Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 5 Number 12 September 1, 2012
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.


The woman driver has the advantage. 


The modern driver senses the guard’s position in the water, selects what move she is going to put on the guard, pushes off and scores using one of the triple option shots.  Contrary to popular thought, the guard is not a threat to the driver.  The guard is a tool for the driver to use.  The guard’s body is a platform that provides the driver the ability to push off, which allows her to become open and score.  She scores with help from the guard.  The guard, in fact, is part of her shot!  Pushing off-to-a-shot is a new concept for women.  It is a valuable addition to their shooting skills.  After a successful push off that knocks down the guard’s legs, the driver is able to move with little defensive pressure.  She moves laterally to the left or right and shoots around the goalie for the score.  The ability of the driver to have a position sense of where she is in the water allows her to accurately push off the guard’s “spot.”  Not only does the driver have to push off with the correct part of the arm or leg but she must locate where the push off “spot” is on the driver. The push off spot can be the ribs, hip or thigh.  In addition, she must push off using only the smallest amount of force.  The modern driver needs to develop position sense, foot accuracy and smart legs and smart feet. 

For the driver to push off inaccurately with the foot on the guard’s chest instead of on the hips and with excessive force, creates an offensive foul.  It is a miscalculation in aiming by the driver of about 12-inches or more (30-cm); and it is a too forceful a push off using two to three times the amount of leg force necessary to get open.  Pushing off involves the driver developing a position sense of where she is in the water and where the guard’s body is located and how much “touch” (leg power) is necessary to push off.  Without the driver developing the correct “spot technique” with eyes on her feet and legs, she cannot push off and become free.  A “blind” driver (without eyes on the back of her legs and feet), unaware of the guard’s position in the water and with “dumb legs” (leg and foot kick the guard anywhere and with too much force) cannot push off the guard and get open.



From the triple option comes a variety of shots for different driving situations in the pool.  The driver should be aware of how the angle and the guard’s position on the driver effects the shot.  The prepared driver is aware of all of the possibilities.  The ability to set up the guard, push off and shoot requires the driver to be knowledgeable about the game.  There are no “dumb drivers” in water polo that can only score off the strength of their right arm.  No driver ever overpowers a goalie.  The driver, instead, outsmarts the goalie and scores the easy goal by setting up the guard, pushing off the guard and moving laterally.  The disadvantage of the guard and the goalie is that both of them cannot move laterally quickly enough to block the lateral movement shot (see Fig. 1).

The driver has to have an aggressive attitude.  The guard and the goalie are not people to fear but players to outsmart and use!  The driver is one of the smartest players in the pool.  Manuel Estriarte, Spain’s great driver, was a 5’9” and 145 pounds (1.7-meters, 65-kilos) and guarded by larger men over 6-feet and 200-pounds (1.8-meters, 94-kilos).  He was not going to overpower anyone when driving or shooting.  Quick moves to get open and quick wrist shots from a raised arm were his weapons.  Quickness should also be the weapon that the woman driver uses to score.  Quickness is not emphasized with woman drivers.  The woman driver is not like the male driver.  She cannot muscle her way to the goal with the guard hanging on her and slam the ball into the goal.  To move slowly without having great strength, dooms her shot.  It is the wrong shooting model.  To be quick and smart is the ideal driving model for the woman driver.



The challenge that confronts the woman driver is where to find duck under spot on the guard, butt bump spot and/or the foot push off spot on the guard.  The driver needs to develop a position sense of where she is in the water in relation to the guard using her arm, back, butt and legs.  Position sense or body awareness is required so she can have precise “aim” at the correct part of the guard’s body.  She aims for the guard’s ribs for a forearm push off to a Boyer shot, the hip for a foot hip push off, the guard’s chest and abs for an underwater Wigo butt bump.  Even when she ducks under the guard, the driver has to know what depth underwater she is at in relationship to the guard’s body.   

For the woman driver to be successful on these moves, she must first locate and then push off the exact spot on the guard.  If she does not find the “spot,” she becomes a submarine on the duck under move, bumps the guard’s face on the Wigo bump move or the foot slips off the guard’s hip when pushing off and the driver is dead in the water. Location is everything to the water polo player.  The inexperienced driver has not yet developed her “position sense” of where her body is in the water.  She does not know where the guard is located or how to control her leg or foot aim when pushing off.  In ducking under the guard, she does not “rub her back” against the guard’s underside and dives too deeply. In the Wigo bump she did not bear into the guard, rub shoulders and had no idea she was ahead of the guard and bumped the guard’s face instead of her chest.  In other push off moves, she pushes off with her foot on the guard’s shoulder, chest and neck instead of the hip for an offensive foul.  The driver has to develop a tactile sense and “feel” where she is in the water to develop a body awareness of her position in relation to the guard.  If the driver does not know where the guard is located or what her foot is doing, she pushes off the wrong spot of the guard for an offensive foul.  The push off that leads to a goal for the body-aware driver now becomes a contra foul for the inexperienced driver (see Fig. 2). 


The coach thinks that the driver should know the difference between where is the guard’s shoulder and her hip are located.  After all, to the coach, the guard’s hip is 12-15-inches (30-47-cm) further down the guard’s body than the shoulder.  The average driver, however, does not “feel” its location, she is blind; a blind body without awareness of her position in the water coupled to a dumb foot.  She has not yet developed a “position sense” in the water or what the Europeans called “eyes on the back” or “eyes on the feet.”  This is a tactile body sense and not a visual sense.  Developing “aim” requires the driver to develop the tactile sense within her body. She needs to see without using her eyes to locate the guard’s body and position her foot.  The center uses the same “feeling” (sensory) technique to figure out where the guard is when her back is to the goal.  The center “feels” the center guard in the vertical; the driver “feels” where the guard is located in the horizontal (see Fig. 3).

After the driver has mastered location of the guard and control of her leg and foot, she needs to measure the strength of the push off.  When the driver pushes off too hard with the forearm on the Boyer shot or the leg on the rollout shot a giant gap is created between the driver and the guard.  This “big gap” results in an immediate contra foul on the driver.  The driver has to use just enough force to get open and create a “small gap” so she can move and score.  If the driver does not use enough force, the guard is not slowed nor has her legs knocked down, and she attacks the ball.  The driver cannot over-do or under-do the force on the push off but uses the correct amount of controlled force.  The women driver has a huge advantage over the male driver because of her reduced arm and leg strength, which usually does not create the gigantic 7-foot (2.1-meters) push off that a boy or man does. In addition, because female guard’s wide hips and long legs causes her not to move very much when pushed off and there is usually not a “big gap” created between the driver and the guard.   The main advantage of the push off on a woman guard is that it knocks down the legs of the bottom heavy guard and temporarily immobilizes her in the water, allowing the driver to swim to free water.



The key to being able to take a rollout shot to the left, slam-dunk straight-ahead or a Boyer shot to the right is the push off.  The push off by the driver is a skilled movement.  We all have seen high school boys blatantly push off a guard, make a 2.5-meter gap and create a contra foul.  Girls never do push offs so it is hard to tell if they would be more skilled and show better judgment than the boys.  There are five types of push off that are determined by the size of the gap between the driver and the guard.  The five are big gap, medium gap, small gap, stop gap and a check.  The size of the gap between the driver and the guard in the next four push off are judgment calls (no pun intended) by the driver.  The big gap push off from the guard by the driver is 7-10-feet (2-3-meters).  A big gap push off is extremely obvious, and should never be used as it is an automatic contra foul.  The medium sized gap is about 5-feet or 2 1/4–meters between the driver and the guard.  It is noticeable, but there is not a huge gap like the big gap push off.  Probably, half of the time, it is a safe push off.  The small gap push off is the best type of push off.  The gap between the driver and the guard is less than 3-feet or 1-meter and is not noticeable by the referee.  For example, in college and internationally, the push off shooter is open, the guard is slow to attack, allowing the shooter to take an open shot at the goal. A push off foul occurred but the referee did not notice it (see Fig. 4).

The stop gap push off is where the driver did a medium push off, sees that the referee is thinking about calling a contra foul, and stops in the water and allows the guard to close the gap, and then swims off to free water.  The driver still has the advantage as the guard is closing the gap between the two players, so it is not a foul.  In the check move, a push off is used but not to create a gap but to stop the guard’s progress.  The driver’s leg or foot knocks down the guard’s legs and stops (checks) the guard dead in the water for a second.  The result of the check move is there is no gap of 1-meter or 1½-meters between the driver and the guard.  The guard cannot move and the driver swims away.  The referee assumes that the inactive guard was “asleep” and does not call a push off foul.  There was indeed a “check foul” on the guard but the referee is looking for a big gap push off between the two players.

When a big driver drives against a small guard, she must be extremely careful to use a small gap push off with reduced force.  A big driver is 20-30 pounds (9 to 14 kilos) heavier than the guard.  A hard the push off will send the guard flying across the pool for a contra foul.  A small driver, on the other hand, can push off to her heart’s content on a big guard without worrying about the guard moving too far away.  This is how the great Spanish driver, Manuel Estriarte, at 145 pounds (65 kilos) got away with pushing off on the larger 200-pound (90-kilos) guard.

To create a small gap push off requires the driver to have “smart legs and smart feet.”  The driver measures the amount of force and uses the least amount of force—not the greatest amount of force, against the guard.  In age group and in high school, the boys, for example, are determined to use the maximum amount of force to push off and create a big gap.  This of course results in an automatic contra foul.  The boy has a dumb leg and foot that are out of control. The wise woman, however, uses the minimum amount of force to create the smallest gap  necessary to get open for the shot.  While this seems logical to the coach, to the athlete it is difficult for her to control her leg and foot movement.  The driver learns by pushing off the guard, repeatedly until she uses the correct amount of force for the situation. Until the correct amount of leg or foot force is learned, it can be a frustrating time for the driver.

A word of caution is necessary here.  Women are renowned for kicking the guard in the face.  Women kick in retaliation for a “horrible” uncalled foul by the referee.  The referee is aware that girls kick with their feet and boys punch guards with their fists.  The skilled push off artist makes sure that her foot hits the correct “spot” (hips and thighs) underwater and is not high out of the water where it can strike the guard’s face or shoulders.  A poorly performed foot push off can result in an immediate exclusion foul on the driver.



Any good push off usually involves a hand grab or foot grab from a spin move.  In the 90-degree spin move the perimeter driver-to-be grabs the right side of the swimsuit with the left hand and makes a quarter turn for a foul or to pass.  The 180-degree spin move places the driver’s left hand on the opposite side of the guard’s waist or in the middle of the waist as the grab point to spin around the guard for inside water.  A foot grab or a hook is when the driver is going to turn to the left for a rollout shot and needs to “hook” the guard’s hip with her left foot.  The driver grabs the ball on top or on the side with the right hand and has the left foot in the guard’s hip.  The arm swing provides the force to pivot off the guard’s hip for a 45-degree turn (see Figs. 5, 6, 7).


The separation drills involving teaching the driver to have body positioning, position sense and location skills.  Body awareness drills develop tactile position sense so the driver knows where the guard is.  Location drills aim the foot, shin or forearm to push off at the correct “spot” on the guard’s anatomy.  The driver must know where her body is in relation to the guard and how to aim her foot so it does not slide off the guard.  There are drills to teach the driver to master holding position, ducking under, push offs to the right, left and straight-ahead.  These nine drills below place the driver in various situations where she has to develop position sense in the water, aim and the proper push off technique to gain separation from the guard and score.


  1. Vertical guard Hold Position

    Driver is in the vertical with guard on her back holding position while fiercely sculling and eggbeating. This drill teaches the driver how to hold position and keep the guard behind. To make this drill into a shooting drill, the ball is passed from the right wing with a high pass and the holding position  driver slaps the ball into the cage (see Fig 8).Positioning drill

  2. Horizontal guard on driver’s back Quadriceps Kick

    Driver kicks the guard’s thighs.  Driver has the guard tight on her back and kicks both of guard’s thighs with both of her feet at same time.  Good starting point to teach the driver foot push offs. Location drill

  3. Horizontal guard on driver’s back:Hold position and push off

    The driver will hold position, scull fiercely and push off the right bump with right foot (bump is a bony protuberance in front and on top of the hips). Location drill

  4. Horizontal guard: Bear-In

    The driver and partner swim for 4 laps rubbing shoulders and bearing-in as the driver attempts to drive the guard across to the other side of the pool. Teaches body awareness

  5. Horizontal guard: Ducking Under

    Driver swims for 4 laps ducking under the guard.  The best drill to teach body awareness

  6. Horizontal side-by-side: Wigo Bump

    The driver swims, ducks under, Wigo bumps into the guard’s stomach with her butt. An advanced move is to duck under, Wigo bump and then pop up, hold position by sculling and then swim away.  Next add the right foot push off on the right bump. Body awareness

  7. Horizontal: Freestyle to Backstroke

    The driver swims into the swimming guard, rolls on back, pushes off with hand and backstrokes away at an Location

  8. Horizontal fixed: Guard is side-by-side, shin push off hip

    Driver uses a shin push off against guard’s hip or thigh and swims away at angle to the right. It is done in the stationary and the dynamic (swimming) positions. Location

  9. Vertical fixed: Guard behind, right leg folded across the hips for a push off slam-dunk

    Practice by pushing off the wall with one foot and grabbing the ball, getting airborne and then slam-dunk the ball.  Add a guard, and have the driver push off the guard and slam-dunk the ball.  Location


In concluding, the driving game for women is now a new game, a creative game, a game of a push off-to-a-shot.  No longer does the woman driver drive to the right corner of the goal and throw a screw shot at the goalie for a blocked shot.    The driver develops her position sense in the water so she can use separation techniques, push offs and lateral moves to get open to take a clear shot.  The drive-in shot now becomes a combined push off/shot.  In addition, the use of a push off produces three options: a turn to the right for a Boyer shot, a turn to the left for a rollout shot or a straight-ahead airborne slam-dunk shot.  The guard’s body now becomes part of the driver’s shot.  No longer is the guard a threat but her body becomes a useful platform to push off and turn.  The complete driver has learned the basic push off techniques and then masters her body’s position sense and develops smart legs so the push off is small, measured and foul-free.

For additional information on driving please read Dr. Solum’s new book the “Science of Shooting: The Driver” by lulupress.com.  Within Water Polo Planet, the reader clicks on the water polo ball at the top right corner of this article to find the book.

© Copyright 2012 Jim Solum
Next Month: Women’s Shooting Part 9


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