Jim SocumShot DoctorBandage Ball

Volume 3 Number 1 April 1, 2010
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.



Water polo coaches have long pondered how fast a ball could be thrown by a shooter.  The coaches wondered how much poor technique affected the speed of the ball.  Were the rules of shooting they had been using valid? A radar gun was used to check all of the theories of shooting to see if they were accurate.  Players’ ball speeds were timed from high school soph/frosh and varsity teams, up to the US Men and Women’s National Teams and the Hungarian Men’s National Team.

The radar gun was borrowed from a local university baseball team.  Radar guns are readily available if the coach asks the various baseball teams in his or her area.  High school and college baseball teams regularly use them for clocking the ball speeds of their pitchers.

The technique that was used for finding the ball speed of the shooter was to stand behind the goal and point the radar gun at the ball as it was released from the shooter’s hand.  The shooter was positioned on the 6-meter line, on the left to increase shoulder rotation with the ball in the water.  The ball was thrown at the low corner of the goal so all of the force of the shooter could be used.  This ball position in the water standardized the testing procedures.

When the player started with the ball in the air 5 MPH (8 KPH) was lost off the velocity of the ball.  If the shooter tried to throw at the high corners of the goal 2 MPH (3 KPH) was lost as the shooter took a little velocity off the ball to improve high corner accuracy.

Faking the ball resulted in various gains and losses in ball speed.  All fakes were eliminated from testing because of this variation in ball speed.  The fastest of the fakes, the standard pump fake, resulted in a 2 MPH (3 KPH) increase in ball speed due to a longer arm faking motion.  Hesitation fakes where the arm cock was short and the shoulders, head and elbow faked resulted in slower ball speeds but were more likely to score.

The hesie fakes may slow the ball speed but they were more likely to score because the goalie jumped up and committed on the first fake and left the goal open.  Should the shooter use a faster fake to overpower the goalie or a quick fake and throw to the open corner?  The situation will determine what type of fake the shooter uses.

The speed of the shot is determined by several factors: strength, extension, flexion and rotation.   Force times Mass divided by Time x Distance equals Velocity is the equation.  For the purposes of simplifying this article the length of the arm and arm strength are the major understandable factors in explaining ball velocity.

The longer the arm is the greater the distance that force can be applied to accelerate the ball.  This is why a longer 2-foot (61-centimeters) long arm cock/arm extension produces a faster ball speed than a short arm extension of 6-inches (15-centimetes).  This is why taller players throw the ball at a higher velocity.  Taller male players typically throw the ball up to 10 MPH faster than shorter players.  Men on the senior national team throw the ball on the average 10 MPH (16 KPH) faster than senior national team women, 48 MPH versus 38 MPH (77 v. 61 KPH).  However, the difference in the fastest shot between men and women is 18 MPH (30 KPH).  This is an anomaly, a male player from Croatia threw the ball at 60 MPH (98.5 KPH) which was 5 MPH (8 KPH) faster than any other male player has ever thrown the ball.  He was 6 feet 7 inches and 260 pounds (2-meters, 118 kilos).  When he hit the crossbar with the ball moved the goal back a 12-inches (30.5-centimeters) in the water.


The more strength a player has, the faster he or she can accelerate the arm to throw the ball.  This is why stronger players throw the ball harder than players with less strength.  This is the reason that coaches have players lift weights to increase their arm strength.  A stronger arm (and body) means a higher velocity shot.  All players of any size can increase their strength by weightlifting and therefore increase the speed of their shot.

A secondary effect of strength is an increase in arm quickness.  The arm (and body) requires less time to move when the shooter is stronger and the shooter can accelerate the arm sooner to maximum speed.  Shooters throwing the ball the hardest usually have the quickest moving arms.

No one throws a high velocity shot (high-speed shot) with a slow arm motion.  A 50 MPH shot has the ball leaving the shooter’s hand at 50 MPH (80.5 KPH).  The shooter’s hand is moving at 50 MPH.  The ball is inert.  The ball cannot move unless the arm throws the ball.  The speed of the arm is the speed of the ball.  The faster the shooter’s body and arm is moving, the faster the shot.  The more efficient the throwing mechanics the higher the ball speed.

The arm extension or length of the shooter’s arm cannot be increased.  The only way for a player with a short arm to throw the ball harder is to increase his or her total body strength.  Arm strengthening and shoulder strengthening exercises consist of the: bench press (Triceps), bicep curls (Biceps), lateral raises (Deltoids), pec flyes (Pectorals), tubing/dumbbell pulls for the rotator cuff.  Stability ball exercises are good all round exercises for sit ups and other exercises.  Balancing on rocker and balance boards while throwing and catching a light medicine ball are also good whole body exercises.


The strength of the player, however, is not the strength of the right arm, as commonly assumed by the shooter.  The strengthening of the shooter does not mean only the strengthening of the arm.  The whole body throws the ball-not just the arm.  The shoulders, abs, hips and legs contribute force to increase the velocity of the shooter’s body and transfers that force into the right arm.

The player must lift weights, use tubing, medicine balls, sit-ups, pushups and dips through the throwing motions of flexion, extension and rotation to try to duplicate the actions of the throwing motion.  The player does bicep curls, sit-ups, hamstring curls, extension: triceps extension, quadriceps extensions, back hyperextension/back crunches and rotation: trunk rotators (player standing, barbell on shoulders, rotate to each side), medicine ball throws, balance ball exercises, weightlifting on a balance ball, tubing on the legs for internal and external rotation and eggbeater drills in the water with and without medicine balls and swimming against tubing to increase strength and balance.

When the whole body strength of the shooter is increased, all of the muscular strength of the player can be used to throw the highest velocity shot their body is capable of throwing.  Arm strength without leg strength not only reduces ball velocity but creates a shooter that falls over when attempting to throw the ball.  Without abdominal strength for flexion of the torso and hip strength for rotation 5-10 MPH (8-16 KPH) is lost in ball speed.  The whole body must be used to generate maximum force to throw the ball.

All of the strength for the shot as stated above does not come from the arm.  The legs and hips provide 50-percent of the power.  The mid-section of the shooter’s body, the trunk or torso, consisting of the abs and back, produces 25-percent of the power for throwing the ball.  The arm, contrary to popular belief produces only 25-percent of the power.  Fully 75-percent of the total power of the shooter is separate from the right arm.

Many water polo weightlifting programs place an overemphasis on upper body (arm, chest) strength training.  By only using arm strengthening bench presses and bicep curls exercises the shooter will not make the shooter’s whole body (legs, hips and core) to throw the ball as hard as is possible.  Shooting is not an arm shot; shooting is a whole body shot.

A side benefit of increased strength is an increase in stability and accuracy when throwing.  The shooter with strong legs, strong hips and a strong torso produces a stable platform that maintains verticality so the shot actually hits the spot in the goal the ball was thrown toward.



Another benefit of the vertical shooter is that all of the strength of the body is directed forward to throw the ball.  All of the momentum of the body must move forward to create the highest velocity shot.  When the player is falling backwards with the arm accelerating forward the shot will be slower.  And it will also be an inaccurate shot.  The shooter cannot be involved in countermotion.  That is, the shooter cannot be moving backward and forward at the same time and create a powerful shot.

The older the player becomes the higher the velocity of their shot.  The older player is stronger, taller and has a longer arm, torso, legs and greater muscular strength. 

The effect of gender is that the well-trained male shooter will throw the ball 25-percent harder than the well-trained female shooter from high school on.  In age group water polo, however, many of the younger and faster maturing girls can actually throw the ball harder than the slower maturing boys.

On average men are 5-inches (13-centimeters) taller and are 40-pounds (18 kilos) heavier compared to women. Men have 50-percent greater upper body strength.  But men have only 14-percent greater leg strength when compared to women of the same size.  It is only in arm strength that the male has a great advantage.

The gender differences are not as great as assumed.  The ball speed difference between well-trained men and women is about 25-percent.  The high school senior girl averages 28 MPH (45 KPH) shot.  The high school senior boy throws at 38 MPH (61 KPH).  The fastest high school boy throws the ball at 45 MPH (72 KPH).  The fastest high school girl shooters throw in the mid 30’s (48's KPH).

There is a difference in throwing speed between males and females, but most of the pronounced differences are due to poor training and throwing technique of the girls and women.  A poorly trained female shooter can throw the ball up to 50-percent slower than the expected speed of the well-trained female shooter.  The girl throwing a lob-like power shot is not a reflection of her strength but of her training.  Fifteen MPH (24 KPH) girl shooters should not be the norm.  Girls throwing the ball at 30 MPH (48 KPH) should be the norm and not the exception.

The effect of age on strength and height is 20 MPH (32 KPH).  This difference is illustrated between the ball speeds of a freshman boy in high school and the same player at 23-years of age.  Nine years of age makes a 20 MPH (32 KPH) speed difference between the two players.

With increased age from the last year of middle school to high school there is increased strength, arm length and extension.  The difference between the 8th grade boy throwing as opposed to a 12th grade boy throwing, only a five-year age difference, is 13 MPH (21 KPH).  Five years makes a big difference in ball velocity for the shooter.  There are differences in speeds of 25 MPH (40 KPH) for an 8th grade boy compared to 38 MPH (61 KPH) for the 12th grade boy.

On senior national teams the fastest woman is clocked at 42 MPH (67.6 KPH) and the fastest man at 60 (96.5 KPH).  Only five men have thrown the ball at 55 MPH (88.5 KPH) and only one at 60 MPH. Most of the men have recorded these ball speeds in the mid 1980’s when the game was played by slower and huge-sized players with great strength and slow swimming speed.  The recent international top ball speed for the more mobile big men is about 50 MPH (80.5 KPH).

It is interesting to note that the fastest woman on the senior national throws the ball 4 MPH (6 KPH) faster than average high school varsity senior boy’s: 42 MPH v. 38 MPH (67.7 v. 61 KPH). In water polo games between the woman’s senior national team and varsity boys playing in the same high school tournament, the national women beat the boys most of the time.


Mph   Kph   Types of Shots
60    96.5   Fastest Men’s Shot
54-41      87-66      US Men’s National Team: range from power to quick shooters
47   75   US Men’s Team Average
47   75   Fastest University Male Shooter
45   72   Fastest High School Male Shooter
44   71   Average Speed of University Male Shooter
42   67   Fastest Woman Shooter
42-33   67-53   Average US Women’s Team: range from power to quick shooters
41   67   Average speed for R.B. shot for US National male shooter


Mph   Kph   Types of Shot
39   63   Average Speed of Junior College Male Shooter
38   61   Average 12th Grade Boy Shooter
36   58   Average 11th Grade Boy Shooter
34   55   Average 10th Grade Boy Shooter
30   48   Average  9th  Grade Boy Shooter
25   40   Average  8th Grade Boy Shooter
15-30      24-48      Average Range of Ball Speeds for High School Girls

The next list is a chart of the speeds of the various shots from the standard overhand power shot to the lob.  These shot speeds were taken from US men’s senior national team players except for two overhand shots by a Croatian and an Australian men and a US senior national team woman.  As one can see from the chart below, the speed of the shot decreases as the arm moves away from the vertical to the horizontal, i.e., from overhand shot to the drive-in shot.



Mph      Kph   Shot
60   96.5      Overhand Shot
47   75   Turner Shot
47   75   Side Arm Shot
44   71   Boyer Lateral Movement Shot
42   67   Rear Back Shot
40   64   Backhand Shot
40   64   Sweep Shot
35   54   Screw Shot
25   40   Greenie Shot 
22   35   Topspin Lob 
15   24   Standard Backspin Lob, Pop shot, T-shot


Mph   Kph    
15   24   Greatest loss of speed is from lack shoulder and hip rotation
5-15      8-24      Range of speed losses when shooter falls over
5   8   Low Elbow that drags in the water
2   3   Ball slips in hand at the release
2   3   Arm is wide of the shooter’s ear

In concluding Radar Part I, the shooter realizes that a high speed shot is not the result of luck, wildness or muscle but comes from perfect throwing mechanics.  Technique not physique is what makes the shot. The vertical shooter with a high elbow strong legs and rotates the hips throws the hardest shot.  The ball is not thrown solely by the right arm but as part of a whole body motion.

The shooter's emphasis should be on control and correct technique and not on throwing the ball blindly at the goalie.  The effect of age, size and gender has a significant effect on ball speed.  It means that older players throw the ball harder than younger players who have not developed the strength or grown in height. Men throw the ball harder than women.  And taller players throw harder than smaller players because they have longer bodies and arms and can apply greater force onto the ball for a longer (arm) distance. 

Various shots have different speeds.  The overhand shot is the fastest.  The drive-in shots are the slowest; with 2-meter shots in between.  As the arm moves from the vertical to the horizontal ball speed is lost.  When the arm is in the air for an overhand shot there is less resistance and greater arm extension and the ball speed is greater than the wet and short arm extension drive-in shot.  The water polo shot is a rotational shot.  The more the player can rotate the shoulders and the hips the faster the shot.  When the player applies all of the knowledge he or she has gained in technique, the shooter masters the art and science of shooting.

Radar Part II to be continued next month.

Copyright 2010 Jim Solum

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