Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 5 Number 8 May 1, 2012
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.



Shooting is an individual sport.  The ball is only in one hand—the shooter’s hand.  There is no counterattack or 6-on-5 with multiple players for the shooter to be distracted by.  How well she throws the ball determines whether the ball scores or is blocked.  Good technique leads to a score.  Bad technique leads to a blocked shot.  The player with mechanical throwing errors has bad technique and her shot is blocked.  The woman shooter needs to eliminate throwing errors if she is going to score. There are fourteen mechanical throwing errors causing the ball to go array.  The problem that water polo coach encounters in analyzing the throwing motion (not found in land-based sports) is actually seeing the throwing motion.  However, even with the blur of the throwing motion of the shooter and with half the body underwater, there are telltale clues for the coach that describe the throwing error.


Below is a list of 14 ways that a woman shooter takes a poor shot.  The coach needs to memorize the rules and visual clues so he or she can instantly analyze and correct the mistake.  The coach may not be able to see the error but he or she can visualize it.  The coach visualizes the shot by seeing the ball, knowing the clues and the underwater body mechanics.  The shooter’s mistake makes a picture in the mind’s eye of the coach.

Weak shot    Ball wide right   Ball stops on water
No shoulder rotation   Ball hits center cage goalie   Ball dropped
No left shoulder point   Ball wide left   Dropped elbow
Butt underwater   Ball goes over the goal   Fear
Bad lob   Skip shot dies    

The woman shooter catches the ball and shoots in a half second of blurred motion.  The coach only sees the ball by the time it is half way to the goal and shooter’s throwing motion is but a blur in the coach’s memory.  When the coach cannot see the shooter, how can he or she evaluate the shooter’s throwing technique?  There is not much to see and subsequently, few facts to go on.  Above is a list of visible clues that the coach can see to evaluate whether or not the body position was correct when the ball is thrown.  The coach may not be able to see the cause (many of which are underwater) but he or she can watch its effect on the ball and realize where the mechanical error was. For example, the ball goes over the cage is the visual clue, and the cause is the shooter was on her back. Without this list of visible clues, the coach cannot discover where the mistake is in the shot.



The women’s weak shot is a series of body positioning mistakes.  The mistakes that the woman makes are easy to fix. There are logical corrections available to fix her shot.  The main problem in women’s shooting is being square to the goal.  The woman’s feet, knees, hips and shoulders are parallel the goal.  A square shooter cannot get high out of the water, rotate her hips, aim the ball, prevent the elbow from dropping or throw the ball hard.  The solution to all of these problems is to use the Serbian Lean-Forward technique and have the left leg forward and the right leg straight back, kick hard, rotate the hips, pull down hard with the left hand and slap the water with the right hand.  In short, angle the body and lift up the right leg.  It is that simple and yet that difficult to change the bad habits of the woman shooter (see Fig. 1).



When the coach sees the woman shooter throw the ball and not rotate the shoulders, it is a visual sign that the shooter was square to the goal.  Only a shooter with the left leg forward and the right leg straight back (and slightly bent at the knee) so the hips can fully rotate can the shooter’s torso and shoulders rotate.  No shoulder rotation by the shooter is a visual sign that there is no hip rotation occurring underwater and the shooter was square.  In passing practice, look to see if the women’s shoulders are rotating.  Many do not move (see Fig. 2).


The shooter’s left leg forward with the right leg back combine to create the sharp left shoulder point.  The left shoulder point is an effect and not the cause.  When the left foot is forward and the right leg is back, the sharp left shoulder point appears.  For a demonstration, have the player stand square on the deck with her feet together, then swing the right leg back and the pointed left shoulder appears.  The right leg position creates the left foot forward leg position and the sharp left shoulder (see Figs. 2, 7, 10).



When doing the Serbian Lean-Forward technique the woman’s buttocks should be visible after the release of the ball and during the follow-through stage.  No butt = No Serbian shot.  This is a telltale sign that the woman was vertical instead of the leaning her body forward at the release of the ball.  She did not have the right leg straight back and a deep strong left hand pull and therefore could not get the body and buttocks high out of the water (see Figs. 3, 4).





This is an interesting paradox for the coach that coaches both boys and girls.  The boys lob the ball over the goal; the girls hit the crossbar or the ball drops into the water in front of the goal.  Women with shorter arms, reduced strength in the arms and shorter fingers apply less force on the ball and therefore have less ball spin with the lobbed ball having a lower arc trajectory, a slower ball velocity with the ball less likely to go into the high corner.  When the female’s lob shot drops in front of the goal, she was square to the goal with a dropped  elbow creating a lob without enough power to reach the goal.  Another disadvantage of dropping the elbow is the shooter telegraphs the lob to the goalie. The solution is to increase the spin on the ball and the arm speed so the ball has enough power make a 55-degree ball arc. The shooter’s average lob ball speed is 15 mph (24 km/h).  A lob moving at 10 mph (16 km/h) does not have enough speed to reach the goal.  When the lobber is inaccurate, the first thing she does is reduce ball speed rather than re-point the left foot and readjust the lob point to aim the ball.  When a women’s lob does not score, she must increase ball rotation to maintain the 55-degree ball arc.  This is one of the few shots where ball speed is maintained and is not the cause of the inaccurate shot.  In a power shot, for example, too much power causes a wild shot (see Figs. 5, 6, 7).



After ball spin and ball arc, the third reason for missing a lob is not knowing about the lob aiming point.  A lob that reaches the low corner of the goal instead of going into the high corner of the goal is the result of a low lob aiming point. A lob that is wide of the goal is not a lob aiming point problem but a left foot that was not pointed at the corner. A three-finger released lob should have an aiming point that is 24-inches (61c) over the crossbar.  The lob has a 45-55-degree arc at its apex 2-feet above the goal’s crossbar.  From the apex of the lob, the ball then drops down 24-inches (61c) down into the high corner of the goal (see Shot Doctor: Lobs 1-3).  The archer goes through this same aiming process. She aims the arrow above target knowing it will drop down and hit the target.  When the ball’s lob aiming point is the high corner of the goal, as it is with a power shot, the lobbed ball drops 24-inches and hits the low corner. The lobbed ball hitting the crossbar indicates there was not enough ball spin to cause the ball to raise up high enough in the air so it can spin down quickly and drop into the high corner.  The visual sign to the coach is a barely spinning ball (see Figs. 8, 9). 



The left foot aims the ball and not the right hand.  Wherever the left foot points the right hand follows.  This is another coupled motion of the left foot/right hand.  When the shooter’s left foot is aimed at the woman goalie’s stomach, the ball hits the goalie’s stomach.  For the shooter to avoid the goalie blocking her shot, she moves the left foot to point at the corner of the goal and the ball scores.  A square shooter cannot point her left foot at a corner and points both feet at the goalie (see Fig. 10).



The tall girl or woman shooter’s body is square to the goal, and uses a square scissor kick.  The kick knocks her body to the left as she shoots the ball.  The result of force applied sideways to the body and right arm, is to pull the ball to the extreme left and wide of the goal. Another error is to not point the left foot at the left corner of the goal and angle the body (see Fig. 11).


The shooter throws the ball from the 5-meter line, at the right corner of the goal, from the point.  However, the ball misses the cage completely and hits the right wall.  The mistake the woman shooter made was to step-out to the right and throw a side arm shot.  By moving sideways, she loses control of the ball and puts sidespin on the ball that pulls the ball wide.  The wide right correction is to point the left foot at the right corner of the goal and throw the ball overhand.  Wherever the left foot points is where the ball follows (see Figs. 7, 10). 



When the ball goes over the goal, the shooter was on her back. The girl or woman shooter has a vertical right leg and a long arm cock.  Without the support of the right leg straight back and slightly bent at the knee to make a tripod to support the ball, the shooter’s back leans backward and changes the angle of the hand.  The leaning back position aims the hand and the ball so it goes over the goal.   The cure is to position the right leg straight back to support the ball and the right arm.  In females, this is a quick adjustment and fix (see Fig. 12). 



The ball thrown at the low corner of the goal hits the water in front of the goal and stops.  The shooter needs to spin the ball harder off her fingertips to increase the ball rotation so the ball spins more on the surface of the water.  The ball has very little spin, hits the surface of the water and stops.  Lack of ball spin for girls and women is a major problem.  It is corrected by applying more force by sliding the fingertips down the ball.  The players can practice overhand skim passes and backhand skim passes to develop the ability of the hand to place spin on the ball.  A homework exercise is to hold the ball in the hand and then spin the ball off the fingertips into the air (see Fig. 13).



The standard 3-finger release has the middle fingers making final contact with the ball with a 3-meter skip point.  These middle three fingers make up the 3-finger release.  For a demonstration of a 3-finger release hold the ball in the hand and roll it forward. As the ball rolls forward only the index, middle and ring fingers are touching the ball at the release. The 2-finger release uses a pinch grip with the ball released by the index and middle fingers with a 2-meter skip point. These two fingers are together and snap down on the center of the ball.  The index finger release uses a pinch grip with the index finger snapping down and making final contact with the ball at the release with a 1½-meter or 1-meter skip point.  A skip point is a spot in the water where the ball is “aimed.”  A 3-finger skip shot has a slower rising 30-degree angle that uses a 3-meter skip point.  An index finger skip shot with a 60-degree angle uses a 1-meter skip point (see Figs. 14, 15).


The skip shot requires power, angle, ball spin and a new release.  The Lean-Forward provides the power and vertical height, the fingertips placing more spin on the ball increases ball rotation so the ball does not “snag” (rotate so slowly it increases friction) the surface of the water but bounces off it.  The woman shooter changes from the standard 3-finger release to a pinch grip with an index finger release and a pinch grip 2-finger release to skip the ball.  The 3-finger release causes the ball to “dig” a deeper “hole” in the water (greater ball spin displaces more water) and is used by men. A 1-finger or 2-finger release is used by women and has less ball spin, there is less water displacement with the ball not digging as deep and the ball skips easier. The woman shooter pinches the ball and snaps the wrist down with the index finger making the final contact with the ball.  Since only one finger is used on the index finger release instead of three fingers, the woman must place more fingertip spin on the ball for adequate ball rotation.  For the 2-finger release, the woman’s index finger and middle fingers are placed on the middle of the ball as these two fingers make final contact with the ball.  In addition, she needs to use a 2-meter skip point for a 2-finger release and 1½ meter or 1-meter skip point to the goal for an index finger release (see Fig. 15). 

When the skipped ball takes a little hop and turns to the left it is the result of the right wrist turning inward which was caused by the woman shooter’s square body position and dropped elbow.  When the woman’s elbow begins to drop during the shot, the shooter’s hand turning inward puts sidespin on the ball and causes ball to hop to the left (see The Shot Doctor: Skip Shots 1-4).



The woman player does not drop the ball due to her right hand being “hard.”  There is no such thing as a “stone hand.”  There is, however, a player with a stone right leg.  A “stone leg” cannot adjust to the ball and is immobile (first two panels).  The experienced player’s right leg adjusts to the ball to create the soft right hand to catch the ball.  The player’s mobile right leg position creates a stable body so the right hand and arm can absorb the force of the ball and swing the ball back.  For example, hips rotate = right leg swings back = right arm swings back (third panel). A square player cannot absorb the force of the ball, cannot rotate the hips and swing the arm back, and therefore drops the ball (see Fig. 16). 



Any shot taken by a female water polo player where the elbow drops is the result of having a square body.  A woman with an angled body with the elbow high and the hips rotating cannot drop her elbow.  This is a common mistake made by the inexperienced female water polo player.  The player does not what to move the right leg straight back and is content to remain in the square to the goal eggbeatering position with both of the legs in front of the hips.  The inexperienced female player “feels” that it requires less effort to be square than to have the left foot forward and the right leg straight back.  The result is the square body that leads to a dropped elbow.  “Feeling good” is not the same thing as good technique (see Fig. 17).


The girl or woman shooter has to constantly deal with fear while shooting.  Many times she is too afraid to shoot the ball even though she is wide open in front of the goal.  One of the first things that happens with fear is she will begin to rationalize in her brain about the shot.  Instead of working off muscle memory, she begins to think about the shot.  The more that she thinks about the shot, the less likely she is going to shoot the ball.  To stop this situation from controlling the mind of the shooter she must immediately say to herself, “Cancel out.”  This is a signal to the mind to stop rationalizing.  She must stop thinking about the shot and SHOOT!  A great shooter is on automatic pilot and “thoughtless” when throwing the ball.  The motor part of the brain is involved in movement and throws the ball.  The thinking part of the brain does not.  To quote Descartes with a slight addition, “I think therefore I am…not going to shoot.”


The coach of a girl or women’s water polo team reads the above shooting corrections about improving the shot, uses the visual clues to find the player’s particular problem and fixes it.  It is easier to fix a problem with women shooters than with men except for their tendency to be in a square body position to the goal.  Women athletes listen well and are attentive to their coach’s instructions.  Women want to get better. Each one of the shooting corrections is simple and logical.  There is no magic or emotion involved.  She can transform herself into a great shooter with the correct knowledge.

© Copyright 2012 Jim Solum
Next month: Women’s Shooting Part 5


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