Pointers For Practicing In A Physically Challenged Pool

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University
01/07/05

If your critical games are in an all deep, 30 meter pool, and you practice in a shallow to deep, 25 yard pool, then your pool is physically challenged. There are things you should do and things you should not do to prepare your team that practices in a shallow to deep, 25 yard pool to play in an all deep, 30 meter pool. Let's start with what you shouldn't do. You shouldn't use negative psychology such as the following: "You better work hard because if you don't when you get in a 30 meter pool it is going to seem like you are swimming in an ocean;" or "If you don't do your sprints hard then your counter attack will finish on the mid-court line in a 30 meter pool;" or "In a 30 meter pool your offensive perimeter is going to be so spread out that your first driver will take 35 seconds just getting to the strike zone." What this does is create a mind set in your players that no matter how good a shape they are in or how hard they have worked they still will not be ready for an all deep, 30 meter pool, simply, because they practice in a shallow to deep, 25 yard pool.

My philosophy is that it is much better to show players rather than to tell player what to do. In other words, action speaks much louder than words, and, besides, it will not create a negative mind set about shallow to deep, 25 yard pools. On the East Coast there have been only four colleges or universities with shallow to deep, 25 yard pools which have qualified for the NCAA Men's Water Polo Championships, and they are, in order of year they first qualified, Bucknell University, Slippery Rock University, University of Massachusetts (however, when they qualified they were practicing in a neighboring all deep, 30 meter pool three to five times a week.), and Queen's College. In fact these four schools may actually be the only schools in the Nation to have accomplished this coup de grace?

The first thing you have to do is have double practices. The first practice is simply a swimming practice, and the second practice is a water polo practice. If you have two water polo practices, then it will take your players almost the entire season to get into shape, and sometimes that is too late to try to qualify for the NCAA or a State Championship. This is true because when you practice in a shallow to deep, 25 yard pool your players are resting on the bottom from 25% to 50% of the practice. There are some coaches, one with the initials D-O-C, who teach players in the shallow water to plant the foot that is on the opposite side from the lead referee squarely on the bottom of the pool and to eggbeat with the foot on the side with the referee. Do this while keeping your shoulders level with the top of the water.

Having one practice of all swimming also pleases the swimming coach who has swimmers on the water polo team; however, I had one swimming coach who told the Athletic Director that I burned-out his swimmers and that's why his team wasn't doing well. This wouldn't have been a good argument even if I hadn't shown the A.D. that the only swimmers on his team to make a swimming NCAA All America team were the swimmers that played water polo.

The second thing you have to do is teach your players to use the goal posts to run their counter attacks and to position their perimeter on offense. If you do not emphasize this concept then 90% of your players will use the sides of the pool to judge the necessary distances for running a correct counter attack and gaging distances for where each player should be on offense. The width of the goal posts in water polo is similar to the height of the goal in basketball in that it is always the same no matter which pool or court you play - remember the scene in Hoosier's when the coach has the team measure the height of the basketball goal at the Championships. As you so well know, the distance between the sides of the pool in water polo is hardly ever the same. Some times in a 30 meter pool the distance between the sides is 20 meters or a little less or possibly a little more, and in a 25 yard pool the distance can be any where from eight lanes to four lanes wide where each pool can have a different width for the lanes.

The first drill is a counter attack drill. In the beginning do it without defenders. Line up the team on the four yard line at the deep end of the pool. On the whistle have the players swim to the four yard line in the shallow end, and without touching the bottom they are to turn back and run the counter attack in the deep end of the pool. There are three rules to remember when running this drill: 1) Any player swimming toward the shallow end of the pool MUST be swimming in either lanes one and two or lanes five and six, and any player swimming toward the deep end MUST be swimming in lanes three and four. This is to keep two players from swimming into each other. Just as sure as I am typing this article with two fingers, if you don't follow rule one, players will run into each other, possibly, causing a player to get his or her nose broken. 2) If you see a player touch the bottom of the pool he or she must be disciplined. In the early part of the season if a player touches the bottom, I have him or her do twenty or more push-ups or fifty or more sit-ups. In the latter part of the season I place that player on the next team down, and the only way for that player to get back on the same team is through hard work and hustle. 3) The outlet pass for the counter attack is made from the goalie in the shallow water cage.

A side bar to the above first rule is that during the season I believe that most playing-related punishments should be positive, that is, the punishment must in some way help the person become a better water polo player. Punishment that involves a reasonable physical activity helps the player become better conditioned, and to me there are no better attributes for a player to have other than game sense, experience, and conditioning. Removing a player from the team on which he or she is playing is the best way I know to show a player he or she is hurting that team, and that he or she has lost the privilege of playing with those team mates. Starting on a team is a privilege not a right, and the buck doesn't stop with the players or the parents, but rather with the coach.

The second drill is very similar to the first, only now you add defenders to the mix. Use four defenders for awhile, then five, and then six. The more players you have in this drill the more important rule number one in the first drill becomes. If you do not adhere to rule one with 12 field players in the pool, then you will have more collisions than the bumper car concession at the local amusement park.

The third drill is the second drill with an added play at the end of the counter attack. If the team on the counter attack scores then the counter attack is started again; however, if the team on the counter attack does not score, then the counter attacking team has to set up their offense, get the ball to the two meter, and on the foul at two meters have a player begin a drive. Then the drill starts again.

The fourth drill is to scrimmage using the three rules from the first drill. This is similar to playing in an all deep, 40 meter pool. This scrimmage soon separates the wheat from the chaff, the strong willed from the weak willed, the players from the plunkers, and the starters from the rest of the pack. Don't forget to emphasize rule one of the first drill.

For the fifth and final drill you need to measure about 20 yards along the side of the pool beginning from the deep end of the pool. In the middle of those 20 yards along the side of the pool you need to place your goal. Then you can practice your 6 on 5 offense and defense as if you were in a 30 meter pool.

You should not use these drills for every practice, but you can use them the week before a tournament in an all deep, 30 meter pool. Now, you need to create some innovative drills to cause your physically challenged pool to emulate a pool on steroids - the 30 or more meter, all deep pool. Remember ideas don't work unless you do.

Email Coach Hunkler at rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com