Two Meter Players Don't Get Mad They Get Even!

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University

And just how do they get even with the overly physical 2-meter defender? They get even by turning the mauler and getting him or her excluded or, even better, by scoring on the barbarian. Being ejected or scored upon hurts an overly zealous and/or aggressive defender a lot longer than an illegal kick or punch, and, more importantly, the defender has been hurt the old fashion, but good, way with a legal exclusion or score. The two meter position similar to old age is not for sissies. The 2-meter players at the Rock, Slippery Rock University that is, were told to garner skin that was at least two inches thick because the 2-meter player has to make many decisions that are not popular with his or her own players.

An example of a non-popular decision is when the driver does a rear-back and is not passed the ball from the 2-meter player. Forget about a uranium plant melt down in your area because the look on the driver's face who doesn't receive the ball could melt the uranium in all the plants on this planet. The reason the 2-meter player didn't pass the driver the ball is because the driver didn't see the near by defender who would have torn the driver's arm right out of its socket had the pass been made, and to me this is the only viable reason for the 2-meter player not to make this pass. Not making the pass because the 2-meter player makes a split second value judgment that the free player is too weak a player to make the shot is unacceptable, and the 2-meter player will become unpopular with not only the player but also with the coach, a much more hazardous proposition.

The pass to an offensive player with inside water who is being baited by the 1 or 6 defender is not a good idea as well. It is difficult for the offensive player with inside water to see the baiting defender who is actually in a good position to steal the ball when it is passed to the offensive player. Forget about one of King Kong's temper tantrums because the temper tantrum the offensive player makes will cause the female 2-meter player to wish she were Fay Wray, the actress who played the love interest in the first King Kong movie, and will cause the male 2-meter player to say, "They had you covered dude."  Again most any other reason for the 2-meter player not to make this pass is unacceptable.

Let us get back to the real point of this article and that is "How does the 2-meter player really get even and not mad?" The player can get even by learning how to play the 2-meter position correctly, and the remainder of this article will attempt to explain how to do just that. Skills in water polo are similar to commands in Windows XP in that there is always more than one way to accomplish them. The suggestions in any of my articles are not carved in stone, and if your coach wants you to do something another way, then by all means do it your coach's way. A word to the wise; however, a good coach will not only show you how and when to use a skill but he or she will also explain why you should do it a particular way. "Do it because I say so" should never be sufficient for the well-rounded, smart player.

This article is not to cover all the skills a 2-meter player should learn, but rather it is going to discuss a few salient or survival skills that a 2-meter player should master. The first skill is "Holding Position", the second skill is "Turning the Defender" and the last set of skills involves some 2-meter player's arsenal of  shots, the "Sweep Shot", the "Back-hand shot", and the "Step-out Shot". To be able to survive a 2-meter defender shark attack the 2-meter player needs, at a minimum, to know how and when to use these skills. The 2-meter player should also not be a stranger to the weight room or to egg beating with the filled, office-sized, water bottle drills because this position requires knowledge and both upper and lower body strength. Before the present interpretations of the play at 2-meters, the 2-meter player could compensate for the lack of size and strength with quickness and smarts. Today those attributes are only rewarded in watching the 2-meter play in really old 8 or 16 millimeter game films because then videos were not available and today these skills don't count near as much.

Holding Position

In an early article, "The Missing Three-Quarters", it was pointed out that the name of this position is the 2-meter position not the 4 or 5-meter position. This is where all that leg work and the nightmares about empting over-sized water bottles come into play. It is almost a self-truth to say, "If you ain't got good legs, you won't get good position."  The 2-meter player not only has to get position on the 2-meter line but he or she has to hold it as well. If you think a 2-meter player can get and hold a good position without a strong egg beater kick then you probably think that the slick, two-colored, water polo ball is going to go away sometime soon.   In that same article it was explained when and why a 2-meter player might not desire to hold position on the 2-meter line, and one of the explanations involved the 2-meter defender fronting the 2-meter player.

If after about five or ten seconds the 2-meter player can't gain front position, then the 2 meter player should egg beat his or her defender to the 4 meter line (maybe in the future the 5-meter line). The 2 meter person would place his or her back to the defender doing the fronting and with his or her body hold the defender on the 4 meter line and wait until the 2-meter player's  teammates can get the ball to a wing (the 1 or 6 position) and into the 2 meter person for inside water. A couple of quick goals from the 2-meter player with inside water gained in this fashion will  many times permanently discourage the opposing team from fronting the 2-meter player. If the team has the luxury of having more than one good 2-meter person, then break the fronting of the 2-meter player by swimming in a new 2-meter person. The previous 2-meter player will swim the defender who is doing the fronting out of the 2-meter position. Usually this is the person on the opposing team who fronts a 2-meter person the best, so try to stop a possible switch by the two defenders.

If a foul occurs on the 2-meter player and the ball is knocked away from the goal and the 2-meter player has to move to the ball and take the free throw, it is probably a good idea for the 2-meter player to make the free throw as he or she is moving back to his or her original position. In fact any referee who is worth the price of a pair of new white sneakers will allow the 2-meter player to not only return to his or her original position but also return to a little better position as a warning to the 2-meter defender to quit knocking the ball out of the play. Too many times the young 2-meter player will stop at the place where he or she makes the free throw - a place that is sometimes further away from the 2-meter line, the place where the 2-meter player needs to hold position.

Turning the Defender

Some coaches teach his or her 2-meter player to turn their 2-meter defender by wrapping his or her off-ball arm around the lower back of the defender, and using that submerged arm as a lever to turn the defender. At the Rock a 2-meter player was taught to grab the bottom of the defender's suit leg and lock the elbow of the arm holding the suit. Thus creating a longer and stronger lever with which the defender can be turned. Note that the 2-meter player will have a hard time to use either of these two moves when the 2-meter defender plays proper defense. Proper defense is when the defender guards the 2-meter player with his or her hips up. If the defender's hips are up then there is nothing for the 2-meter player to hold or grab.  When a 2-meter defender drops his or her hips then the coach should do like the robot did in the TV show, "Lost in Space", and yell, "Danger! Danger! Will Robinson."

Turns similar to passes from the 2-meter position have to be practiced with the ball in each hand. A 2-meter player who can only pass the ball or turn a player with only the strong arm is similar to a bomb sniffing dog with a stuffed-up nose because neither can  do his or her job properly. Only being able to use one arm allows the defender to over play this one arm; thus, helping to negate the effectiveness of the 2-meter player. This one-armed 2-meter player is limited to the type of passes, moves, and shots he or she can make in a game. Why settle for half or two thirds when you can get the whole package with a little extra effort during practice. (If a person's right arm is the dominant arm then the person's right arm is called the strong arm and his or her left arm is called the weak arm. The converse is true if a person's left arm is the dominant arm.)

Sweep Shot

The key to throwing the ball not just in the net but throwing the ball through the net with the sweep shot is the extension of the arm and the rotation of the shooter's body. Ask any diver and he or she will tell you that it is the head that controls the rotation of the body, so start the sweep shot with the ball in an extended arm and the turning of the head and shoulders. The arm with the ball and the head are accelerating toward the goal with the arm parallel to the surface of the water. The ball is released when the arm becomes a little more than parallel to the goal line and as the ball is released there is a last snap of the wrist. Note the ball is placed on the fingers and palm of the up-turned hand and is not hooked in the bent wrist of the hand and arm. Bending the wrist of the throwing arm shortens the lever from which the ball is catapulted on released. A shortened lever reduces the power and effectiveness of the sweep shot.

Some 2-meter players think that they are to try and shoot every ball passed into the 2-meter player. A sweep shot taken from a pass that is thrown to close the 2-meter player's body is about as effective and powerful as a field player's baseball shot taken with the arm underneath the water. Remember a shortened lever means a weakened sweep shot. The 2-meter player should probably choose his or her 2-meter shots based on where the passed ball lands in relation to the 2-meter player's body position. A ball placed a little shorter than an arm length away from the 2-meter player's head to his or her right shoulder means a left handed sweep shot or a right handed back-hand shot.  Similarly, a ball placed a little shorter than an arm length away from the 2-meter player's head to his or her left shoulder means a right handed sweep shot or a left handed back-hand shot. If the 2-meter player uses only his or her strong arm then the number of types of shots he are she can take from the 2-meter position are cut in half.

Back-hand Shot

Since this is the back-hand shot the 2-meter player is allowed to hook the ball between the hand and the bent wrist? No, non, nada, because of the same reason the 2-meter player is not to hook the ball for a sweep shot - it shortens the length of the lever. One time Archimedes, the Greek mathematician not Greek water polo player said, "Give me a lever long enough, and a prop strong enough, I can single-handed move the world". It is not likely that a 2-meter player with a long arm or lever will ever move the world but if he or she uses it to shoot the sweep or backhand shot he or she just might move his or her team to a win.

"But coach I have to hook the ball on the back-hand because if the defender pops my elbow while shooting the back-hand I can still make the shot." If the defender gives the 2-meter player a good shot on the elbow while he or she is shooting the back-hand the only thing it will make the shooter do is have a sore elbow. At the Rock we disliked the accuracy and limited power of hooking the ball so much we called it the "sissy hook". 

Start the back-hand shot with the ball in an extended arm and the turning of the head and shoulders. The arm with the ball and the head are accelerating toward the goal with the arm parallel to the surface of the water. Again the ball is released when the arm becomes a little more than parallel to the goal line and as the ball is released there is a last snap of the wrist.  Note the ball is placed on the fingers and palm of the thumb-down, turned hand and is not hooked in the bent wrist of the hand and arm. Again it is the accelerating of the ball and the turning head that generates the force behind the shot. Both the sweep and the back-hand shots to be effective must be power shots. The section above explained when the 2-meter player should attempt the back-hand shot.

Step-out Shot

The step-out shot is made by the 2-meyer player using the legs to move away from the defender for a quick shot on goal. As the 2-meter player pushes the ball forward and steps out away from the defender he or she turns to face the goal at a 30 to 45 degree angle to the surface of the water. The 2-meter player then shoots the ball at a corner of the goal. There are two major errors the 2-meter player usually makes, and they are as follows: 1) The 2-meter player's back is on the surface of the water when shooting and not at a 30 to 45 degree angle to the surface of the water; and 2) The 2-meter player does not shoot at a corner of the goal.

When the 2-meter defender over plays the sweep shot it is a perfect time for the 2-meter player to use the step-out shot, and when the defender over adjusts and starts overplaying the step-out shot  then that is a perfect time for the 2-meter player to use the sweep or back-hand shot. The 2-meter players similar to the other members of the team have to learn how to "ADAPT", ADJUST", and "CREATE" if they want to be successful in the game of water polo. Also that is why it is so important for the referee to be so consistent because a team can adjust to a referee who is consistent and who is not calling the game the way the coach would like. Too many coaches and teams expect the referee to adjust to their way of playing instead of the coaches and teams' adjusting to the way the referee is calling the game. Any coach can adjust to a bad consistent referee but no coach can adjust to an inconsistent referee regardless of whether he or she is a bad or good. The moral of this small tirade is that the 2-meter player is going to have to adjust to the way the referee is calling both penalty shots and exclusions because it will be popsicles all around in hell before the referee adjusts to the 2-meter player's style of play.

Parting Shots on the 2-meter Players' Conditioning and Defense

If a two meter player is not in good swimming shape then by the third or fourth quarter the 2-meter player will be lucky to make it from the defensive end to the 4 or 5 meter line of the offensive end much less hold position on the offensive 2-meter line. For this 2-meter player turning the defender or making any type of shot out of his or her 2 or 4 meter position is about as likely as a rap singer winning first prize at a Blue Grass yodeling contest. So 2-meter players do your swimming sets as if your team's successful water polo season depended upon it.

The 2-meter player needs to work not only his or her conditioning but also on his or her speed. There are few things worse in water polo than waiting for a slow 2-meter player to set up shop for the team's offense. The 2-meter person has to heed the lyrics of the song in the movie Madagascar, "Move it! Move It!" Whenever the Rock played against a team with a slow or out of condition 2-meter player we tried to swim him or her from the offensive 2-meter line to the defensive position on the 1 or 6 player on every one of our ball possessions. This is some times called swimming the 2-meter player from the 2 to the 2. If, however, a smart defensive player on the top of the perimeter switches offensive players with the 2-meter player, this would automatically make that offensive player the designated first driver on our offense.

Did you ever wonder why so many good 2-meter players are poor defenders of good drivers? I have and I came to the conclusion that the primary cause for this was because during driving drills the 2- meter player was always playing the 2-meter position and was rarely ever practicing how to defend the driver. At the end of the regular driving drill I started making the 2-meter players defend a drive from every member of the team or at least every member of the starting team.

Finally, remember most good 2-meter players are not born with a goldenwater polo ball in their hand. Their success and smarts usually came from hard work, good coaching, and an overwhelming desire not to be the best but to be the best within the limits of their ability - something every 2-meter player can strive to do.

Email Coach Hunkler at  [email protected]