The Missing Three-Quarters

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University
06/15/05

The web references "The Missing Three-Quarter" as one of the most quotable Sherlock Holmes stories, so I thought a similar title might be apropos for a mystery happening in collegiate water polo games this season. Where did so many of the sound fundamentals college coaches love to talk about and teach disappear to this season? When the collegiate season started this year I said to myself, "the game is afoot" and I am about to learn some more excellent water polo. I could even hear Holmes say, "Elementary Doctor Hunkler; Elementary!" The foot should have been in my mouth or it should have been placed on the back sides of several players who I saw murdering a number of water polo fundamentals. If these were not crimes of the century then they were at least the crimes of the collegiate season.

The first fundamental I saw on the chopping block was committed by several 2 meter players. The position is called the 2 meter position not the 3 meter or the 4 meter or, heaven forbid, the 5 meter position. These 2 meter players had good intensions because they started out on the 2 meter line; however, every time the ball was knocked several meters in front of them they swam to the ball, put it in play, and stayed on or about on the 4 meter line. Because they didn't have to take the free throw from where the foul was committed but could take it from a distance some meters further away from the 2 meter line - they did. There goes the offensive ball game because playing the 2 meter position from the 4 or 5 meter line is just not a very good or productive idea.

Where would you rather shoot a hole shot from the 2 meter line or the 4 or 5 meter line? Is it easier to earn an exclusion foul in the hole from the 2 meter line or from the 4 or 5 meter line? If the 2 meter player is on the 4 or 5 meter line he or she has to set the driver who has inside water within the 4 meter line by throwing the ball over the heads of both the driver's defender and the driver - it would be very hard for either Moriarty, a Holmes nemesis, or Terry Schroeder, a 2 meter player par excellence, to do consistently. Even the great Sherlock Holmes from this impossible two meter position would have to say to the team about the driver, "Oh, he rates my assistance too highly."

There are several exceptions as to why the 2 meter may have to set this position from the 4 meter line. I will note two such exceptions. The first one is when the 2 meter defender does not follow the 2 meter player out to retrieve the ball because the 2 meter player can go for a right- back and a close in shot on goal. Doing a right-back pass on a person-up play used to be called a "greenie" because a male player from UCLA whose last name was Green perfected it. A 2 meter defender not following a 2 meter person to get the ball is another one of those trampled fundamental hounds from "The Hound of Fundamental-villes" , and this season I saw several 2 meter defenders do just that.

The second reason a 2 meter player might be on the 4 meter line is because the 2 meter player is playing offense in the shallow end of the pool and there is a quick goalie standing on the bottom of the tank ready to steal the ball when it is thrown into the 2 meter line. It is much harder and, more importantly, much more of a risk for the goal keeper to try and steal the ball from the 4 meter line in the shallow end of the pool..

Since the last remarks were about the goal keeper I am going to talk about some field players who murdered some fundamentals involving the goal keeper. The first has to do with an offensive player on the transition part of the game with the ball somewhere behind the mid-court line who immediately passes the ball to the goal keeper instead of passing the ball to a person on a break-away or a person free on the counter attack. The second is when on the offensive counterattack a player does not flair or square out at mid-court to help the goal keeper move the ball to the offensive end quickly.

The first mangled fundamental turns the face of the person on the break- away bright red with anger and the second turns the goal keepers face dark red with frustration. Both of these tortured fundamentals could be in the short story with Sherlock Holmes named, "A Study in Scarlet". In this story when Holmes says, "There are fifty who can reason synthetically for one who can reason analytically" he could very easily be talking about the players who butcher these transitional game fundamentals.

The next fundamental mauled this season is the player with the ball who is being pressured by his or her defender on the perimeter and all the player knows how to do is to try to fake a foul for the free throw. This player might be thought of as a "one trick pony", and is about as valuable to the team as such a pony is to a variety show on the stage or TV. There is a Sherlock Holmes story called "The Solitary Cyclist" which in this case could be changed to the "The Solitary Poloist". This player who cannot play for the foul well enough to win a free throw usually loses the ball to the opposing team. The player is so steamed at the referee for not calling the foul that he or she is the solitary player in the back court. You know, the one yelling or grimacing at the referee from the back court instead of the one swimming to the front court to help stop the opposing team's counterattack - the counterattack, of course, that this player started with the losing of the ball in the first place.

A player needs to know not only how to play for the foul but the player also needs to know how to make a layout pass and how to turn a defender who is guarding the player with his or her hips down. The correct layout pass will help the player create some distance between his or herself and the player's defender; thus, allowing a pass to the 2 meter player or a pass to another person on the perimeter. Turning a defender who has his or her hips down will cause the offensive player to gain inside water on the defender which can create either a switch or an exclusion foul. You know what Sherlock Holmes might say to a player who only knows how to play for the foul when pressured, "Hum! There is a flaw there."

I have saved the two worst fundamental kills for last. The first is when the team is playing a pressure person-to-person defense and every player off ball but one or two are playing in the passing lanes. Those one or two defensive players are the ones who should be whacked rather than the fundamental defense tactic they are erasing. A pressure person-to- person defense is a seven person defense not a five or six person defense. When just one defensive field player is not in a passing lane then the pressured offensive player is given an easy out by allowing that offensive player an easy pass to at least one teammate. Sherlock Holmes might say something similar to "Play the lanes if convenient - if inconvenient play the lanes all the same."

Think of this defense as being similar to an aluminum tea kettle that needs uniform heat on all of its surfaces to cause the contents inside to 1) whistle for the start of a counterattack from an intercepted pass in the passing lanes; or 2) boil over into other offensive player mistakes. Just one defensive player not playing the passing lanes could possibly cause Arthur Conan Doyle to change the title of one of his Sherlock Holmes stories from "A Scandal in Bohemia" to "The Scandal of a Bohemia Water Polo Player". (Using the term bohemia as a metaphor to mean a person playing an unconventional defense rather than to mean a person living an unconventional life.)

The last "offed" fundamental could have been the reason for the Sherlock Holmes story, "The Second Stain". Because it is a stain on both the coaches playing philosophy and the players water polo behavior. This is when the player on the counterattack takes the shot on goal instead of passing the ball to his or her teammate who is on the weak side of the goal wide open. This type of player behavior is unwarranted and should be nipped in the early season. I can imagine what Holmes might say in this situation, "I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Player. When you are in a good position you shoot, and when you are not in a good position you shoot. As I perceive your brains, although used, are by no means used to their fullest potential. I cannot doubt that if you keep using them this way that you will end up on the bench."

These are the major fundamentals I saw murdered this collegiate season, and I have no doubt that I left out someone else's favorite bad plays. If I did then send them to me and I will attempt to write a similar article about those missing fundamentals as well. One last conversation from Mr. Holmes which goes something like this,

"For example, you have frequently seen water polo games this collegiate season."

"Frequently."

"Well, some twenty to thirty times."

"Then how many major mistakes have the players made?"

"How many? I don't know."

"Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know there are at least seven major mistakes, because I have both seen and observed."

How many times after a well played first quarter have you heard a coach say, "Give me three more quarters just like this one, and I'll promise you will win the game?" Well, this article was about the missing three-quarters. Moreover if the players' mistakes are not corrected in practice then I promise you that there will be a lot more missing than quarters. The players will also be missing a walk to the conference victory stand, and more importantly, they will miss a successful water polo season - a season in which they have learned to play the game, we love so dearly, correctly. "'Excellent!' I cried. 'Elementary,' said he."

(Sherlock Holmes did not make some excellent suggestions and corrections for this article, because Holmes is a fictional detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle. Besides if he were a real person he would be dead today because he did his detective work from the late1880's to the early 1900's. For all you Sherlock Holmes aficionados, I hope I did not slaughter the Queen's English of Sherlock Holmes too badly and I hope I did not offend any of you. It was all done in jest, and I assure you that Holmes was not fired from Scotland Yard by Inspector Baker.)

Email Coach Hunkler at  rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com