Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
Biography   Buy Books

Volume 5 Number 5 February 1, 2012
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.



Training the woman shooter is a controversial subject for the coach.  Yes, there is only one way to throw the ball.  Yet, women have different bodies then the men and different mechanical errors in their throwing motion.  The drills designed for men do not address the mechanical errors that women have in throwing the ball.  Most of the drills designed for men work well with women.  However, there are some throwing challenges that are women-only errors. These mechanical errors need women-specific drills.  The woman shooter may use a falling on the back shooting style and is square to the goal when shooting.  Some women are only able to lob the ball instead of throw the ball hard or they drop the elbow in the middle of the throwing motion due to being square to the goal (shoulders, hips and feet are parallel to the goal).  In addition, the untrained female shooter may not be able to skip the ball, has difficulty in catching across the face passes and has a weak drive-in shot.  All of these challenges have to be addressed by the coach training the girls or women’s water polo team.  Coaches train women as if they are smaller men and get poor results. Women are not smaller men!   The knowledge to train the female athlete correctly and to design woman-specific drills is unavailable to most coaches.

Physical Differences

Women have a different body than the male.  The woman’s body is much more buoyant than the male body.  Women float and men sink.  Women have 10-percent more body fat than men, giving them great buoyancy and balance in the water.  This is a great advantage to the well-trained female shooter, which allows her to be vertical in the water.  The female body is 4-inches (10-cm) shorter and weighs 40-pounds (18-kilos) than the male’s body.  Proportionally, she has a shorter torso and longer legs than a male.  Her hips are 6-8-inches wider than a male, which provides her with better stability in the water and a wider eggbeater kick.  She has half the upper body strength of a male of comparable size.  Her weight distribution, however, is ideal for playing water polo.  She has a shorter and lighter torso and long legs, which keeps her balanced in the water.  The male, on the other hand, is unbalanced in the water.  He has a long heavy muscled torso and short legs.  He sinks and falls over frequently in the water.  Think of the female as a bar of Ivory soap that floats and the male as a motorized rock that is struggling to stay afloat.  The one disadvantage of a woman’s wider hips is there is greater drag in the water.  It is harder for her to rotate her body, giving her a tendency to be square in the water. 

As far as strength, her handgrip strength is 60-percent less than a male and her upper body strength is half that of a male of comparable size.  She, however, is 33-percent more flexible than a male.  She loves swimming and yoga; boys hate swimming and yoga.  This greater flexibility is particularly noticeable in the butterfly stroke as she effortlessly butterflies down the pool with a double dolphin kick.  On the other hand, the rigid male swimmer is struggling to lift his arms out of the water with one dolphin kick per stroke.  The buoyant women love driving drills.  Men, do not like driving, and only want to take outside shots due to floatation problems.  Lastly, the woman understands at an intuitive level, she has to use her whole body to throw the ball; males never understand this concept.


The coach throws the ball into the pool with the boys’ water polo team and within a few hours, most of the boys are good shooters.  The same coach throws the ball into the pool with the girls and a few hours later, no one can  throw the ball.  Same coach, same ball, what happened?  What the coach failed to understand is that girls and women need to be taught different drills because their bodies are different.  Boys and girls have different body shapes and strength differences that affect the way they learn how throw the ball.  Gender makes a difference.  The throwing motion, however, is genderless.  But coaching females requires the coach to be more knowledgeable about throwing mechanics.

The coach has to be firmly grounded in throwing theory and fundamentals.  Tactics are nice but so is sugar and spice, but without fundamentals, the game is lost.  No longer can we tell our women to work hard and be in top shape, counterattack and then miss the shot.  To drive in the frontcourt, get open and miss the drive-in shot.  Alternatively, get an exclusion, set up a 6-on-5, and have the shot blocked is a sure way to lose the game. If the woman cannot catch, pass and shoot the game is lost.  If we want to score goals, fundamentals must be taught.

Leg Positioning


The major reason that coaches fail to teach girls and women properly is he or she does not understand leg positioning.  The legs are the shot as they say in Hungary.  No legs = no shot.  We, in our ignorance, assumed that these two statements meant the legs have to be physically strong.  This is only partly the case.  The shooter’s legs have to be strong, explosive, sustaining and smartStrong legs are able to eggbeater with power and develop great force.  Explosive means that the legs instantly react and lift the shooter high out of the water.  Sustaining means that the shooter’s legs maintain vertical height out of the water for at least 3-seconds. And smart legs is defined as the legs of the shooter are correctly positioned to catch the ball and to move the right leg around to support the shooter when shooting.  Leg intelligence is composed of all four parts.  Great shooters have “smart legs” and bad shooters have “dumb legs.”  Unfortunately, a lot our female players have uneducated legs (see Fig. 1). 


The fundamentals of water polo begin and end with leg positioning.  Each leg on the water polo player has separate and distinct duties.  The left leg is fixed, points and pivots.  The right leg is mobile, balances out and shoots.  Once the left leg mechanical errors are fixed, almost all mistakes in catching and throwing are the result of not positioning the right leg correctly.  The left leg of the woman player is relatively fixed in the water.  It moves a little but not much in comparison to the shooter’s mobile right leg.  One of the two duties of the left leg of the woman shooter is to aim the ball.  Wherever the left leg points the ball follows.  Point the left foot at the left corner of the goal and the ball goes into the left corner of the goal.  Point the left foot at the goalie, and the ball hits the goalie.  The left foot is the pointer of the two legs.  The second duty: the left foot is the pivot point of the shooter.  The pivot point is the left foot that the shooter uses to rotate the body.  Think of an ice skater spinning around on the point of her skates.  She cannot spin with both skates flat on the ice.  Likewise, the shooter cannot rotate her body without a left foot point and the right leg straight back in the split eggbeater.  Without a left foot point to pivot around the shooter cannot rotate back to cock the arm and the body nor accelerate forward to throw the ball.  The creation of the left foot point and the left shoulder point is made by the right leg and not by the motion of the left leg.  While this may seem like a contradiction, it is not (see Fig. 2).


The right leg of the shooter is mobile, balances out and starts the shot.  The mobile right leg of the shooter swings back to make the left foot point and the left shoulder point.  The demonstration to prove this point is for the player to be square, with the shoulders, hips and feet parallel the goal.  The legs and feet are in a 12 o’clock position.  Then, the athlete swings the right leg 180-degrees backwards to a 6 o’clock position and the left foot point and shoulder point appear and are at the 12 o’clock position.  The position of the right leg determines the placement of the left leg.  The left leg is fixed but the right leg is mobile.  The right leg is mobile so it can reposition itself to adjust the left leg and left shoulder to the ball (see Fig. 3). 

In young players, the right leg is fixed and immobile.  The player cannot move the right leg in order to adjust to the ball and catch it.  In addition, the player is unable to use the right leg for support during the shot.  The young player can only catch the ball or shoot the ball if the pass is perfect.  A perfect pass is needed for the player who is a stone statue.  Since water polo is a fluid game that changes constantly, a static right leg paralyzes the player and prevents the player from being able to play the game.  The player has what is called “stone hands” because she drops the ball every time.  In reality, she has a stone right leg that has turned the rest of her body into a rigid stone statue.  She does not adjust her right leg to balance out her body so the right hand is soft and able to catch the ball.  The mistake that coaches make is to assume that the right hand catches the ball instead of the whole body.  In the final analysis, the player’s flexible, mobile and adjusting right leg catches the ball by repositioning the body.  The coach has to start thinking in wholes instead of individual body parts such as the right hand.  The wall is not made of one brick.  And the catch requires all parts of the body to catch the ball.

The right leg of the shooter balances out the body.  The right leg of the player is mobile so it can move to create balance throughout the body when catching and throwing the ball.  The right leg is in front and bent when the player is eggbeatering and waiting in the frontcourt offense.  Just before the catch, in the pre-catch stage, there is a slight angling of the player’s body to prepare the player for the catch.  The right leg and foot moves 90-degrees to the side to the 3 o’clock position.  The pre-catch stage moves the right leg so it is only 90-degrees away from the correct 180-degree right leg shooting posture.  When the player has both legs in front in the eggbeatering posture in the 12 o’clock position, the pass knocks the square-to- the-goal player on her back.  There is not enough time for the player’s right leg to swing back 180-degrees to reposition the body and right hand to catch the ball.  The failure for the woman shooter to move into the pre-stage catching posture before the ball arrives is the main reason why the ball is dropped.  The ball hits the player’s hand but rolls off the hand.  A square body pre-stage position at the catch dooms the shot.  The coach says, “That the ball was dropped before the player ever caught the ball.” This statement relates to failure to adjust the body to the ball in the pre-stage catch mechanics.  When the body of the catcher is not set up beforehand, the ball is destined to be dropped when it arrives at the player’s hand.

The right leg of the shooter starts the shot by snapping in the right foot inward to begin the process of accelerating the force of the contracting muscles of feet, legs, hips, torso, shoulders and left arm and right arm to throw the ball.  The shooter believes that her shot begins in the right arm and ends in the fingertips of the right hand.  This is not true.  The shot is a whole body throw that begins in the feet and ends in the fingertips.  The right arm of the shooter is not an isolated part that exists extraneously outside of the player’s body.  Picture a floating right arm in the air as the example of the “right arm only shot.”  This is incorrect visual.  However,  it is the picture that is in the mind of the shooter—as she tries to use only her right arm to throw the ball.  The reason why the shooter visualizes the “right arm only” picture is her body is square and she is unable to rotate the body to generate the great force needed to throw the ball.  A powerless square shooter can only use the right arm to throw a weak lob-like shot.  As she tries to generate more force from a square throwing posture, she inflames the shoulder joint.  Eventually, over time, she has a chronic shoulder injury.


We need to examine the kinesiology of the throwing motion.  In the illustration above, Figure 4, the shooter is using the old-fashioned fall-on-the-back shot technique.  She catches the ball, falls on her back, scissors kicks up and shoots a square right arm-only shot. In the correct shooting technique, the shooter’s whole body generates 100-percent of the throwing force—not the right arm.  In the illustration below, Figure 5, the shooter’s shot starts in the toes and ends in the fingertips. The shoulder accepts force generated upward through the body from the legs to the right arm in a powerful upward cascade of kinetic energy moving from the large muscles of the legs up to the small muscles of the arms.  It is a chain reaction shot, which unites all the links of the body.  To be square is to be sore—have an inflamed shoulder. This is why many square shooters, who have poor technique and only throw from the right arm, hurt their over-worked shoulder.  Injury is not an accident.  Injury is a destined event (see Fig. 4, 5).


Poor technique is created by not moving the right leg back 180-degrees.  The right leg is supreme. The square posture prevents the shooter’s hips from rotating to throw the ball.  The major force for throwing the ball is rotation.  The hips generate most of the rotational power.  Rotation can only occur if the body is angled with the left foot forward and the right leg straight back.  The square woman shooter is powerless in the water due to her square to the goal body posture.  The woman shooter compensates during the shot for the severe loss of power caused by being square to the goal by “forcing” more power from the right arm.  This is not the correct philosophy for throwing the ball.  In kinesiology, the water polo throw is mainly a rotational motion.  It begins in sequential order, starting from the legs, to the hips, to the torso and up to the right arm to throw the ball. The Hungarians agree that the water polo shot is a rotational motion and say the right hip is supreme. Hip rotation (and the unmentioned torso/shoulder rotation) is the shot.  What this statement means, is the properly angled body with the left foot forward and the right leg straight back allows the right hip (and the left hip) to move and rotate to generate great rotational force.  The Hungarians use the analogy of the right hip because the shooter can see and feel the right hip move.  Both hips move of course, but the shooter only senses the right hip motion. The woman shooter, knowing the importance of rotation, can sense hip rotation and know if her hips are rotating or not (see Fig. 5). 


In coaching, the girl or woman water polo player, the rule is all mistakes are right leg positioning mistakes.  Of course, that is only partly true, but it makes a good coaching command statement to the woman player to force her to concentrate on the position of her right leg when catching the ball and shooting the ball (see Smart Legs Parts 1-5 and Left Arm and Right Leg Shooting Parts 1-6).  She needs to concentrate on being aware of her right leg.  Almost all mistakes are corrected by correctly positioning the right leg.  The shooter’s right leg is mobile, balances out and starts the shot.  Unfortunately, the woman water polo player has no idea that the right leg does anything at all.  The right leg is just “there.”  What it does, no one knows.  However, when the female’s right leg becomes a smart leg she can adjust to the ball and catch it wherever it is thrown.  There are no bad catches only bad right leg positioning. There are no bad shots only bad right leg positioning.  There are no stone hands only a stone right leg.  When the female water polo player begins to see her whole body throwing the ball with the right leg positioning the body throughout the catch and the shot she is able to adjust and fix all of her mechanical errors.  She can now coach herself.  She is no longer dependent on the coach noticing her mechanical throwing errors in a pool with twenty other water polo players.  She is now empowered with knowledge of the solution and the means to fix it (see Fig. 6).


In concluding, the woman water polo player must have the knowledge of the importance of the legs to catch the ball and shoot the ball correctly. She must be taught to know what the left leg is fixed, points and pivots and the right leg is mobile, balances out, and starts the shot.  The legs are the shot.  She must know, instinctly, by proper coaching, the theory of the throwing motion.  She can then use the right leg to position the body in a split leg eggbeater with the left foot forward and the right leg straight back so she can rotate the hips and legs for maximum power, balance and stability in the water.  No longer is her body square in the water when catching or throwing the ball.  She is aware of how the legs are positioned in the water and has smart legs instead of dumb legs.  Hers is an angled body and not a square body.  As a result, of this knowledge, she becomes an empowered and powerful water polo player.

© Copyright 2012 Jim Solum
Next Month: Women's Shooting: Part 2


WATER POLO PLANET.COM: the Alternative Voice    www.waterpoloplanet.com