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Volume 6 Number 3 January 1, 2013
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.


How to break the swimsuit grab


The women’s swimsuit covers her upper body with cutouts for the two armpits and the neck and with straps to create the ideal place for the guard with sticky fingers to hold on to her heart’s content.  Hold and wait for the slough seems to be the rule for the defense.  Amazingly, the referee does not notice most of the guard’s holds.  The referee, however, notices the escape attempt by the center to get away from the grabbing guard’s hands.  This is an unfair situation: one that rewards the guard’s poor defense and punishes the center’s good offense.  The woman center shooter is at a severe disadvantage, as she is constantly being held and sunk by the center guard.  Due to the center’s reduced upper body strength, the 2-meter offensive player cannot “shake off” the guard’s hands as the man does. The center guard can hold the center and prevent her from getting position and shooting. There is a critical need for the center to have techniques to break the guard’s hold without getting a contra foul called.  The center’s solution to getting out of the guard grasp is to use the twelve hand release techniques, spin or movement shots (Boyer shot, a rollout shot or a layout shot) to get open.  The hand release techniques, spin and any of the three movement shots separate the guard’s hands from the center’s swimsuit and allow the center to shoot the ball.  With center free of the guard’s grasp, the center guard is now is now alone and guarding water.

Twisted Strap


The center that faces the “twisted strap defense” tries futilely to try a fight off a guard off that has a firm grip on the straps of her swimsuit.  The center guard twists one of the center’s straps, sinks the center and is now elevated high out of the water with one hand high in the air almost touching the clouds.  To the referee and bystanders it appears that the center guard suddenly has great legs and the center has weak legs. This is an illusion. This should be an exclusion foul every time that the guard is higher out of the water than the center. The solution to this defensive move called the “twisted strap defense” is a quick 360-degree spin move by the center that frees the strap from the guard’s grasp.  The center uses either a 360-degree spin move and the center remains in place or a mobile 90-degree spin move to the right or left for a Power Turn Boyer shot or a rollout shot.  The anti-strap offensive technique spin move is used frequently at the international level.   One sees about once or twice a year one of the water polo players on the US National team has broken her index finger when the center spun on her when her hand was wrapped around a swimsuit strap (see Fig 1). 

Another good combination move that frees the center and creates a shot is a “spin to a shot.”  The center breaks the guard’s grip and is able to shoot at the same time.  For example, the center spins out of the guard’s grasp into a rollout shot. Another possible move is to use a Power Turn Boyer shot by spinning 90-degrees towards the right corner to shoot the ball.  However, layout shots are more difficult to perform as the center guard is sinking the center and this reduces her ability to use her legs to lunge out away from the guard.  In some cases, the center needs a strong horizontal leg push off called a Russian push off (see The Shot Doctor Part 9, 10) to lunge forward and separate from the guard.

Grab and Pull Back


When the center has spaghetti straps or thin straps that cross the back, the guard grabs the straps where they cross and pulls back.  The guard now holds the reins of the horse underwater and can control the center’s movement.  The center must kick up hard to show the referee the guard’s strap grab. Alternatively, the 2-meter player can lunge away from the center guard to show the referee that the guard is holding the straps at mid back. Since this happens so quickly, the referee may miss seeing the guard’s hand fly off the center’s straps.  Another method is for the center to lunge straight out and get the ball for a Humbert shot or layout shot (see Shot Doctor Hole Shots Part IV). The Humbert shot has the center turn the left shoulder 90-degrees into the guard to rip the straps away from the guard.  The layout shot has the center continue moving out and rolls on her back for the shot. The best solution is for this problem is for the center to wear a full body swimsuit that covers the back and has thick straps.  However, many times the center is tired of wearing such a restrictive and tight swimsuit and wants to wear something looser fitting.  Many areas, such as Southern California high schools, require all players except the goalie to have a swimsuit that covers the back and has thick straps (see Fig. 2). 

Grab the Left Armpit


The guard grabs the swimsuit’s left armpit and pulls down.  This grab holds the center’s body so she cannot move.  However, the center guard is susceptible to 180-degree spin move or a Power Turn Boyer towards the right corner of the goal.   The center spins 180-degrees to inside water or turns 90-degrees for a Power Turn Boyer pushes off and shoots a Boyer shot at the high right corner of the goal.  Bad defense is punished by the center (see Fig 3).

Grab the Right Armpit


The guard is offset on the 2-meter player with the guard’s body around the center’s left shoulder with her right arm reaching across the center’s swimsuit to grab swimsuit’s right armpit. This is a very effective defense.  The center cannot move, the guard’s hand is underwater and the guard is on the center’s left shoulder with her left arm extended to block the passing lane.  If the center remains static and does not move, she is finished.  A 360-degree spin in place or a Rollout shot towards the left corner, or a Right Hand Reverse Spin towards the left corner solves this problem.  The guard cannot hold on when the center moves away or spins.  Once the stagnant guard is no longer holding onto the center’s swimsuit she cannot defend against the shot.  Poor defense is punished by the mobile   center scoring (see Fig. 4).

2-Hand Push Down and Show Hands


The guard pushes down with both hands and then lifts them quickly off the center’s shoulder (while sinking her) and moves them high in the air to show the referee she was not holding.  The center has been sunk and is halfway under water and now the guard is high in the air with both her hands almost touching the sky.  The 2-meter player’s body is being used as a trampoline by the guard.  And there is nothing she can do to correct this situation.  The center has to rely on the referee to make the correct call.  Two-thirds of the time the referee does not make the call on the center guard and the two-hand sink defensive maneuver goes unpunished (see Fig. 5).

Drape Arm Over the  Shoulder


The center guard drapes her arm over the shoulder of the center to push down or grab the front of the center swimsuit around the neck.  This forward guard’s arm position allows her to knock the ball away by extending the arm even further over the center’s shoulder.   This is an intolerable situation for the center.  The center grabs the center guard’s thumb and bends it backward. The pressure by the center on the guard’s thumb makes her think her thumb is about to be broken!  The center guard freezes, for fear that her thumb will be broken.   The center is now free to move to the ball, turn and shoot without any defensive interference. Some guards have fast hands and grabbing and bending back the thumb is not possible.  Another technique to use is to grab the guard’s outstretched wrist and pull the guard’s arm over the center’s shoulder.  The center sinks a little and it appears to the referee that the guard is lunging on top of the center and sinking her (see Fig. 6).

Guard in Front Pulls the Front of Center’s Swimsuit


The center guard fronts the center, grabs the front of her swimsuit in front of the neck, and pulls down to control the 2-meter offensive player.  This of course is a foul, however, half the time the referee never calls it.  There are several techniques the 2-meter player uses to break the center guard’s grip.  The first is for the center to grab the guard’s wrist with both hands and twist the guard’s wrist inward into extreme pronation (guard’s right hand turns to the right) to break her grip.  The intelligent center guard lets go of the swimsuit. If the guard does not let go, her shoulder and face dips into the water.

 When the guard grabs the front of the suit with their right hand, the center places her right hand on top of the guard’s hand, places her thumb on top of the guards thumb, squeezes and rotates the guard’s hand down.  Continuing the rotation with the center’s left hand will cause immediate pain and forces the guard’s face into the water.  The reason why this technique is so successful is the guard in the process of gripping the center’s swimsuit is the guard has turned her wrist so far inward in grabbing the swimsuit, there is no more range of motion in the wrist or elbow.  The center then twists the guard’s arm passed its range of motion to cause the guard instant elbow pain.  Most of so-called “wrist rotation” is actually elbow rotation of the forearm and “wrist.”   When the forearm turns, the wrist turns and the hand releases the swimsuit (see Fig 7). 

In addition, the center can grab the guard’s fingers with a hand and bend them backward to dislodge them.  To create and even stronger release of the guard’s hand off the swimsuit, the center bends the defender’s hand and wrist back as far as possible into wrist extension (bending back).  Another useful technique is to punch the outside part of the elbow of the center guard’s locked and outstretched holding arm to create a sharp elbow pain that forces the guard to release her hold on the center’s swimsuit. 

The last method is for 2-meter offensive player to use a Varga Bear Hug hold.  The center grabs the low back of the center guard with one or two hands and pulls the guard into the center’s body.  When the guard vertical and close to the 2-meter player’s body, the center grabs the side of the guard’s swimsuit around the hip area and spins around the guard for front water.

Fronting the Center



The guard decides to front the center and hold on to both of the center’s arms.  The center can allow this defensive action to occur if the ball is at half tank.  Once the ball is at the point or wing, the center must regain front water so the ball can be passed into set (the center).  The center breaks the front by using a number of techniques: ducking under the guard’s outstretched arms, grabbing the guard’s elbow and swimming over the arm or to spin around the guard.  The center makes a calculated decision on when she is going to make her move to regain front water. There is no reason for the center to fight the guard for position when the ball is at half tank and will not be passed into the center for another 7 to 10-seconds.  The center needs to rest and conserve her energy for getting open when the ball is in a position to be passed into 2-meters (see Fig. 8). 

Another way to prevent this situation from ever occurring is to front the center guard and grab both of her arms. The situation is now reversed, and fronts the center guard and holds onto both of her arms so she cannot move or grab onto the center’s swimsuit.  When the ball appears on the perimeter, the center spins to face the perimeter passers.  Lately, the referees are starting to call a contra foul on the center for holding the center guard’s arms.  The center has to “read the referee” and see how he or she is going to call or not call this holding technique.  If the referee is calling many contra fouls in the first quarter, the center must adjust and not hold the guard.  Why the center cannot hold the guard when the guard is holding the center is unknown, but that is life in the 2-meter jungle.

Spin Move



The guard is fronting the center, who must spin around the guard to regain front water.  The rule is to fake, grab and spin. The center head fakes to the left and spins to the right.  The head fake commits the center guard to the left and opens up the right side.  The center grabs the center guard’s hip and spins around the guard for front water.  The guard may attempt to get into a “spinning game” with center.  The guard constantly attempts to spin around the center and the center rotates in the opposite direction to prevent the guard’s spin from being completed.  In the spinning game, there are no swimsuit holds as the players use their arm and legs to spin.  It is a tiring game for the 2-meter player to continue to spin and spin against the guard to hold position but the center must expend the energy so she is open to receive the ball from the perimeter passer (see Figs. 9, 10).

Hold and Slough

The plan for the defense in the dropback zone is for the guard to hold the center to delay the center from shooting or passing the ball out until the slougher arrives to steal the ball.  Hold, sink and steal” is the motto of the defense.  The slougher is 3 to 4-seconds away or 6 to 8 strokes from the ball; the college center takes 2-seconds to pick up the ball.  That leaves the center about 2-seconds to shoot or kick the ball out.  This holding situation arises about 80-percent of the time and prevents the center from ever kicking the ball out or shooting the ball.  “To combat the guard’s holding, the center has to move in the water to get away from the guard.  A static center makes it easy for the sloughers to steal the ball; a mobile center is not.  The mobile center sees that there is a slough on the ball and moves to the right or left to shoot the ball. 

 Center’s Move to Freedom


The center guard is holding the center, offset to the 2-meter player’s right shoulder, and is expecting a backhand when the ball comes into 2-meters.  The center grabs the ball, does a Power Turn Boyer to the right corner to score (90-degree turn, forearm ribcage push off, step-out Boyer shot).  The next time the ball comes into 2-meters with the guard holding, the center guard is offset on the center’s left shoulder to prevent the Power Turn Boyer shot.  The center sees that rollout move towards the left corner of the goal is open and she rolls out and scores.  The third time the ball comes into set, the center guard wraps both of her arms around the center.  The center pushes off and moves straight-out into a layout shot on her back.  Whatever defensive technique the guard is using, the center counteracts it and moves away from the guard.  A “hand guard” without legs, cannot react when she does not have a swimsuit to hold to, and watches the open center shooter turn right, left or straight-out for the shot (Fig. 11).

Center Uses the Legs to Block Guard

The 2-meter player blocks the path of the guard to stop her from swimming around her to front by moving the body in front of the guard. The move that the center makes to stop the guard is to step-out laterally with the left leg or right leg to block the path of the center guard.  This technique is called using the legs.  The center uses her legs to reposition her body in the water.  Grabbing the guard with the hands is not a good center blocking offense. Holding on to the guard with the hand, does not move the center’s body into the correct position in the water.  Once the guard is free from the center’s grasp, she can front the 2-meter player.  Only the center’s legs can physically move her body to block the path of the swimming guard.  The players need to be taught, whether or offense or defense, to use the legs to get position and not the hands.   Good defense is good leg work.

In concluding, the swimsuit hold by the guard is the name of the game.  And, it will remain in women’s water polo until the end of time.  The center’s swimsuit is just such an easy target for the guard to grab and slow or prevent the center from getting to the ball. However, the center can use twelve different counter techniques to prevent the guard from holding the center’s swimsuit or fronting the center.  The center can twist the guard’s wrist, grab the draped arm, hit the elbow, spin and use two lateral movement shots such as the Power Turn Boyer shot and the Rollout shot or a straight-ahead Layout shot. The center has to absorb the repeated fouling by the guard and the have skill to exploit the weakness of the guard by using the proper “hand release” techniques, spins and shots to break guard’s hold.

2013 Copyright Jim Solum
Next Month: Women’s Shooting Part 12

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