Jim SocumShot DoctorBandage Ball

Volume 1 Number 3 May 1, 2008
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.


The shooter has mastered how to throw a power shot and a skip shot now learns how to put topspin on the ball and how to curve the ball.  There are five new shots: the topspin fastball, topspin skip shot, topspin curve fastball, bar-in curve shot and the curve skip shot.  Each shot uses a new grip called the football grip, a new snap wrist snap called the topspin release and a new ball spin, the topspin. The key to all of the new shots is the use of the forward rotating ball spin called the topspin. Each one of the topspin shots builds upon the other, until the shooter develops the hand skills necessary to throw a curve skip shot.  The curve skip shot hits the water, skips up and curves into the goal.  The goalie is out of position to block a ball that curves into the goal. 


The shooter learns how to put topspin on the ball by using a new handgrip called a football grip and a new release, the topspin release.  The football grip has the shooter’s hand on top of the ball with the fingers pointing inward.  From this position, the hand moves an inch on top of the ball for the topspin release to release the ball. The new grip, release and ball spin create a ball that rotates forward and curves in the air or in the water. The aerial aiming point and skip point are also different for a ball with topspin that curves.  Curved fastballs and curve skip shots are shots used by the serious student of the game. 



In last month’s skip shot article, three different hand positions were used to skip the ball: 3-finger release, 2-finger release and the index-finger release.  There is a fourth release, the topspin release, which is the basis of this article.  The topspin fastball is a power shot with a straight and flat ball trajectory with a forward spinning ball.  The ball is thrown using a football grip with a topspin release.  The topspin fastball is a power shot thrown at the high corner of the goal.  It is a shot that overpowers the goalie and at the same time deceives the goalie by blurring the ball stripes.  A goalie watches the speed of the rotation of the stripes on the ball to determine the speed of the ball and the timing to jump up to block the shot.  A ball with blurred stripes cannot be read.

The football grip used for the topspin shot in water polo is the same hand position the quarterback in football uses to throw a football.  The shooter needs a strong grip and a “smart hand” with touch.  A smart hand is a hand capable of 1-finger, 2-finger and topspin releases and placing different spins on the ball. The topspin shooter’s wrist does not snap down hard on the release of the ball as is done with the standard wrist snap.  Instead, the wrist moves sideways a small amount and only places spin on the ball. 

The new topspin shooter, due to the topspin on the ball sees the ball rise about 12-inches in the middle of the shot, flatten out and hit the high corner of the goal.  The topspin shooter is not alarmed when the ball rises slightly.  As the shooter achieves better control of the ball, the ball’s slight upward arc disappears and the shot remains flat all of the way to the goal.    


Skip Shot Shooter

The topspin release is used to throw a topspin skip shot or curve shot. The topspin skip shot has the ball spinning forward to skip off the water using a topspin release.  The ball skips off the water with very little force and lifts off the water at a sharp 60-angle using a goal line (1-meter) or 1.5-meter skip point.  The shooter uses a football grip with the hand on top of the ball and the fingers pointing inward with topspin placed on the ball. The advantage of topspin is the ball rotates forward and does not dig into the water during the skip shot. 

The standard backspin ball spin has the ball rotating backward.  The backspinning ball digs into the ball into the water before skipping upward. This ball digging is why a backspin skip shot sometimes hits the water and stops.  The topspin on the ball pulls the ball out of the water.    A topspin skip shot hits the water and leaps up.  Another advantage of the topspin is the ball can be curved. 

As the shooter masters the topspin shot he or she begins to realize that the ball can be released and skipped with little effort.  In fact, a paradox arises: the less force used by the shooter’s wrist and hand the better the skip shot.  The shooter has been taught to snap the wrist as hard as possible.  With the topspin skip shot the reverse is true.  The snap and release of the ball by the hand is soft and slight. 



The curved fastball shot is the foundation shot that the shooter learns before he or she advances to throwing the curve skip shot. The ball is thrown cross-cage from the left wing and curves into the high right corner of the goal.  The left wing is a difficult spot in the pool for the shooter.  The standard 3-finger release cross-cage power shot usually misses the right corner of the goal by 3-inches.  The topspin curve solves this problem and curves the shot into the goal using the correct aiming point. 

The shooter uses a specific aerial aiming point to the curve fastball.  The topspin ball is aimed 12-inches away from the right goal post and above the 2-meter line.   Twelve and two is the rule to follow on a curve shot. The 12 & 2 aerial aiming point (red dot) gives the curved ball the room to curve into the goal (see Figs. 1, 2). The shooter makes a mistake when the shooter uses an aiming point (black dot) such as the high corner of the goal to curve the ball.  The ball goes into the middle of the goal instead of the corner due to the ball curving (see Fig. 3).  When the ball misses the goal there is backspin on the ball and it goes in straight line. (see Fig. 4).

Curve balls are common in American baseball and European water polo. Curve shots in American water polo are rare.  The European shooter shoots cross-cage at the far side corner, curves the ball into the goal, away from the goalie for a high percentage shot.  The topspin curve fastball used to shoot a power shot with a mild curve of a few degrees.  The cross-cage shot only curves about 6-to-12-inches to go into the goal.  The shooter uses a football grip to create a ball with topspin that curves.  The topspin curve shot uses the standard overhand arm motion with the arm close to the ear on the release.  A side arm position is not used to throw a curve nor is a sidespin placed on the ball.  It is the position of the hand using the football grip in the overhand arm motion that causes the ball to curve. The curve shot has a slight topspin/diagonal spin on the ball. 

At the release of the ball using the football grip, the shooter’s fingers remain pointing inward. The inward pointing fingers positioning prevent the ball from traveling in a straight line.  For a demonstration, hold the hand in front of the corner of the goal with the fingers pointing inward.  The ball cannot go through the fingers.  The shooter’s hard wrist snap used for standard backspin power shot is unnecessary.  The hand and wrist on the curve fastball and the curve skip shot   barely move with the hand used only to place spin on the ball. 

The drill to practice this curve shot is to have the shooter hold on to the goal lane line or push off the wall, step-out at 45-degrees and throw a curve.  The curved ball pulls out away from the behind goal and then curves back into the far corner of the goal.  When the ball is released with backspin on the ball, it travels in a straight line passed the right goal post.



The bar-in curve shot hits the edge of the goal post and deflects (bar-in) into the goal. The shooter uses the standard power shot with a normal hand behind-the-ball position with backspin on the ball and a slight increase in fingertip pressure by one finger.  The shooter throws the ball cross-cage at the edge of the goal post from the right wing or the left wing at maximum power. The bar-in shot has a micro curve causing the ball to curve ever so slightly into the goal as it hits the edge of the goal post. 

The tiny curve of the bar-in is created by unequal fingertip pressure by one finger (index or ring) on the ball during the 3-finger release. The standard power shot without this tiny curve hits the edge of the goal post and bounces back into the pool.   The advantage of a bar-in shot is the ball scores because the goalie is afraid to place a hand in front of the goal post to block the shot.

The left wing cross-cage shot at the right corner leads with the ring finger of the hand. The ring finger slightly increases ring fingertip pressure and the ball makes a tiny curve to the left. Do not turn the turn hand.  If the wrist turns, the ball curves 3-feet into the center of the goal.  It is a mistake for the left wing shooter to lead with the index finger because the index finger pushes the ball to the outside of the bar’s edge and the ball bounces out.   

The right wing shooter shooting cross-cage at the left corner has the index finger lead.  The shooter’s index finger moves ever so slightly to cause the ball to curve a tiny bit to the left and deflect off the edge of the goal post into the goal.  A mistake occurs if the shooter’s ring finger leads on the right wing shot as the ball is pushed to the outside with the ball defecting away from the goal post.  When the hand is perfectly flat with equal fingertip pressure the ball hits the bar’s edge and bounces right back to the shooter’s hand.  The shooter practices the bar-in drill using four shooting positions:  shooter is above the left or right post on the 2-meter line or 4-meter line taking a cross-cage shot at the edge of the opposite goal post.  The left wing shooter leads with the ring finger.   The right wing shooter leads with the index finger. 



The curve skip shot is just a curve fastball aimed at the water.  The curved skip shot uses the same arm and hand motion as the topspin power shot and skip shot.  Instead of throwing the ball at the high corner of the goal, the ball is thrown at the water.  The shooter’s smart hand makes the adjustments necessary to curve skip the ball into the goal.  The shooter’s hand applies a little more spin on the ball with the rest of the hand mechanics remaining the same. 

The curve skip shot’s skip point is a 12-inches away from the right goal post and on the 1.5-to-2-meter line.  The curve skip shot uses the same vertical distance from the goal as is used by the index finger skip point and the topspin skip point.  The ball’s skip point is moved a foot away from the goal post to allow room for the curve skip shot to hit the water and curve into the corner.  The shooter takes into consideration the curved trajectory of the ball.  The shooter sees the skip shot curve and break sharply at a 60 to 90-degree angle.  A narrow and sharp curve, curving at 80-90-degrees uses a skip point of 6-inches in front of the right goal post. A curve skip shot at 60-degrees uses a skip point of 12-inches from the right goal post.  The more narrow and sharp the curve and break of the ball, the closer the skip point is to the goal post.

The curve skip shot shooter begins practicing by setting up on the 4-meter line, outside the left goal post and shooting cross-cage at the right corner.  The shot should curve a foot in front of the right goal post and skip up into the high corner of the goal. However, this result does not happen in the beginning.  Most of the skip shots hit the water and skip into the low corner of the goal.  Many early curve skip shots do not curve at all and skip out of the pool; other skip shots curve too much and hit center cage.  The shooter, after much trial and error, masters the curve skip shot and curves the ball at will.   


Problem        Fix
Ball does not curve:    Football grip is turned into standard backspin release
Curve is wide of goal:    Skip point is outside the goal post, wrist turned
Curve is narrow of goal:    Skip point too close to center of the goal
Curve skips over goal:   Ball sidespin and side arm position is eliminated
Deflects off bar to right:
  Index finger pushes the ball away from right post
Deflects off bar to left:    Ring finger pushes the ball away from left post

In concluding, the modern shooter develops a smart hand that masters the topspin ball spin and is capable of curving the ball in the air and off the water.  The shooter should select the correct aiming point in the air or skip point on the water to fit the amount of curve on the ball.  The advanced shooter has total control of the ball and its placement in the goal.  The modern shooter owes the ball. 

This article is from a chapter of Dr. Solum’s book on shooting called: The Science of Shooting. The book is available from the author at [email protected]

©Copyright 2008 Jim Solum

Next Month: Skip Shot: Part 3

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