Advantage Rules!

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University

On the Message Board there has been a great deal written about the "advantage rule". Is it good or is it bad? Is it called correctly by referees? Is it used by referees to hide a bad call? Is it really the foundation on which the rules of the game are built, and if so is it a house of titanium or a house of sand? Well, there is a different type of advantage that I hope this article will advance. What I would like to write about are the advantages a player or team are given because of their opponent's weaknesses or lapses of memory or the referee's interpretation of the rules. And the 64 million dollar question is, "How can players and teams take advantage of the "advantages"! If a player or team doesn't utilize the advantages that are given to them by their opponent then they will be missing several more victories, and, more importantly, half the fun of playing in a water polo game.

In my opinion a water polo game is similar to a fast moving, up close and personal, chess match. Unlike chess in water polo for every move there is a counter move and for every counter move there is a counter to the counter move ad infinitum. An exception to having to take advantage of another team's weaknesses is when a team is at least 10 points better than the other team. Then all the better team has to do is show up.

Believe it or not you can make not only your "A" team players better but you can also make your "B" team players better by having your "A" team players take advantage of your "B" players' weaknesses during practice. There is a lyric to an old rock and roll song that reads something like, "Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind." It is better to have your "B" team players to learn their weaknesses in practice where a win or loss is meaningless rather than in a game where they have to play because several starters are in foul trouble and where a trip to the championships is on the line.

I don't advise doing this to other weaker teams unless you add the following words to the above lyric, "but don't be brutal".  Beating a team by a differential of 20 to 30 points when ties are not allowed, to me, is being more than cruel it is being brutal. In my opinion runaway scores do not help the losing team's water polo program nor does it help other schools in that area that want to begin a water polo program.

But I digress from the subject at hand not for wonted reasons but for reasons of an informational nature. Next the article will be broken up into several sections, "Player Advantages", "Team Advantages", and "Referee Rule Interpretations." Thus, I will give the reader a half a dozen examples of what he or she can do in each of the three categories.

Player Advantages

Weakness:  Player drops his or her hips when you have the ball and you have your back to the player.
Advantage: Turn the player and gain inside water.

Weakness:  Player drops his or her hips while defending the drive.
Advantage: Drive close to the defender and while he or she is trying to get his or her hips up cut the player for inside water.

Weakness: Player defending you while playing in the 1 or 5 position turns his or her head periodically for a fairly long time.
Advantage: Back door the defender for inside water or a timing shot when the player turns his or her head.

Weakness: Player grabs you every time you drive.
Advantage: Take a wide angle on your drive so the person has to reach for the grab and hopefully the referee will see the grab.

Weakness:  Player defending you cheap shot artist.
Advantage: Don't get back by punching or kicking but rather drive on him or her and cause the player to make an exclusion foul, or, better still, get a score while this player is defending you.

Weakness:  Player is a slow swimmer.
Advantage: Counter attack and drive the player until the player turns as blue as the blue stripe on the ball.

Weakness: Player drops his or her head when trying to turn and draw a foul on the perimeter with the ball.
Advantage: Have the defensive player raise his or her arms very high at the same time the player drops his or her head and then have the defensive player counter spin around the player for the steal. -- John Zeigler, Bucknell University

Weakness: Goalie likes to come out of the cage to steal the ball from your 2-meter player
Advantage: Fake a pass to the 2-meter set and take a quick shot on goal. -- Bill Harris, Fordham University

Weakness: Goalie has heavy hands which means his hands are sculling deep in the water.
Advantage: Shoot over the goalies head or shoot for the high corners of the goal. -- Jim Yeamans, Slippery Rock University

Team Advantages

Weakness:  Team has a player who turns beet red which usually means the player has not been drinking any liquids and is a little dehydrated.
Advantage: Work the player on both defense and offense and the player will get slower and weaker and pretty soon you will own this player. The first time the ROCK men ever beat Navy was when we double teamed their super 2-meter player until he turned red as barn and we could play him one on one.

Weakness:  Team has a player who refuses to shoot or is very poor outside shooter.
Advantage: Forget trying to do any fancy drop plays just drop from this player no matter where he or she is. The second time the ROCK men beat Navy was because they had a player who just wouldn't shoot the ball, so we dropped from him no matter what position he played. This player was an excellent defensive player but he wouldn't shoot.

Weakness: Team has no left handed players.
Advantage: Try playing the 4 - 5 drop on this team. A couple of years ago the ROCK men had been beaten badly by George Washington and, thus, had a lower seed going into the championships. But GW had no left handed players and the ROCK used a 4 - 5 drop to beat them in sudden death overtime in the first round championship game.

Weakness:  Team has a good offensive player who doesn't defend the drive well.
Advantage: On offense who ever that player is defending becomes the designated first driver. Drive that person until the cows come home. You probably won't have to wait until the last cow comes home because that person will have three exclusion fouls way before that. The Rock's women have caused more poor drive defenders to be excluded than the number of splinters these players received from riding the bench after their exclusions.

Weakness:  Team has a good 2 meter player who is not well conditioned
Advantage: Swim that person from the two to the two until that person's tongue hangs so far down it touches the bottom of the of the pool and by the third or fourth quarter that player will be a hindrance rather than a help to his or her team.  The ROCK women in the Nationals were playing a California team with a great 2-meter person whose first name was Laura. Only Laura wasn't in the best of shape, so we swam her from the two to the two and a third of the way through the third quarter she couldn't score from 2-meters any more and we beat them by three or four points.

Weakness: Team red dogs the players in the 4 and 5 positions and chases the ball on the back line for their six on five defense.
Advantage: All most certainly two or three passes between the 1 and 6 will open up the 2 or 3 for an easy inside goal. One time when Lynn Comer-Kachmarik and Leslie Entewistle played for the ROCK women we finished second in the AAU Women's Indoor Nationals with Lynn's passes from the 6 to Leslie's shots on goal from the 3 position on our six on five offense. Lynn won over ten excusions each game.

Weakness: Team has a player who is an exceptional 2-meter defender.
Advantage: Swim your second best 2-meter player into set, and the first chance you get send in you 2-meter top gun into set while swimming out of set the opponents strong 2-meter defender. -- Bill Harris, Fordham University

Weakness: Team has equal or better talent than your team.
Advantage: The easiest way to separate your team from an opponent with equal or better talent is to do everything in your power to have your team be the best conditioned team in the game. That means your practices should be run at a level of effort that is as high or higher than what is required in a game. Certainly there are times at practice when you are teaching a new concept or working on a new skill where you slow things down, but generally when the team is "playing" at practice the coach should emphasize quality over quantity. -- Mike Schofield, U.S. Naval Academy

Weakness: Team you are playing against likes to hold, grab, and play very physical.
Advantage: Use MOVEMENT against this team. Drive and drive again, and don't drive just to drive but drive with a purpose to score. The more you drive the more likely the other team players are going to either get ejected or dejected. Many of the players will start to back off, because they will be afraid of the havoc driving can cause them. Plus, they probably don't like to swim unnecessarily, and that's the reason they are holding in the first place. -- Alan Huckins, Hartwick College

Weakness: Team defense that is working but the other team is starting to figure out a way to break it or the other team calls a timeout.
Advantage: Change the defense and come back to it in a couple possessions. If the other team is smart they most likely will cause you to go through the whole process several times. -- Alan Huckins, Hartwick College

Referee Rule Interpretations

Interpretation: Referee calls quick foul on the perimeter.
Advantage: Have players on the perimeter play for the foul.

Interpretation: Referee calls slow fouls on the perimeter. 
Advantage: Have players do layout passes.

Interpretation: Referee has a thin skin while ref'ing.
Advantage: Don't yell at the referee because it will probably hurt your team

Interpretation: Referee has a thick skin while ref'ing.
Advantage: Don't yell at the referee because it will do your team no good.

Interpretation: Referee's exclusion fouls are as hard to get as it was to get the old "Yes"
rock and roll band to play a truly last concert. (My oldest son Wynne conned me into letting him go to three of their LAST concerts.)
Advantage: Make him or her a believer by scoring early when in a position to get an exclusion or a four meter call.

Interpretation: Referee calls exclusion fouls on the 2-meter player or the 2-meter defender while they are wrestling for position without the ball. If this is the case then you are on a different planet than I am.
Advantage: This might well bring back the dynamic water polo game. The game where the 2-meter player turns players, shoots, and even makes passes, and the drivers drive, pick, and pick and roll? Where the defenders have to really play defense and not just grab and hold? (Just checking to see if you are still reading the article.)

Interpretation: The referee won't take verbal comments from coaches.
Advantage: Make comments to your players - things you want the referee to know. For example, the referee misses a push off allowing a score. This referee will boot you if you say anything, so tell your player "That is OK the player pushed off. Hopefully the referees will see it next time". Another example is when the defense is playing the man and not the ball. Say to the player "The referee thinks your head is the ball". (Using this technique I have only been kicked off the deck one time, and that was during the Men's Junior Nationals at Navy. Navy's set was huge! He had my fairly, big 2-meter defender in an arm lock and the two were back to back on the two meter line. When the ball came into set, the referee kicked my player out. I said to the player "What does he think you are STUPID?" Immediately the referee kicked me off the deck. Later I found out the referee thought I called him stupid!) -- Sandy Nitta

Interpretation: In a game on our recent trip to California we noticed noticed the referees were using slow whistles on the perimeter and easy ejections on the set.
Advantage: We pressed hard on the perimeter and pushed the set out.Then we fouled on the perimeter and dropped. After the foul we also pressed hard on the passing lanes to take away the pass as well. This type of drop made it easier to defend the 2 meter set.This worked with one set of referees but not with other referees. We had to adjust not only to the teams but also to the referees. In many games the referee calls were different from what we were use to seeing. -- Ted Breshan, Johns Hopkins University

Doc's Weakness

There are so many ways to take advantage of game situations that you would need a database to keep up with them. Hmmm not a bad idea. A half a dozen of each category is merely the tip of the iceberg and I am too old to remember those below the surface of the ones I gave you. So my weakness is a memory loss and your advantage is that I am asking other coaches to send me one weakness with a way to take advantage of that weakness or a referee's interpretation of the rules that a team may make into an advantage. I will take each one and enter it in the article in blue print with the coach's name and school appended to it.

It will be interesting to note how many of the coaches you like or you think are excellent coaches there will be who will send in a weakness and advantage. If they do you can take advantage of their wisdom and if they don't it is probably because they haven't read this article, or more importantly they don't need to read this article. This is, however, a simple way for seasoned coaches to help novice coaches take advantage of the knowledge the seasoned coaches have accumulated.

 Come on coaches this is your opportunity to help not only present day coaches but also a chance to create a data base that may well help generations of coaches. Look at it as one small step for today's coaches and one giant step for all future coaches. Thanks in advance for those coaches who respond.

Email Coach Hunkler at [email protected]