To Drop, Or Not To Drop, That Is The Question

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University
02/02/05

To drop or not to drop: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler of the coach to suffer
The goals and ejections of a large hole-player,
Or to make defenses against a sea of troubles,
And by dropping end them? To win: To lose;

With the way the rules are called today a dominating two meter person on the opposing team can and will make a large dent in your person-to- person defense. By a domineering two meter player I mean a two meter player who scores or causes an ejection almost every time he or she gets his or her hands on the ball. Then going to some type of drop defense is a necessary evil, which might help the team draw a victory out of the hands of a very good two meter player who can cause a probable defeat. It is evil because it doesn't look as cool or awesome as your tenacious person-to-person defense and it is very unattractive and boring to the spectators in the stands. But who cares about looks when a winning season or possibly a championship bid is on the line.

There are not as many drop defenses as there are lines in Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" soliloquy. (There are 35 lines. Aren't you happy that in the first paragraph I stopped after butchering just five of those lines?) Usually the drop defenses are named after the offensive players on which you are dropping. The 3 drop defense is when the drop is on the offensive player in the 3 position. The 2-4 drop defense is when you are dropping off the offensive players in the 2 and 4 positions. This is sometimes called the strong side weak side drop. The last drop defense to be covered in this discussion is called the 4-5 drop defense because, yea you got it, the drops are on the offensive players in the 4 and 5 positions. See Figure 1 for the numbering system.

_________________
|                                  |

O6

O1                                        O5


O2                                        O4

O3

  Figure 1

The 3 Drop Defense

In the 3 drop defense how far should you be off the offensive player in the 3 position or to phrase it another way, how close do you have to be to the two meter player. Firstly, the correct distance the defensive player is to drop off the offensive player in the 3 position is determined by the primary purpose of using the drop defense - preventing the ball from getting in the hands of the outstanding two meter player, and secondly, how quick is the defensive player doing the drop. The object of this defense is for the defensive player in the drop to get to the ball before the two meter player can. Thus, if the defensive player that is dropping has quick reactions and is a fast swimmer, then he or she can be closer to the offensive player in the 3 position than a defensive player who has slow reactions and is a fast swimmer or who has fast reactions and is a slow swimmer.

Heaven forbid that the defensive player dropping has slow reactions and is a slow swimmer, for he or she will have to be very close to the two meter player. Being too close to the crafty two meter person is a cardinal no, no, because that son-of-a-gun will grab the swim suit of the player dropping allowing the offensive player in the 3 position to pump-walk in closer to take a higher percentage shot on goal. Another error on the 3 drop defense is for the remaining defensive players not to play tight on their offensive players. There is a drop where all the defensive players are to play off their offensive players but this is not it!

A quick pass from the 3 offensive player to either the 1 or 5 player for a quick shot on goal will beat the goalie almost every time. Also a quick pass from the 3 offensive player to the 1 player and a quick pass back to the 3 player or the 4 player for a quick shot on goal will many times beat the goalie. Similarly, passes from the 3 to the 5, back to 3 or to the 2 will also result in a score. These types of passes can be prevented by having the defensive players who are not dropping to play tight on their offensive players. Another reason to prevent these types of passes is to force the shot to come from the person in the 3 position, a person the goalie can be cheating on.

The hand and arm of the defensive player dropping on the 3 offensive player should mirror the shooting arm of this player. That is if the offensive player is a right handed the defensive player should have his left hand and arm up, and if the offensive player is left handed the yata, yata, yata.

Also if the right handed 3 offensive player starts to move closer for a better shot on goal then the defensive player on the 4 offensive player should close-hanger the 3 player. To close-hanger a player means to knock the ball out of the player's hand from his or her blind side. This is the 3 player's blind side for two reasons 1) the ball is many times between the offensive and defensive players line of sight, and 2) the offensive player is not thinking about someone else's defender because he or she is usually thinking about trying to score. If the 3 player is left handed then the defensive player on the 2 offensive player should close-hanger the 3 player.

The 2-4 Drop Defense

In the 2-4 drop defense the defensive players guarding the 2 and 4 offensive players are to take turns dropping on the two meter player according to where the ball is located. The side of the pool the ball is on is called the strong side and the side of the pool the ball is not on is called the weak side. The defender on the weak side drops on the two meter player, and the defender on the strong side is no more than a couple of arm lengths away from his or her offensive player. In other words if the 2 offensive player has the ball the defender on the 4 player is dropping on the two meter player and if the 4 offensive player has the ball the defender on the 2 player is dropping on the two meter player.

The defensive players who are guarding the offensive players at positions 1 and 5 should be tight on their offensive players. A quick pass from the 2 offensive player to the 5 player and a quick shot on goal can result in an easy score. The same is true for a pass from the 4 player to 1 player and a quick shot on goal. The defensive player guarding the offensive player at position 3 should play in the passing lane between offensive players at positions 2 and 4 and in front of player 3 to prevent the cross court pass and a quick shot on goal. Passes can still be made from the 2 player to the 3 player to the 4 player or from the 4 player to the 3 player to the 2 player but these passes are short and slow and they allow the goalkeeper to move with the ball for the possible block.

If the team you are playing has a weak left handed shooter then you should try to force the shot from the left hander at the 4 spot. This can be accomplished by allowing the defender on the 4 player to stay further away from the 4 player than the defender on the player in the 2 spot does. In a similar manner you can try to force the weak right handed player in the 2 spot to take a shot on goal. The defenders of the players in the 2, 3, and 4 spot should still use their hands and arms to mirror the shooters hands and arms.

The 4-5 Drop Defense

This is an ideal drop when the opposing team has a strong two meter player and no left handers or has left handers with weak shots. In the 4-5 drop defense the defensive players guarding the 4 and 5 offensive players are to take turns dropping on the two meter player according to where the ball is located. If the 4 player has the ball the defender on the 5 player drops on the two meter player and if the 5 player has the ball the defender on the 4 player drops on the two meter player. If any other offensive player has the ball the defender on the 4 player drops on the two meter player. All other defensive players had better be tight on their offensive players for similar reasons given in the section on the 3 drop defense.

When the defender of either the 4 or 5 player drops, his or her hand and arm is not to mirror the shooter's hand and arm, but rather the defender's left hand and arm should be trying to shut out the far right corner of the goal. This is usually the part of the goal where the right handed player has to make his or her shot on goal. If there is a strong left handed shooter at the 4 or 5 spot then should the defender's hand and arm mirror the shooter's hand and arm? If there is a strong left handed shooter at either of these two spots then my team would not be playing the 4-5 drop defense.

The Pale Cast of Thought

If you did not find a drop defense you want to use then get off your duff, get on the internet, and find one that will satisfy your coaching or playing desires. In other words get on the net and "shop till you find a drop" because in today's game the two meter players are getting larger, stronger, and smarter and the referees are letting them get away with more, more, and more.

Of course you realize that by telling the defense what not to do on the drop one is telling the offense ways to try and break the drop. To break the drop: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; a last, breaking the drop, a tale for another day and another article.

Email Coach Hunkler at rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com