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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 is the forgotten hand of water polo.  Why that is, is a question the player and the coach must ask themselves.  No one forgets that the shooter has a left leg when shooting.  Yet players and coaches routinely do not notice that the shooter’s left hand is a critical part of the shot.  In Europe, there is no secret that the left hand is vital to the shot.  In the US, we fallen into the belief that “right arm only is the shot” and lost the concept that the whole body of the player throws the ball.  The whole body of the shooter includes both legs, hips, the torso and the right and left arms.  No one in baseball or softball believes that only the right arm throws the ball.  In fact, no sport other than American water polo believes this.  Teaching the player to realize the importance of the left hand to all movements of the thrower is the goal of this article.

When the player does not know that the left hand aims the ball, elevates the body, turns the player’s body to catch the ball, to cock the ball, to pump fake the ball and to shoot the ball, the player is handicapped in his or her ability to achieve their potential.  This is the danger of magical thinking and believing in myths instead of mechanics.  The player’s left hand is active in all phases of the throwing motion.  There is never a time when the left hand is not supporting the player in the water.  The truth is, the shooter’s right arm and hand only becomes active when the ball is thrown.  The left hand is more important than the right hand.  The left arm is more important than the right arm.  The left hand has twenty uses; the right hand only one.

In Europe, they say that all mistakes in throwing are leg mistakes.  In reality, what they mean is all mistakes in throwing are right leg positioning mistakes.  Since the Europeans correctly use their left hand in throwing, they do not include the left hand on their mistake list.  In America, we do not know how to use the left hand and we must add that all mistakes in throwing are made by the player’s left hand and the right leg.  The question of how to teach awareness of the left hand to the player is a daunting one.  The left hand immediately adjusts to the situation to support the player without the player being conscious of its movement.  In movements that require the shooter to be conscious of the left hand and its specific use to determine how to take a certain shot or fake, the untrained player fails.  The untrained player has to know the theory and the drills so he or she is aware of the left hand’s existence.

Women, The Left Hand and Hip Rotation




Women have a tendency to be square to the goal with the feet, hips and shoulders parallel the goal when shooting due to not using the left hand.  Without the left hand sweep, the square woman’s body is not angled with the left foot forward and the right leg straight back.  The solution to eliminating squareness in the woman shooter is to swing the right leg straight back to angle the body.  However, due to the drag of the water on the woman’s larger hips and longer legs, the right leg stops after 45-degrees.  The woman’s left hand must sweep water to the left to move the right leg back the additional 45-degrees so the right leg is properly positioned at 90-degrees.  In Europe, this straight right leg back position is called “positioning the right leg at 6-o’clock.”  Without the knowledge of the left hand motion, the woman shooter cannot rotate the body and angle her body.  Without the body being angled with the left foot forward and the right leg straight back, she cannot rotate her hips to generate the power necessary to throw a high-speed shot.  So often, we hear the complaint from coaches that a woman has a “weak right arm.”  In reality, she has an unused left arm (Figs. 1, 2, 3).

Women shooters are not weak, but the untrained woman can have weak technique—an unused left hand.  True the well-trained woman will throw the ball at 75-percent of the speed of the male shooter.  That is not weak that is just reality.  The fastest senior national team woman shooter throws the ball at 42 mph (77 kph).  The average high school junior male throws the ball at 36 mph (58 kph).  Who is weak now?  The problem with the untrained woman shooter is her ball speed drops to 15 mph (24 kph), the speed of a lob, when she is square and unable to rotate her hips. It is not a weak physique but weak technique that is the problem.



The pump fake (a back and forth arm swing) and the hesie fake (a fake with a pause or momentary stop in the arm motion) require the extensive use of the left hand to perform the fake.  The failure of the hesie fake to catch on in high school boys and high school girl’s water polo teams is the lack of the use of the left hand to reposition the body when making its quick acceleration and deceleration (stopping) movements.  The shooter’s right arm cannot stop anything.  It is up to the left hand and the legs to stop the shooter’s body in mid-air as it is in the middle of its throwing motion (see Fig. 4). 

The pump fake uses the left hand to rotate the body in the water so the right arm and torso can swing back and forth.  On observation from the deck, the coach wrongly believes that the right arm is swing back and forth by itself.  This is an impossible motion by the right arm.  True the right arm can swing forward with ease in the foreswing, but it cannot swing back more than a few inches (centimeters) in the backswing.  A simple demonstration proves the lack of range of motion of the right arm to swing backward.  The person raises the right arm straight over the head, locks the hips and torso, and then tries to move the right arm backward.  The right arm moves a few inches and stops.  Repeat the demonstration, unlock the hips and swing the right leg back and the right arm swing backward 24-inches (60-cm).  The right arm needs the body rotation to reposition itself back 15-24-inches (37-60-cm) on the backswing.  Half of body rotation are the hips swinging the  right leg back; half of body rotation is the left hand moving the right leg and body back.  The left hand sweeps to the left to turn the player’s body to the right for the catch and the backswing.  The left hand sweeps to the right to turn the player’s body to the left for the foreswing.  For a demonstration place the left hand out of the water and try and swing the right arm fully back into a backswing.  Not much happens on the backswing.  The pump fake needs the left hand sweeping to the right and left to fake the ball.



The strong fake but weak shot is a rare but mystifying sight among the girl pump faker.  The girl shooter pump fakes twice and then throws a weak shot.  How could a girl with strong pump fake throw a weak shot?  Seems like this an impossible action.  What causes the strong fake/weak shot action is called the creeping right leg syndrome.  The girl’s first pump fake moves the right leg forward on the foreswing but she does not move the right leg straight back on the backswing.  The left hand is not engaged at all to push the right leg backward past the hip.  On the second pump fake, the girl’s leg moves further forward until right leg is now ahead of the hip in the 12 o’clock position.  The right leg remains in front of the hips and does not swing back to the 6 o’clock position.  She is square to the goal.  The square shooter’s subsequent backswing to cock the ball is now a short arm cock due to squareness.  A short arm cock applies very little force on the ball.  (A power shot requires a long arm cock of 24-inches or 60-centimeters and the length of a short arm cock is 6-inches or 15-centimeters). In addition, the shot is weak because the hips cannot rotate to generate great power when the body is in a square position.  The problem is fixed by the player’s left hand sweeping strongly to the left to rotate hip back so the right leg can swing all of the way back.  The proper position for throwing the ball is to have the arm in a long arm cock with the right leg straight back and slightly bent at the knee (see Fig. 5).


The use of the left hand is critical in the hesie fake.   Without the left hand there is no hesie.  Unfortunately, high school shooters have tried to do a hesie without using the left hand and failed.  They thought it was a strength issue and not a technique issue.  They wrongly assumed that college and international players are “stronger” and therefore the high school player was “too weak” to do a hesie fake.  The hesie fake uses a different left hand technique for each hesie.  The pull-down hesie, shoulder hesie, elbow hesie and knee hesie require the left hand to make a specific movement to complete the hesie fake.  Strength has nothing to do with the hesie.  Technique is everything in performing the hesie fake.



The pull-down hesie or “single hesie” (The Shot Doctor: Hesies Parts 1, 4) is a unique hesie.  The shooter’s left hand stops after 8-inches (20-cm) of the pull-down for a millisecond, which stops the right arm that is moving forward to throw the ball.  The left hand restarts the pull-down and the right arm returns to moving forward and releases the ball.  It is a quick go-stop-go motion. The pull-down hesie works synergistically to stop the shooter’s moving right arm by stopping the moving torso.  Since the right arm cannot move forward without the torso moving forward, the right arm stops. When the shooter’s left hand pulls down again, the torso snaps forward and then right arm moves forward to shoot the ball.  The pause on the pull-down is brief—less than a tenth of a second.  If the pause is too fast, the goalie never sees the hesitation in the shooter’s right arm.  If the pause lasts longer than a tenth of a second, all of the shooter’s momentum is lost and the shot is weak. The major mistake, however, made in the pull-down hesie is not moving the right arm at all!  Therefore, there is no break in the right arm’s forward throwing motion.  The goalie does not see the shooter’s left hand pulling down and only sees the non-moving right arm and does not jump early.  The shooter has to coordinate the right arm and left hand movements to make this hesie work. Both boys and girls can use this fake.  Again, technique and not strength is the requirement to do the pull-down hesie (see Fig. 7).



The shoulder hesie snaps the right post located shooter’s left shoulder to the left once to pull the goalie to the left corner of the goal while the ball is thrown at the right corner.  While it may seem that anyone can rotate the shoulder sharply to the left one time, actually, it is a complex action involving the shooter’s left hand and arm.  The shoulder by itself does not move much by itself.  The reader sits in a chair and tries and rotates the left shoulder to the left by itself (do not rotate the torso or hips) and finds it moves an inch or so (2.5-cm).  The shooter’s shoulder is attached to the torso that is rotated by the left hand and the hips.  It is a whole body fake as all fakes and hesies are.  There are no right arm only fakes.  The technique for snapping the left shoulder to the left sharply is to disengage the left hand from sculling in the water.  When the shooter has the left arm locked and the left hand sculling vigorously the shoulder cannot move.  Remember the shoulder cannot move unless the left arm moves it or the hips rotate.  The left hand is removed from sculling, the elbow is bent and held underwater and the hand is barely above the surface.  The shoulder fake requires the shooter to use the legs to stay up in the water.  Players with weak legs that depend on the support of the left hand sculling cannot do the shoulder hesie.  When the left arm is bent, the left hand is thrown to the left.  This left arm action with help from the hips rotating to the left helps turn the left shoulder sharply.  The left hand is held at surface level and splashes water to the left exaggerate the shoulder’s movement to the goalie.  The goalie has been taught two clues: “When the left shoulder moves, the shot is thrown”; “Wherever the left shoulder points the ball follows.”  The goalie jumps to the left corner to block the shot. The goalie jumps left because the shooter’s left shoulder has moved and is now pointing at the left corner.  The goalie watches helplessly as the ball is goes into the open right corner (see Fig. 8). 



The elbow hesie is misnamed from a biomechanical standpoint.  It appears from the deck that the shooter broke (paused) the shot at the elbow, restarted, and shot the ball.  Since only the right elbow is visible, it is assumed that the right elbow stopped the rapidly moving arm.  The underwater movement is not visible.  This error in thinking has led to many shooters hurting their elbow and this particular hesie died an early death.  The fact of the matter is, the left hand and the left knee makes the right elbow stop in mid-air.  It is foolishly to think that the right arm can stop suddenly in mid-air as it is traveling at 30-40 mph (48 -63 kph) forward.  What happens in the elbow fake is the left hand pulls down strongly and the left knee lifts up almost to the chest to stop the forward movement of the torso.  If the shooter’s torso stops, then the right arm also stops.  Then the shooter resets the left hand and brings it to water level, the left knee drops, the left hand pulls down again, and the right arm restarts and throws the ball.  The pause is a tenth of a second or longer as more of the body was used to decelerate the moving body.  The goalie sees the arm moving forward and quotes the rule, “Whenever the right arm moves forward the ball comes.”   The goalie sinks deep into the water from the early jump, as the ball sails into the high corner of the goal (see Fig. 9).

Knee Hesie


The knee hesie is the more advanced hesie that stops but does not drop the elbow.  The knee hesie keeps the right hand behind the ball in a pinch grip with the ball facing the goal and stops the right arm motion with a left knee lift.  After the pause, there is an instantaneous release of the ball at the goal.  The knee hesie is the preferred hesie of the two elbow-type fakes (Fig. 10).

In concluding, the use of the shooter’s forgotten left hand to reposition the body in the water and assist the hips in rotating the body is critical.  Poor shooters never use the left hand except to scull the hand aimlessly on the surface of the water.  The shooter’s left hand sweeps water to the left to turn the pump faker’s body to the right for the backswing and sweeps water to the right to make the foreswing.  Proper left hand technique is of critical importance in angling the woman’s body so the left foot is forward and the right leg is straight back instead of square to the goal.  The left hand is active in the pull-down, shoulder, elbow and knee hesies. In the hesie fakes, the left hand positioning is more complicated as it is used to stop the arm in mid-air, snap the shoulder to the left and to stop the elbow during the shot. Great shooters use the left hand intelligently to make the fake.  The left hand is a critical part of the shooter’s throwing mechanics and should not be overlooked. 

Next Month: The Forgotten Left Hand Part 3

© Copyright 2011 Jim Solum

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