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Volume 6 Number 1 October 1, 2012
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.

Women’s Shooting Part 9

The woman driver has the advantage


The woman driver in this article completes her revolutionary strategy to bring the driving game back to life.  The woman’s game is the driving game.  The woman’s body is best suited for driving.  When the woman driver uses push offs and the triple option of shots, she can dominate the game. The ability of the woman driver to score from the counterattack and in the frontcourt offense is now unlimited.  She is not a weak driver nor is she a weak shooter.  The modern driver uses a hook move, ducks under the guard, a hip bump, a right foot push off and a combined left hook and right foot push off to get open. In addition, she masters her thoughts.  She has a strong shot and a strong mind.  The mental game of water polo comes first before the technical aspects of drive-in shooting.  A weak mind equals a weak shot. She uses her will to conquer her fear of failure and uses intent to focus the mind on her goals during the game.  She will never be fearless, no one ever is, but she will contain and control her fears so she is able to perform up to her full potential.


Half of shooting is technique, the other half is confidence.
The coach’s job is to build both.

Coaching the player’s mind and coaching the player’s body are not two separate tasks.  All of the coach’s efforts to create the perfect shot are also dedicated to building the driver’s confidence.  Without confidence there is no shot.  The well-trained shooter that lacks confidence to shoot or the will to score is useless during a water polo game.  Both the technical and the psychological aspects of the player must be addressed.  Mistakes have to be corrected, but, in a gentle and caring manner when coaching women. The coach cannot kill the hope and confidence of the shooter.  The player has to be nurtured by the coach and her team to have the courage to shoot the ball.  She must have the desire to drive, not to be afraid of failure and have a strong intent to score.  The driver that does not drive and is afraid to shoot is of little value to the team.  There is only one rule: The bad shot is only the one that the water polo player never takes!  Criticizing and ridiculing a shooter for a bad shot will guarantee that this particular woman driver (or the team) will never take another shot during the game.  Coaching the mind of the player to have confidence is just as important as coaching shooting technique.  The player must love herself, feel accepted and loved by the team and the coach, to have the confidence to shoot the ball.  Without love, no one will take the risk of being a driver.  Without love and trust there cannot be a great women’s team.


Only one hand shoots the ball. The shooter must have the will to shoot the ball.

In this world, there are only two types of people: those with will and those without.  There is no time during the middle to late counterattack when a driver cannot score or create an exclusion.  There is no time when the frontcourt offense is set up that the creative driver cannot score or create an exclusion on the guard.  When one watches Tony Azevedo or Brenda Villa of the US Men or Women’s National Teams, they are attempting to get open and score at every opportunity.  These two drivers are fanatical about wanting to get open and get the ball.  They possess the will to score and the knowledge to score.  This combination of skill and will has created these two four-time Olympians.  The will to score is just as important as the ability to score.  One, will, is psychological; the other, skill to score is technical.  Of the two, the will to score is the most important.  If the talented driver does not begin the drive, all of her driving skills are meaningless.  If the wide-open woman driver does not shoot but passes the ball off to another player who is covered, the game is lost.  The will to score has to be found in every woman’s heart so she can overcome her fear.  Fear is the body’s response to a dangerous situation where caution needs to be used.  Fear when shooting the ball is an irrational phobia that prevents the ball from being thrown.  There is nothing dangerous about throwing the ball at the goal.  But fear persists among woman water polo players.  The question is why?  It is a question that the author cannot answer.  But it is the challenge that every woman must face and conquer.


The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Fear of failure weighs heavily on the woman’s psyche.  Women want to be perfect!  Yet, to succeed, the woman player must fail repeatedly.  Paradoxically, failure leads to success.  Eventually, she understands how not to get the contra foul on the drive and how to score instead of having the shot blocked.  Creativity does not mean instant success.  Creativity in driving and in shooting means a lot of failures until the correct drive or shot is mastered.  Creativity is based on experimentation.  Try a new shot, and it is blocked.  Try is a slightly different shot again and it is blocked too.  Finally, the third new shot scores.  The sad truth to the perfection seeking female, is to develop a new shot, the woman has to fail repeatedly.  In reality, the shooter may have to experiment and experience failure for a week to develop a new shot.  Both men and women want to stick “with the tried and true” shot.  Translated that means I only have one shot and I not going to change whether it works or not.  Tony Azevedo, four-time US Olympian, approaches practice as “Failure Time.”  That is he experiments with new shots at every practice, hoping to develop a new shot.  He is unique in he has the courage to experiment and to continue to experiment when he fails and his new shot is blocked.  The average one-shot shooter will not score after a while as the goalie knows her shot and sets up every time to block it.  She needs a new shot.  But to succeed she must fail a lot.  A paradox arises; being afraid of failure only leads to more failure.  The driver failing while learning something new, however, leads to eventual success.  In women’s college and professional basketball, the top scorers only score a little over 40-percent of their attempts.  They miss 50 to 60-percent of their shots.  The high-level basketball woman player realizes that she is going to miss over half of her shots.  However, her attitude after a miss is, “I will make the next three baskets.”  If she was not perfect on the first shot, she will be perfect on the next shot.  We saw that in the 19-year old US Olympian Maggie Steffans, high scorer at the Olympic Games, who was not afraid to shoot the ball in spite of her young age.

The last comment: the woman must be wary of striving to be perfect. The perfect is the enemy of the good. No one is perfect.  No water polo player’s performance is ever perfect.  The attempt by the woman to “always be perfect” ruins the present.  There is no perfection.  It is a dream.  It is a dream not worth following.  Being good is great!  Never let the good be destroyed by the unattainable perfect.  It is enough to be good.  The fear of failure begins with seeking perfection.


Without intent, there is nothing.

The goal of the woman driver should be to score.  To be able to score she must have intent.  This is more than having a driver skill set, or to be unafraid of failure.  Intent is to have a purpose, a goal and to achieve that goal.

Without intent, there is no action.  It is a thought before a shot.  The driver must explode into every drive at 100-percent.  She must be willing to use all of her strength for one second to drive to dominate the guard, to be open in two strokes and to shoot the ball.  This goal is easily achieved for someone with intent.  It is impossible for someone without intent.  The woman driver has decided, before she even put on her swimsuit, that she will dominate.  All of the great woman players in college and internationally have intent.  The average player has no intent and consequently no success. 

Intent is inner discipline in which she commits 100-percent of herself for the team to succeed. Intent is learned.  To achieve her aims she must set goals, have affirmations, is focused on these goals and overcomes her tendency to be lazy.  The driver writes down her goals and then works to achieve them.  To work hard in practice, not argue with fellow players, to score so many goals a game and the total number of goals for a season.  All of her goals are written down and looked at daily.  For example, an affirmation would be is when she is taking an outside shot she explodes upward and kicks the legs high and hard.  Most girls and women do not want to kick hard with their legs.  The best shooting technique is to have a high vertical leap out of the water.  This action takes the great force generated by the legs and transfers that force into the right arm.  Hard kick = great force for the great shot but it requires great effort.  A weak kick = little force for a weak shot and it requires no effort.  To get this effort the player has to have intent to start kicking her legs hard.  Every girl or woman driver or shooter can kick the legs hard and get higher out of the water but few do. Before the ball ever left the hand of the shooter without intent, the shot failed—due to a weak leg kick.  It is a thought before a kick.  Intent gets the motor started.   Will, meeting fear with resolve and having intent are the secrets of a successful driver.


The modern woman driver is putting life back into a game that has become stagnant; it consists of mud wrestling on the perimeter and at the two-meter position.  “Train quick, be quick” is the new rule for the woman driver of today, which allows her to get away from her Greco-Roman wrestling guard.  With the push off moves and advanced lateral movement shots, the modern woman driver has become an overwhelming scoring machine during the counterattack and in the frontcourt.  Below are fifteen push off moves that separate the driver from her guard and create the unhindered open shot.  The first illustration below indicates the various spots that the driver’s foot or shin can push off (see Fig. 1).

Push Off Spots


In the skeleton above, the driver pushes off the guard’s upper thigh, hip, crest of pelvis, the buttocks and a bony prominence in the front part of the pelvis bone called the AIIS (Anterior Inferior Ischial Spine) now called the “bump” with the foot or shin (see Fig. 1).



The driver has the guard on her back and she uses the left foot to “grab” into the guard’s hip and uses the foot as a pivot point to assist the driver in turning to the left.  This move is covered in detail in last month’s article titled Women’s Shooting Part 8 (see Fig. 2).

Combined Hook & Foot Push Off


This is a combination left/right foot move.  The driver has the guard on her back, and she uses a left foot hook to turn to the left and then pushes off with the right foot for separation (see Fig. 3).

Quadriceps Kick


The driver is on the 4-meter line and the guard is tight on her back.  The driver cannot get open.  She switches to a check move to slow or stop the guard’s movement in the water.  The driver kicks rapidly and several times with the heels of her feet into the guard’s thighs.  The quadriceps kick immediately immobilizes the guard’s thighs and she backs off the driver.  The quadriceps kick gives the driver enough space to take a shot at the goal (see Fig. 4).

Slam-Dunk Push Off


Driver holds position to force the guard to be vertical and tight on her back.  The driver folds her right leg across the guard’s stomach and both hips and pushes off (see Figs. 5, 6).

Push Off from the Guard’s Shoulder

While swimming side-by-side in mid-court in the counterattack, the driver pushes off the shoulder with the hand to gain a slight advantage.  It is an offensive foul and one that the backcourt official should notice but many times the driver can get away with in. 

Duck Under and Grab the Other Side

Tony Azevedo, four-time US Olympian, would sometimes duck under the guard, slide his inside hand to the opposite side and grab hold of the guard’s obliques to help pull himself under the guard for a duck under move.  The referee only saw the Tony fingers and did not realize what had happened.

Zigzag Drive


The driver is closely guarded on the counterattack.  To get open, the driver zigzags down the pool to shake off the guard.  She zigzags by swimming two strokes on her stomach doing freestyle and then two strokes on her back doing backstroke.  She freestyle swims to the right and backstrokes to left.  When she is on her back, she is looking for the long goalie pass or a pass from the half tank release (see Fig. 7). 

Mermaid Directional Check Move  


The driver is driving side-by-side, bumps with the hip and uses a lateral dolphin kick of the legs to the right to “nudge” the guard to change direction and swim away at an angle.  The dolphin kick flick of the legs is not a push off, it is a directional check move, that aids the driver in turning to her left (see Fig. 8).

Right Foot Bump Push Off


The driver is on the 5-meter line with the guard on her back and barely has inside water.  The driver stops, holds position by fiercely sculling which puts the guard tight on her back.  With the guard positioned perfectly for the foot push off, she places her right foot on the “bump” and pushes off and gains about a half body length of separation and another second of time to take the shot.  It is a small forward gap push off covered up by the driver dribbling the ball away from the guard (see Fig. 9).

Two-Leg Hold

The two-legged hold is a 1960’s water polo move that died out because it did nothing for the center or the driver.  The high school center would wrap both of her legs around the center guard and spin the 2-meter guard 180-degrees but was frozen in the water with her legs stuck to the guard’s hips. By the time the center or driver has both of her legs back under the hips; the guard recovers and steals the ball or the goalie steals the ball.

Hip & Elbow Bump 


The post player uses the hip and elbow bump on the 6-on-5 to slow the guard’s progress.  The post shooter is often attacked as the ball arrives.  The hip bump combined with the elbow thrust delays the attacking guard on the post by knocking down her legs just enough to give her the time to catch and shoot (see Fig. 10).

Leg Brush


Leg brush is used by the 6-on-5 offensive player when she is on the post to buy time to shoot the ball.  The post player sees the ball slowly coming towards her and realizes that the guard is going to attack her before the ball will arrive and knock it down.  The post player cannot grab the post guard (US 2, 3/EU 3, 6) and hold her with the hand.  Instead, she strongly rakes the side of her foot down the guard’s lower leg and calf.  This move knocks down the guard’s legs and delays but does not stop the guard from going after the ball.  The leg brush move delays the guard just enough for the post shooter to take a clear shot at the goal before the guard’s hand hits her arm (see Fig. 11). 

Knee to Hip Bump


The driver drives half way past the guard and is grabbed by the beaten guard’s hand.  The driver bends her knee and knees the guard’s hip with a sharp blow.  This hip bump move or hip check move causes instant pain in the hip area and the guard immediately lets go of the driver. There is no push off created with this move.  The guard is dead in the water.  If the driver misses the guard’s hip with the knee, she can use a downward directed shin check move on the guard’s thigh that sinks the guard.  The driver does not create a huge gap with a powerful horizontal push off.  It is enough for the driver to be free of the guard and have inside water at the beginning of the drive.  Though the driver is being “manhandled” on the drive, she must be controlled and measured in her effort to get open (see Fig. 12).

Shin Move


A shin move is used when the driver can only get half way around the guard or has gotten past the guard but is being held back.  The shin move separates the guard’s hands from the driver who is only partially open.  The driver bends her knee, places the shin on the guard’s hip or upper thigh, and pushes off.  It is a close-quarters move where the guard is entangled in the driver and swimming cannot get the driver free. A shin push off creates a small gap and knocks down the guard’s legs (see Fig. 13). 

Robert Lynn Backstroke Move    

Robert Lynn, a great driver for USC and the US Olympic team, invented this move.  The driver freestyles down the pool bearing into the guard and moving her over towards the right goal post.  Then the driver rolls on her back, pushes off and backstrokes at an angle away from the guard towards the left corner to free water.  As the driver begins to roll on her back, she lightly pushes off with the inside hand on the guard’s hip.  This is a quick move that is covered up by the splashing of the driver beginning to backstroke.  It is not a powerful and huge push off that makes the move apparent to the referee.  It is a subtle hand “nudge,” a positional check, to the guard’s hip, allowing the driver to change directions and angle off at a 45-degree angle.


The driver swims lap after lap bearing into her partner, ducking under, Wigo bumping, moving to the vertical to hold position and then pushing of the guard’s right “bump” (AIIS or crest of the pelvis) with her right foot to master all of the driving techniques.

In concluding, the woman driver is the master of the pool.  At anytime, anywhere, she can get an exclusion on her guard or score!  Whether the driver sprints away from the former center on the counterattack from 2-meters, is driving at half tank, or is inside the 5-meter line with the ball—nowhere is safe for the guard.  The driver has mastered all of the strategies of driving, the triple option of shots and the numerous push offs to render her guard completely ineffective.  At the same time, she has developed her mind and courage.  She has the will to score, faces her fear with resolve and possesses an unwavering intent.  A strong mind with strong technique allows her to reach her full potential.

© Copyright 2012 Jim Solum
Next month: Women’s Shooting Part 10


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