Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 5 Number 3 November 1, 2011
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.


The left hand of the shooter is the forgotten hand.  The left arm is the forgotten arm of the shooter.  Of the four limbs in the body, the left arm and the right leg are the most important.  All players are aware of their right arm motion.  Some players are aware of their right leg motion.  However, almost no players are aware of their left arm motion.  It goes unnoticed.  The question is why?  In the throwing motion, the left hand is more important than the right hand.  The left arm is more important and does many more things than the right arm.  How does one not notice one of the two most critical limbs in the body for throwing the ball?  All of the actions of the left hand are explored in depth in our study of the forgotten left hand and arm.

The coach and the player need to know the theory of shooting.  The water polo player of today is not a cave man throwing rocks at the goal.  The modern water polo player knows the mechanics of the shot.  The unconscious shooter, steeped in myth and magic, has to become enlightened.  He or she has to know what the body is doing during the throwing motion.  The throwing motion is math and mechanics.   Emotion, magic and ego play no part in shooting the ball.  The science of shooting is now upon us.


Cocking Stage


All photographs used in the article are by Allan Lorentzen at mywaterpolopics.com

The throwing motion divides into three parts, a cocking stage, acceleration or throwing stage and a follow-through stage.  Of particular note, the only part of the four limbs of the body that is active in all three stages of the throwing motion is the left arm.  The right arm is the last part of the body to move to throw the ball.  Of these two stages, the cocking stage and acceleration stages, the cocking stage is the most important.  The follow-through stage is automatic as the player’s body turns to the left to slow and stop the body. Almost all mistakes are made in the cocking stage.  The acceleration stage’s body position is set up in the cocking stage.  Whatever mistakes made in the cocking stage transfers into the throwing stage.  For example, the archer to shoot the arrow straight and hit the target, has to cock the bow by having the left foot forward, the right leg back, the hips rotated to the right and the right arm cocked to pull back the arrow and the bowstring.  In the acceleration stage, the archer simply lets go of the arrow. If the archer wants to fix their shot, he or she does not look at the right hand but at the body position.  When applying this analogy to throwing the water polo ball it is simply too late to try to modify an incorrect arm motion as the arm and the ball is accelerating forward (see Fig. 1).

If the coach wants to solve a problem in the right arm throwing motion, he or she must fix it in the cocking stage.  An example of a coach trying to fix a throwing problem is the ball that rises up and goes over the goal.  The coach has taught that the ball goes up because the hand was not on top of the ball.  This is incorrect because if the hand were on top of the ball, the ball would go straight down and land on the water above the shooter’s feet.  The hand should be behind the ball with the fingertips releasing the ball in the center of the ball.  The reason the ball goes high is the thrower’s hand was underneath the ball.  The real reason that the ball went high over the goal was not the right hand but the left hand and the position of the legs.  The legs and the left hand control position of the right hand.  The right hand slides under the ball when the back is not vertical in boys; in girls, the elbow dips down when the body is square to the goal (shoulders, left hand, hips and feet are parallel the goal). 

The position of the right hand and the back are dependent on the leg and left arm position.  The right hand and the back do want the legs and the left arm tell them what to do.  When the legs are split apart in what is called a “split eggbeater” or what the author describes as the “left leg forward and the right leg straight back” the body is angled and the back is vertical.  The boy can now position his right hand so the ball is released in the center of the ball.  The girl with the angled body will not drop the elbow in the middle of the shot.  All these events are set up in the cocking stage of the shot.  Once the body is accelerating forward, nothing can be changed in the throwing motion; what happens underwater is the problem.

A typical mistake is for the shooter to think that the right hand aims the ball.  This is a myth.  The ball is aimed by pointing the left foot at the corner the shooter wants the ball to be thrown at.  In the cocking stage, the shooter points the left foot at the left corner of the goal and then during the throwing stage, the ball goes into the left corner.  To prove this point a simple demonstration is needed.  Have the shooter at center cage and aim the left foot at the right corner of the goal and have the shooter attempt to throw the ball at the left corner.  The shooter cannot get his or her arm past the left foot point.  Wherever the left foot points, the right hand follows. 

Another widely made mistake is to look at the right hand when the ball slipped out of the hand or the ball suddenly curved away from the goal.  The shooter intensely looks at his or her right hand to blame it.  It is not a right hand problem but a leg and left hand problem.  The problem, as always, occurred in the cocking stage.  The left hand and legs were not properly set up in the Serbian Lean Forward Posture (read the Smart Legs articles) with the left foot forward and the right leg straight back and slightly bent at the knee with the left hand pulling downward.  The shooter was unbalanced in the water with all three points, both legs and the left hand, contributing nothing to balancing out the player throwing the ball.  Being unbalanced is not a right hand or a right arm mechanical error.  It is a leg and left hand mechanical error.  No pitcher in baseball or softball has ever fallen over on the mound because their “right arm was unbalanced.”  It is ridiculous for the modern coach to believe in such fairy tales. Is it kinesiology or is it mythology?  We have a choice between math and mechanics or smoke and mirrors.

In the final analysis, fix the throwing problems in the cocking stage, and forget about problems in the throwing stage.

Acceleration Stage or Throwing Stage


This is the stage when the body is rotating to the left, the torso is snapping forward into flexion, the right arm is extending forward to throw the ball and the wrist snaps down to release the ball for the shot.  It is not an important stage in shooting.  However, coaches, have believed that acceleration stage or throwing stage was the critical stage of the two stages of the throwing motion.  The acceleration stage is automatic and preprogramed by the cocking stage.  The shooter’s right arm is like a cannon.  All the cannon can do is go bang.  It is the same with the right arm.  The right arm is totally dependent on the rest of the body to position the right arm so it can move forward.  The right arm is dumb.  It does what it is told by the body.  The legs and the left arm are smart.  They tell the right arm how to throw the ball correctly (see Fig. 2).

As regards the fixable mechanical errors in the right arm and hand, the spin of the ball is the only part of the acceleration stage that the shooter can change by how much spin placed on the ball by the fingertips.  That is all, only ball spin.  All other mechanical mistakes in vertical shooting are fixed in the cocking stage.  The unseen and underwater parts of the body cause the mechanical error in the throwing motion.  What is seen, is the effect and not the cause of problem of the bad shot.  While it may seem illogical to concentrate on what is unseen and underwater.  This is the area where the problem lies and the solution is applied. 



There are four phases to the throwing motion aside from the cocking stage and the acceleration stage.  These phases are elevation, rotation, crunch and shoot.  In the photographs above, the shooter is going through each one of these phases with the left arm active and pulling throughout all four phases of the throwing motion.



All photographs used in the article are by Allan Lorentzen at mywaterpolopics.com

The player elevates high out of the water to reduce the drag of the water, to elevate the position of the right hand so it is pointing at the high corner of the goal, and to increase its momentum and leverage to throw the ball.  If the shooter does not get high out of the water by kicking high and hard with the legs and pulling down hard with the left hand, the shot is already blocked.  This is the first phase of the cocking stage.  The low in the water player who cocked the ball leads to the low in the water shooter.  When the player does not get high out of the water to pass or shoot, there is little hope that the player will be successful (Fig. 4).



The shooter’s hips and the left hand rotate the body back to cock the ball.  Then the hips and the left hand rotate the shooter’s body forward to shoot the ball.  The main force in throwing is rotation (see Fig. 5).



The third phase has the torso snapping forward in the “crunch.”  The shooter’s torso is elevated out of the water by the legs and rotated by the hips before the shooter’s left arm pull and abdominal muscles can crunch (flex) the torso forward (see Fig. 6).



Once the three phases of the throwing motion are complete, the shooter’s right arm moves forward and releases the ball.  The left hand’s underwater pull reaches its maximum force as the ball is released (see Fig. 7).



The Left Hand Elevates the Shooter


All photographs used in the article are by Allan Lorentzen at mywaterpolopics.com

The player uses the left hand pull down to elevate the body for catching, passing and shooting.  The legs provide 75-percent of the height of the player out of the water.  The player adds another 25-percent, or 6-inches (15-cm), with the left hand pulling down.  The ability of the shooter to hit the high corner of the goal is dependent on vertical height out of the water.  The center of the shooter’s right hand must be at least 30-inches (75-cm) above the surface of the water.  The water polo ball only travels in a straight line.  If the shooter wants the ball to go in the high corner of the goal he or she must reach this 30-inch hand height for the ball to be released as a high corner shot.  Magical thinking by the shooter leads him to believe that the ball thrown from 15-inches (37-cm) at the middle of the cage, where the goalie’s arms are located, can be magically lifted another 15-inches higher up into the air to 30-inches (75-cm) and into the high corner of the goal.  It cannot (see Fig. 9).

Left Hand Rotates the Hip Back to Cock Ball


Due to the drag of the water, the right leg cannot naturally swing back the full 90-degrees from its square to the goal eggbeatering position and stops after only moving 45-degrees.  The hips are not strong enough to overcome the resistance of the water to the right leg’s backwards motion.  The player’s left hand sweeps horizontally to the left to assist in rotating the right leg the other 45-degrees.  This is why the left hand is called the “third hip” of the player.  Women players have greater challenges.  They have hips that are 6-8-inches (15-20- cm) wider than a men, which create greater drag during hip rotation.  In addition, women have a weaker left arm to sweep water to turn the body.  The combination of greater drag and a weaker left hand sweep cause the woman shooter to remain in a square position to the goal.  The major problem of the square woman shooter is the left hand cannot rotate the body to the right when catching and cocking the ball.  The woman player must concentrate on the left hand sweep to assist in hip rotation (see Fig. 10).

Left Hand Rotates the Hip Forward to Shoot the Ball 


All photographs used in the article are by Allan Lorentzen at mywaterpolopics.com

The player throws the pass or the shot by rotating the right hip forward from it cocked back position.  If the hips do not rotate, there is no pass or shot.  If the left hand does not pull backward, there is no pass or shot.  Hip rotation and the left hand pull are everything in water polo.  Yet, the average water polo coach or player has never heard about the hips or the forgotten left hand.  The ability of the hips to rotate and the left hand to pull is dependent on the shooter’s body position.  The split eggbeater or left foot forward/right leg straight back creates an angled body so the hips can rotate.  A player with a square body cannot rotate the hips.  The position of the right leg, high and horizontal in the water, leans the thrower’s torso forward in the Serbian Lean Forward Posture so the left hand can pull deep and backwards.  The throwing motion is a series of interconnected parts of the body that function together to throw the ball (see Fig. 11).

Left Hand Catches the Ball


The left hand catches the ball and not the right hand.  The most frequent mistake in water polo is to drop the passed ball.  The coach yells at the player to “catch the ball” often and strenuously but to no avail.  The player continues to drop the pass until he or she intuitively understands the mechanics of the catch.  It may take years for the age group player to understand the mechanics by watching other players catch the ball.  The concept that the player must have “strong legs” is deeply flawed.  Yes, it true that the player must have adequate leg strength to catch the ball but does not need the leg strength of an Olympic player.  What the player needs is technique—left hand technique.  The left hand sweeps to the left and rotates the body so the force of catching the ball is reduced and the right arm swings the ball backward—if the back is vertical. If the player uses the left hand properly but leans backward, the ball rolls off the hand.  A square player cannot rotate back to absorb the force and the ball hits the rigid hand with a thud and falls into the water.  The coach believes the square player has “stone hands,” but in reality, the player did not rotate the right arm and body backward for the catch (see Fig. 12).

Left Hand Turns the Body for the Catch


The pass is a slower shot.  Great passers are great shooters.  What is wrong in this statement by the Serbians and Hungarians is they leave out the fact that the great catch sets up the great pass; the great catch sets up the great shot.  There are no great passes or shots without a great catch.  A horrible catch leads to a horrible shot.  Instead of calling it the “catch” maybe it should be called the “positioning catch” to be more accurate.  The catch is part of the cocking stage and therefore determines the shot.  By the shooter catching the ball perfectly, it creates the correct body positioning for the great shot (see Fig. 13). 


A poorly caught ball knocks the player on the back with the subsequent pass or shot thrown high into the air and over the head of the intended receiver or above the top of the goal.  It may look like the right arm threw the ball away, but, the poor catch threw the ball away.  A poor catch means a ball, which is barely caught, becomes a bad shot before the shooter’s right arm ever moves (the left hand never did move).   The great catch = the great shot and the bad catch = the bad shot (see Fig. 14).

If the coach has to choose between players catching and passing the ball in practice or the right arm moving forward to shoot the ball in practice, the coach should concentrate on catching the ball and the cocking stage and not on the acceleration stage and the release.  In practice, the coach does the opposite and has poor results.  The average coach’s belief is that there is no correlation between the catch, the pass and the shot.  In fact, catching and passing practice is more important than shooting practice.  The pass is a slower shot and the player can pass 200 times versus taking 20 shots in practice.  Each catch to a pass, however, uses perfect technique, so all subsequent shots will be perfect. The catch and the left hand create the body position of the shooter-to-be.  The average coach never realizes that the catch is the shot. 

In concluding, the coach and the player need to understand the theory of throwing to understand what is unseen and underwater, the legs, hips and left hand, throw the ball.  The cocking stage is more important than the acceleration stage.  Catching the ball is more important than shooting the ball.  The left hand is more important than the right hand.  The forgotten left hand must be educated so it aids in elevation and rotation of the shooter’s body. The myths and legends that permeate shooting in this country have to be eliminated.  Shooting the ball is a science.  The shooter does not blindly throw the ball while falling over on the back, hoping the ball will go into the goal.  The throwing motion is a structured set of mechanics for shooting the ball by a disciplined player who understands the theory of throwing.  

Next Month: The Forgotten Left Hand Part 2

© Copyright 2011 Jim Solum

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