Jim SocumShot DoctorBandage Ball

Volume 3 Number 10 May 1, 2011
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.



Photograph by Deep Blue Media.eu and Inside Foto.it

Until recently the left hand and right leg, critical parts of the shot, were not acknowledged.  There is just “strong legs.”  The word “strong legs” tells nothing at all.  For example, what are the actions of “strong legs?”  No one knows.   In particular, what does the right leg do?  No one knows.  What does the left hand do—nobody knows?  The left hand and right leg, however, are involved on every shot.  The combination of not knowing the actions of the right leg and the left hand has a drastic effect on the player’s shot and the coach’s ability to teach throwing.  Asking the elite level water polo player a question on throwing will get you this stunning response, “I do not know what I do, watch me.”  The elite player knows what he or she does at the muscle level, the motor part of the brain.  However, the language part of the brain is not used and thus the player cannot verbalize what he or she knows viscerally.  When the player or coach watched, all he or she saw was the shooter’s right arm motion and a splash.

The great shooter is usually self-taught.  He or she is an intuitive player who experiments with different shots, is not afraid of failure, and knows kinematically (feeling in the water, touch on the ball) what “magically” works.  The non-intuitive, non-experimenting, fear of failure, numb shooter does not “get it.”  This athlete, and that is about 90-percent of us, needs instruction.  The near great, the good and the average need to be taught.  In analyzing what makes up a great shooter, one sees the use of the left hand and the right leg in every catch, pass and shot.  Does the left hand catch the ball?  Yes, it does by positioning the right hand to catch the ball.  Does the right leg throw the ball?  Yes, it does by starting the shot.  What does the right arm do?  It does not do very much and is the last part of the body to move. What does the left leg do during the shot?  The left leg is fixed, points and pivots, has a weak kick and does not catch the ball or throw the ball.  After a careful evaluation of the facts surrounding the throwing motion reaches only one conclusion, the shooter’s left hand and the right leg are the shot.


In the “Smart Legs Part 1-5,” the use and effect of the right leg are examined.  The right leg is the catch, the pass and the shot.  Whatever the right leg does, the right arm obediently follows.  The shooter’s right leg rules the throwing motion.  Well, that is almost right.  The right leg in conjunction with the left hand are the catch, the pass and the shot.  The old statements such as the Hungarian saying, “The right hip is supreme” and the Serbian saying, “The right leg is everything” has been changed.  The new saying is, “The right leg and left hand are supreme.”   Together, the left hand and the right leg combine to dominate the shot (see Fig. 1).

The best analogy for the right arm is to compare it to the cannon.  The cannon cannot move.  It cannot elevate itself to the correct height, aim, load itself or even light the fuse.  Pretty much all the cannon (the right arm) can do is to go off.  The same is true for the right arm, it only moves forward and splashes the water.  That is not much really considering all of the time focused by the player and coach on the mythical “strong right arm.”  Movement, elevation, aim, cocking, leg and body acceleration are not part of what the right arm does.  All the right arm does is throw the ball.  The right-arm-only-throws-the-ball theory is a myth.  The right arm is a dumb limb when compared to the twenty left hand motions.  The truth is, the shooter’s whole body throws the ball, dominated by the left hand and the right leg. 


Points Stops  Makes the pump fake  Starts the shot
Elevates  Sculls  Advances the ball Follow-Through
Pulls Rotates the hips  Makes the hesie fake  Makes the spin move
Pushes  Catches the ball  Cocks the ball  Changes direction
Turns  Shoots the ball  Steps-out Assists the whip kick

The right leg and the left hand make the catch and fake, cock the ball and the shot.  There are over twenty different duties for the left hand.  One of the most important duties is the length of the right leg creates the length of the right arm cock.  In the picture below, the ball is over the right foot.  When the right foot is not back very far, the arm cock is shortened and there is less power for the shot.

The left hand sculls, elevates, pulls down to begin the shot, pull-through to rotate the hips and body for the shot and to finishes by pulling past the hip on the follow-through to stop the throwing motion.  The truth is without the left hand and the right leg there is no shot.  The great water polo player uses both.


When the shooter’s left hand motion is coordinated with the right leg motion, the player’s throwing motion will function at the highest level.  All mistakes in shooting are left hand and right leg mistakes.  The shot fails because of the left arm and the right leg and  not because of what the right arm or right hand did.  The shooter who looks at his or her right hand after a bad shot has completely missed the point.  The right hand did not fail.  The right arm did not fail.  The failure occurred in how the left hand and the right leg positioned the right arm and hand.  The shooter should be looking at his or her left hand not at the right hand.  Just because the right hand and the right arm were the last part of the body to move and touch the ball does not mean that they are responsible for the bad shot.  The fault is underwater.  The fault is not visible.  What one sees visually is not the answer.  The unseen is the answer and the solution. To know what is going on underwater requires the shooter to concentrate on the left hand and the right leg (see Fig. 2).

A simple demonstration of the dominance of the left hand and the right leg is in order.  Put the left hand on the head and try to shoot.  The shooter cannot shoot the ball.  If the shooter freezes the right leg motion of balancing out, the shot, then the shooter cannot shoot the ball.  The right arm was just as strong as ever; the left leg was kicking more than ever.  Yet the shot failed miserably.  



The left hand pulls down and the right leg kicks.  The body responds to the motion and powerfully throws the ball.  Trying to shoot the ball without the left hand pull down is futile.  Pulling down with the left hand and not kicking with the right leg is futile.  These two parts of the body work together to throw the ball (see Fig. 3).



The left hand sweeps water to the left to rotate the body; the right leg swings back to a straight back and slightly bent at the knee position.  The result of these two actions is for the body to turn to the right and the long arm cock appears.  If the left hand does not sweep, the body does not rotate.  When the right leg does not swing back, there is not arm cock.  It is said incorrectly in Hungary that the right leg makes the left foot point.  This is only partially true.  The Hungarian demonstration is for the person to stand on the deck with the feet, hips and shoulders square to the wall.  Then the player’s right leg swings way back and the left shoulder point and left foot point appears.  A great demonstration except it does not tell the whole story.  On land, it is easy to swing the right leg back through the air.  It is different matter in the water; the water is 784 times denser than the air.  The right leg only swings half way back in the water due to the enormous drag (see Fig. 4).


For the shooter to get the complete body rotation and the right leg straight back, the left hand must turn the body the other 50-percent to overcome the right leg drag. Otherwise, the shooter’s right leg is slightly back and to the side.  The result of a “short leg” (leg not all the way back) is a short arm cock and therefore a weak shot.  The right leg makes the length of the arm cock with an assist from the left hand.  Here are three examples.  A square shooter with the right leg under the hip has no arm cock and throws a weak lob-like shot.  A shooter with the right leg half way back has a short arm cock and throws a shot at half speed.  The shooter with a long leg length (leg cock) has a long arm cock and a powerful shot.  With right leg in the straight-back position, the shooter’s long right arm cock appears. If the shooter uses a long arm cock and does not have the long extended right leg support, the shooter falls backward and throws the ball over the goal. For a demonstration, stand with the feet together and extend the right arm way back for a long arm cock—the player falls over.  Without first having the left hand sweep, the long right leg extension and long arm cock the powerful shot is not possible (see Fig. 5).                           



The shooter throws the ball the hardest when he or she elevates high out of the water.  A recent study examined the best water polo shooters and found that they got the highest out of the water.  The worse shooters have the lowest vertical height out of the water.  This fact corresponds with basketball and volleyball players.  The basketball players and volleyball players with the greatest vertical height are the best players.  A basketball player that cannot jump high cannot reach the hoop; a low jumping volleyball player cannot hit the ball over the net.  The same fact is true for water polo except even more so.  The higher the water polo player is out of the water to shoot the ball the faster the shot.  The water’s greater density causes drag on the shooter’s body.  Drag causes power loss and power loss means a slower shot. By kicking hard with the right leg, the shooter lifts the body higher out of the water and reduces drag significantly.  This applies even more so to women players as they have more drag to overcome in the water due to their wider hips. The higher the woman elevates out of the water, the less drag on her hips, the faster her body rotates and the higher the ball speed.  Great height out of the water, however, requires the left hand to pull down to elevate the shooter another 6-inches (15-centimeters) out of the water.  When the shooter’s left hand does not pull down there is more drag and a slower shot (see Figs. 6, 7). 


In the men’s version of the pump fake, the vertical player moves forward with a right leg kick while the left hand pulls and pushes the water to rotate the hips for the arm swing and propel the player’s body forward.  For the more buoyant women, they lie on their side and use the left hand to pull themselves forward through the water with a sidestroke kick.

In Smart Legs Part 5, the author spoke of the new single right leg breastroke whip kick as a woman-only kick.  The theory was that women float and can skim across the surface using the breastroke kick.  Men, do not float, but as water polo players they use their greater arm and leg strength to stay above water and swim.  The breastroke whip kick works even better for men due to their superior strength.   The breastroke kick is more efficient and men advance the ball rapidly.  Because of this new breastroke kick, the men’s old vertical legs pump fake advancing the ball technique is obsolete.



The danger of using the breastroke whip kick shot or the standard overhand shot was the shooter threw the ball to the same side of the goal.  Where ever the left foot points the ball follows. For example, a shooter above the right goal post throws the ball at the right corner of the goal.  Unfortunately, goalies figured out that anyone using the breastroke kick shot or the standard overhand shot and had pointed the left foot, left hand and left shoulder at the right corner could only throw the ball at the same side right corner of the goal.  Naturally, the goalie set up in the right corner.  The solution is to use the left hand sweep to rotate the shooter’s body so the left foot points at the left corner of the goal for a left corner shot.  Pointing the left shoulder did almost nothing, and  rotating the hips aimed the left foot and the ball at center cage.  Only the shooter’s use of the wide left hand sweeping to the right repositions the left foot so the ball to goes into the left corner of the goal (see Figs. 8, 9).

A new left hand/right leg technique allows the single right leg breastroke kick shot or standard overhand shot to be thrown cross-cage using the left hand.  The shooter holds the left hand wide and sweeps water towards the body (to the right) which turns the body and left foot to point at the left corner of the goal.  Where ever the left foot points and the left hand points, the ball follows.  Goalies now face an unpredictable shot and cannot set up on the shot.  Without the use of the shooter’s left hand to turn the body to shoot cross-cage, the predictable same side breastroke whip kick shot or standard overhand shot is blocked.



The shooter steps-out for a Boyer shot or a side arm shot (see Vertical to Horizontal Shots Part 2 and 3).  There is much attention given by the coach to the right leg step-out motion.  The right knee must be high in the water so shooter can step-out without crossing the legs.  Crossing the legs causes the shooter to sink, drop the elbow and shoot at center cage instead of around the goalie.  The proper step-out right leg motion creates a small lateral movement with the right arm positioned at 45-degrees.  However, without the left hand pushing water out laterally from the left hip area there cannot be a step-out Boyer shot or a side arm shot.  The lateral motion created by the left hand moves the body sideways.  For a demonstration, leave the left arm motionless by the side of the hip and step-out with the right leg.  The body hardly moves sideways.  Both the right leg step-out and the left hand push are necessary for the step-out shot (see Fig. 10).




The follow-through is one third of the three parts of the throwing motion.  There is cocking the ball, acceleration of the body and right arm and the follow-through.  In the follow-through stage, all of the body motion stops.  The hand slapping the water after the shot is an example of the follow-through.  The body begins slowing as soon as the ball leaves the shooter’s hand.  The left hand and right leg control follow-through stage.  The left hand pulls down for elevation and then pulls back to rotate the body to throw the ball.  The left hand continues pulling backward for a complete rotation of the body to the left.  The right leg moves forward of the left leg and assists in rotating the body fully to the left and stopping the throwing motion.  With the left hand pulled back to the hip and the right leg forward, the shooter’s body is completely turned to the left and stops (see Figs. 11, 12).

In concluding, the left hand and the right leg combine to make the throwing motion.  Until recently, no one paid any attention to what particular arm and leg made up the throwing motion.  The previous focus was on the shooter’s right arm.  The new focus is on the left hand and the right leg.  The player’s left hand has twenty different actions that are used to elevate, rotate, push, pull, assist the right leg and stop the body.  The right leg also does its part and balances out the body, creates great power, makes the long arm cock, starts the shot and assists in ending the shot in the follow-through stage.  All mistakes in shooting are made by the left hand and the right leg.  If the player or coach wants to fix the throwing motion, he or she must focus on these two critical parts of the body.  The player’s left hand and right leg are the catch, pass and the shot.

Next month: The Left Hand and Right Leg Part 2
© Copyright 2011 Jim Solum

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