things – a rear back shot at the goal, or inside water. Why inside water? Darrell Royal a football coach at the University of Texas was asked why his teams did not pass the ball more? He answers by saying three things can happen to a forward pass - a completion, an incompletion, and an interception. Thus three things can happen and two of them are bad. In this game five things can happen if a player has inside water and the ball: 1) a natural goal; 2) a penalty shot; 3) an ejection on the defender; 4) a pass back to the 2 meter player or 5) a turnover. Of those five things involving inside water four things are good and one thing is bad.

If the driver passes the ball back to the 2-meter player, then the drivers on the weak side rotate and the above sequence of events can start all over again with the second designated driver. Your offense can be made up of more than just drives; but it can include picks and/or screens as well – cross picks, up picks, down picks, up screens and down screens. A good coach and/or player can be a great deal more imaginative with this game than he or she can with today’s game. Remember yesteryear’s game was based on skills, quickness, and smarts. All six offensive players are an integral part of the game and so are all six defensive players because in this game they can’t hold their way out of a tough situation. (Here is an article by Doc concerning picks and screens you may wish to read Take Your Pick .)

There were all kinds of different ways players could score in this game. There was so much more variety in the game. You could score off of a drive, out of 2-meters, from the counterattack, from the extra-man, and from penalty shots. Driving not only created a game that involved movement in the front court; but it added another way of scoring. Passes to the center-forward often resulted in a sweep shot, back-hand, step-out or inside turn for a shot. The center-forward was actually given the opportunity to shoot the ball. Passes to the driver resulted in a shot off the water or an RB shot. Drivers had to be creative and quick in order to beat the defender and get an opening for a shot (Here are two articles by Dante you might wish to read Bringing the Driving Game Back to Water Polo Part 1 and Part 2 )

We have been only talking about the offense in yesteryear’s game so what about the defense in that game.  This is where quickness and smarts really pay off.  Good players played the lanes and better players play the lanes and anticipate the coming shot and/or the missed pass. Coaches would tell their players that on the counterattack swim so fast that the water splits and you can run to the 2 meter line. Also coaches would say counterattack as if you’re starting position on the team depended upon it! The transition from defense to offense is critical to any counterattack and the transition in any game is completely trashed when you allow blatant holding as in today’s game.

On defense, coaches had to actually teach players how to play defense. We taught players how to defend a player one on one or mono a mono. A player actually played position defense, trying not to foul, and trying to block the pass or steal the ball. If you played good defense, you could create a turnover, and then you were off on the counterattack. This to us was a very exciting part of the game. Coaches teach defense nowadays by coaching HOW TO FOUL the perimeter, HOW TO FOUL the 2-meter player, and HOW TO HOLD EVERYWHERE. It is a game of constant fouls and whistles. (Here is an article by Dante you might wish to read Do Automatic Fouls on the Perimeter Help or Hinder the Game? )

Imagine the game of basketball if you took away the drives to the basket and the ability of the center to score or dunk the ball. How boring just to watch someone taking only outside shots and no drives to the basket. This would eliminate small driving guards from the game of basketball. Just get a bunch of tall people who can shoot over a zone. Sound familiar? That is what we have done in water polo in today's game. We have taken away the drives to the goal and the center's ability to score by calling an ejection or 5 meter penalty shot every time he or she receives the ball.

We hope you had fun traveling down a water polo memory lane with us because we did. Let's hope the present path of water polo does not lead us to the following: