One of the primary reasons the counter attack falls flat on its rear end or a team only has a few seconds to run its set offense is because the players are not moving the ball down to the offensive end quick enough. Like Larry the Cable Guy says, "Git-R-Done!", that is, get the ball in a position so the team can finish off the counter attack or the team can have ample time to run its set offense.
Moving the ball up the field of play is a planned skill not a hit and miss proposition. You need to practice team coordination and good timing to move the ball to a position in the offensive end where it will do the team some good. First some players have to release at mid-court and other players have to swim like a bat out of hell to release on the 2 or 4-meter line and get to the offensive 1 or 6 position. Next the ball has to move, similar to a greased pig in a kid's rodeo event, from the goal keeper, to the mid-court player, to the player on the 1 or 6 position, and to the open player on the weak side for a counter attack score.
Or the ball has to move like a streak of lightening from the goal keeper to the person or persons on the break away. Or the ball has to be thrown quickly to a player in a position to start the set offense, and thrown preferably to a player in the 2 position or the 4 position. The team can recover from a bad pass to these two positions fairly easy; however, it is more difficult to recover from a bad pass to the 3 position in the center of the playing area.
This article is going to talk about how we can "Git_R_Done" by 1) learning how to do proper releases at mid-court and/or at the 1 or 6 position and 2) learning how to correctly move the ball down the field of play. I will not be trying to twist your arm to make you do things this way, but rather I will be trying to turn your mind and attitude as to why you should do these things.
The three primary releases are the square-out, the flare, and the break-way, and before discussing how to do each one of these releases a discussion about when each release should probably be used is given. Remember when learning a skill the "when" is as important as the "how".
When you are swimming down the field of play and a defender is swimming shoulder to shoulder next to you, use the square-out. You use this release to create some safe water your defender can't enter. The goal keeper can then pass the ball safely and quickly to the releasing offensive player. The ball is usually thrown wet to the person doing the square-out.
The name of this release is the square-out not the 45 degrees-out or the 30 degrees-out, and of course it can be called the 90 degrees-out if you desire because the move has to be made on your chest, at a 90 degree angle to your line of progress, and towards the side of the swimming pool or if you prefer it is made perpendicular to the side of the swimming pool..
You will be swimming shoulder to shoulder with your defender, so before making your 90 degree move bear into the shoulder of your defender. Then just before or just after reaching the mid line or 2-meter line drop your knees, rotate your hips 90 degrees, and swim a couple strokes toward the side of the pool. Bearing into your defender will allow you to push off of the defender's thigh creating some distance and safe water away from your defender. If your defender swims to the side with you then it will clear up the middle of the field of play for others on the counter attack.
The ball is thrown wet to the person who does the square-out. If there is someone on the person who did the square out at mid court then the person on the square-out does a layout pass to the next player down the field of play. If, however, there is no defender on the person who did the square-out at mid court this person picks up the ball quickly and looks to pass the ball to a player on a break-away or to a player in the 1 or 6 spot. If the release is on the mid line and everyone deep is covered the person who received the ball on the square-out either swims or walks the ball down the field of play and throws the ball into the 2-meter player when possible or if in close enough takes a shot on goal.
If the square-out is done on the 2-meter line and the player who did the square out is closely guarded by a defender then a layout pass is made to the free player on the counter attack or to the 2-meter person. If not guarded then you are the shooter or play maker.
When you are swimming down the field of play and a defender is swimming at your hips or knees and the defender is a faster swimmer and is quickly gaining on you, use the flare. This release is used because the offensive player is further enough away from the defender so the offensive player can turn on his or her back and take a few strokes towards the side of the pool. Again this allows the goal keeper to pass the ball safely and quickly to the releasing offensive player. The ball is usually thrown dry to the player's hand for another quick pass down the field of play.
If the offensive player can cut or slip the defender who is swimming at his or her hips or knees and get inside water, then he or she should probably do this rather than do a flare. An example, however, of when a player should do a flare rather than try for inside water is when there is a teammate on break-away ahead of this player and the goal keeper is a weak passer or inaccurate long distance passer. Then the player should do a flare at mid-court and pass the ball quickly to the teammate on the break-away.
The flare release, or just flare, looks similar to a flare that has been fired from a flare gun. It is straight as an arrow until it reaches its apex and then it makes a curve and starts downward. Well, the apex in the water polo flare release is mid-court or the 4-meter line because this is where the player turns on his or her back to swim the curve toward the side of the swimming pool.
The ball is thrown dry to person who does the flare. The person who does the flare at mid court and receives the ball looks to pass the ball to a player on a break-away or to a player in the 1 or 6 spot. If everyone deep is covered the person who received the ball on the flare at mid court either swims or walks the ball down the field of play and throws the ball into the 2-meter player when possible or if in close enough takes a shot on goal. If the flare is done on the 4-meter line then the pass is to the free player on the counter attack or to the 2-meter person.
When you are one of the lead swimmers down the field of play and a defender is swimming at your hips, knees, or feet and you are a faster swimmer than the defender, then whether you like it or not you are the break-away. Some players on the break-away like to turn on their back to let the goal keeper know they are ready for the pass. This to me is not a good idea because it slows the player on the break-away down considerably and may even allow a defender to catch him or her. If you want to let the goal keeper know that you want the ball, then keep swimming on your stomach and turn your head toward the goal keeper and back quickly. The person on the break-away may have to do it several times to get the goal keeper's attention.
If a defender starts closing the gap on your break-away then cut him or her while still swimming with the ball. If a defender is on your back when you are ready to take the shot on goal then take some type of wet shot. If, however, the defender is still several feet in back of you do not and, I repeat, do not take a wet shot. Drop your legs and shoot a baseball shot. Eighty to ninety percent of all goals in water polo are scored from a baseball shot. The best is for last. When you get to the 4-meter line if one of your teammates is free on the weak side of the goal then get the ball to this person because you have completed your job by drawing the goal keeper to you on the strong side. Make the pass for an easy score because not making this pass is a sacrilege against the fundamental rules of water polo.
Moving the Ball
A few more suggestions on moving the ball down the field of play in addition to suggestions in the above sections. On the transition if the defensive players try to maintain ball side on the person nearest each defensive player then when moving the ball down the field of play you need to cross it quickly. An example is making the first pass to a player releasing at mid-court on the goal keeper's left side and this player making a pass to a player on the goal keeper's right side, preferably to a player at the 5 spot, or, vice a versa, throwing the ball to a player at mid-court on the goal keeper's right side and the next pass is to a player on the goal keeper's left side, preferably to a player at the 1 spot. On the second pass, the cross pass, it will mean the defensive players will no longer have ball side. If the defense does not try to play ball side on the transition then you don't have to worry about crossing the ball to get ball side because now your objective is getting the ball down the field of play quickly.
Goal Keeper Tips
Also a few tips for the goal keeper when moving the ball down the field of play:
1) If you can't throw the ball the length of the field of play with accuracy then swim a couple of strokes with the ball towards the offensive end before throwing the ball. This will shorten the distance you will have to throw the ball and it will allow you to throw the ball more accurately.
2) If you have no left handed players on your team then look for the player releasing for the ball at mid-court who is to your left, so this player can throw the ball quickly across the field to the player releasing on the 2-meter line to the 5 spot. This will allow the person on the 5 spot to feed the right handed players on the counter attack a regular pass and not a cross face pass. Note throwing to the right hand of a player from the 1 spot is always a cross face pass as is throwing the left handed player the ball from the 5 spot. An exception to the above is when there is when a player has a clear break-away anywhere in the field of play, then, by all means, set the player on the break-away.
3) If you do not want the long pass to curve to the left or to the right make certain that when you release the ball that it leaves your middle finger last. Many times a ball that leaves your little finger last will curve to your right, and a ball leaving your thumb last will curve to the left. Also a fast spinning ball is more difficult to catch.
4) If you have been making errors on the long throw to a player on the break-away by over throwing the ball, then try to error by over throwing the ball to his or her outside hand - avoid over throwing to the middle of the field of play as if winning the game depended upon it. The over thrown ball to the side of the field of play makes it more difficult for the opposing goal keeper to steal the ball.
Passing the ball down court is similar to eating your meat and vegetables because it is good for your team, and the last pass to the free person for a score is like eating your dessert, preferably a large piece of Texas chocolate sheet cake with lots of pecans.
Remember, if you move the ball down the field of play quickly, accurately, and safely then you are helping to move your team to a victory.
Email Coach Hunkler at firstname.lastname@example.org