Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 6 Number 5 April 1, 2013
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.

How to Teach Shooting: Part I

No one wants to hear about theory.  Just give me the ball and let me shoot.  Bad throwing technique just happens—it is simply bad luck.  Bad technique, however, actually represents bad theory.  The shooter does not understand the theory behind throwing the ball.  It is a thought before it is a shot.  One cannot teach technique unless one also teaches theory.  Theory and practice go hand and hand. In this month’s article we will concentrate on one drill and discuss the theory, dry land demonstrations, wet demonstrations, homework drills and the actual shooting drill performed in the water to illustrate to the coach how the player should shoot the ball.


At this moment in time, the major theory in American water polo is the “Big Four.” The shooter kicks up with the legs, has a vertical back, points the left shoulder and slaps the hand on the water.  In Europe, they teach the “Big 20.” There are 10 basic lower body fundamentals and 10 basic upper body fundamentals for throwing the ball.  That is quite difference 20 fundamentals for throwing versus 4 fundamentals (read the Shot Doctor’s 1st article).  The US player knows 80-percent less about shooting than the European.  When US coaching of throwing fundamentals is compared with European fundamentals, there is a vast gap in knowledge. 

How did this lack of knowledge on throwing technique come about?  The American pitchers are the best in the world.  Yet the American men water polo shooters are 8th in the world.  With so many talented baseball pitching coaches in the US, some of them should have become water polo coaches.  They did not.  Swimming and water polo are unique sports and there is no crossover to terrestrial based sports.  The only way the American coach was going to learn the European throwing technique was to play in Europe or be coached by a European in the United States.  Only about a 25 Americans play in Europe.  And when they return, they do not coach.  In addition, clubs cannot afford the cost of a high level European coach to coach the age group and high school kids.  Furthermore, at the high school level, the European coach has to be a credentialed teacher and a college graduate, which eliminates almost all of them.  So…where do we get the knowledge?  Water Polo Planet, ODP, books and clinics and other coaches and players.  Knowing the “Big 4” is simply not enough in the modern world.  

Before we can begin, the parent, player and coach have to be grounded in throwing theory.  Throwing theory has to be based on physics and reality.  The shot is math and mechanics—not magic.  For far too long coaches have had crazy ideas about shooting that have destroyed players throwing motion and shoulders.  No one ever questioned him (usually it is a male) on why he or she did these shots or drills.  The parent and player have to know that some of the ideas of the coach are 30 to 40 years old and are now obsolete.

For those of you that have patiently read through all of the author’s monthly “The Shot Doctor” articles for the past 5½ years, the following discussion on theory and drills is old stuff.  For the occasional reader that has “dabbled” in sporadically reading “The Shot Doctor” articles, the depth and biomechanics involved in the Drill Articles will come as a surprise.  The author suggests as a “make up read,” the reader read the five articles on “Smart Legs Parts 1-5” and the six articles on “Left Hand and Right Leg Parts 1-6.”  This will help the reader catch up on the latest shooting theory.  The author, will continue over many months with the Drill Articles.  He will explain some things that are not clear but will not backtrack and go over every point made in the last half decade.  All of the drills are based on sound theory that is practiced in Europe.  There are no weird drills.  The Drills fit into a structure the author calls the S4 system.  Strong legs, sustaining legs and smart legs and smart hands.  The player’s legs and hands are the foundation of these drills.


If a coach reads any sports book on throwing, he or she finds that drills must be sport-specific, functional, duplicate the throwing motion, duplicate the speed of the throwing motion and develop the legs to be strong, sustaining and smart and to have smart hands.  The drills have to be focused on the sport, exercise the correct muscles, replicate the form and speed of the movement and develop the legs and the hands.

The drills have to be sport-specific and oriented towards in the water throwing. The legs throw the ball.  What does that term mean?  Soccer drills do not work in the water.  Also some baseball drills do not work in water polo.  For example, we go to the weight room to develop strong legs.  We bend and we straighten out our legs.  However, the eggbeater kick is a semi-circular kick that uses rotation.  The football drills of push and pull do not duplicate the rotation motion of the legs.  To develop strong eggbeatering legs, the player has to be in the water doing eggbeater. 

The drills have to be functional for throwing.  A simple question: What are the muscles that make the legs rotate during the eggbeater?  Few coaches know the answer.  Are the muscles of the eggbeater the Quadriceps and Hamstrings muscles?  Do we bend and straighten out the legs when we do the rotational eggbeater kick?  The answer is no.  The Hamstring Curl exercises and Quadriceps Extensions do not make the rotational eggbeater kick.  Then what muscles do make the eggbeater kick?  The hip muscles, the internal hip rotators—gluteus internus, gluteus medius and tensor fascia latae; the external rotators— gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, 3 obturator muscles, gemelli muscles and the piriformis.  The range of motion of hip rotation or eggbeater rotation is 80-degrees—not 360-degrees.  Also, there is no foot rotation.  The hip muscles rotate the leg that has a foot attached to it.  The drills that exercise these muscles on dry land involve rotation—medicine ball side to side tosses.  The in the water drill, the rotational drills are the eggbeater.  All of this information was found in Google search.    

Therefore, since the legs are the shot and the eggbeater kick is the legs, the coach does not know the range of the eggbeater motion, what muscles create the eggbeater kick and what drills to do to strengthen the hips.  And, the coach has a mythological belief that the foot rotates by itself. A dry land demonstration of the lack of rotation of the foot around the ankle is to stand, place the thumb on the hip joint and try and move the foot without moving the hip.  Nothing happens.  The typical dry land drills for the eggbeater kick are not sport-specific, functional nor to they duplicate the eggbeater kick motion.

 To duplicate the function of throwing a ball on dry land.  The player throws a light medicine ball at a Mikasa rebounder net.  A throwing drill should involve throwing.  It is sport-specific, functional and actually uses the muscles involved in throwing the ball.  Another example, is throwing a heavy ball in water polo practice strengthens the muscles that throw the ball.  These two exercises develop the muscles of throwing but at a slower speed than the speed of the actual throw. 

The drills have to duplicate the speed of the throwing motion of a water polo player.  Therefore, the player needs to throw the ball for at least 45-minutes in practice to duplicate the speed of the throw.  The coach should not get sidetracked on this subject.  For example, does a bench press with its slow motion duplicate the motion of the shot?  The answer is no.  The bench press exercises the Triceps muscles that straightens out the arm for throwing the ball.  However, the speed of the bench press lift is hundreds of times slower than the speed of the right arm moving forward to shoot the ball.  The world’s record for a man throwing the ball is 60 mph (96.5 km/h).  That means that the shooter’s hand was moving at 60 mph for the ball to move that fast. The player’s two arms lifting a barbell do not move at 60 mph or even at a 3 mph swim stroke!  The rule for training is: Train slow, be slow.  Train fast, be fast.


Coaches and players have heard for over 50-years that the legs are the shot.  You need to have strong legs to play water polo.  What does this term really mean?  Does it mean I have big muscular legs like a weightlifter?  Or does it mean something entirely different.  “The legs are the shot” is almost a mythical term that no one knows what it really means?  The legs provide most of the power to throw the ball.  Leg power is transferred to the hips and from there the force is transferred upward through the chain of the body to the right arm to throw the ball.  But is having muscular legs enough?  No, it is not.  It is not even half of what the term really means.  The shooter’s legs provide power but also stability, vertical motion, lateral motion and speed.  The legs of the water polo player have to be strong and explosive, capable of rapidly lifting the shooter high out of the water.  The legs have to be strong enough to sustain the shooter’s vertical height out of the water for at least 3-seconds. Also the shooter’s right leg has to be “smart” enough to reposition itself many times through the entire range of motion of the whole body’s to balance out and sustained height out of the water. 

The third part of “strong legs” is smart legs—the correct use of the right leg to balance out the shooter.  The player’s right leg has to be educated to move through many different leg positions to stabilize the player catching and shooting the ball.  Ever heard of right leg education?  Nope.  We have been erroneously taught for 50-years that both legs balance out the shooter.  That is not true.  The Hungarians believe that 70-percent of the power for the shot comes from the right leg.  Furthermore, the author believes that 100-percent of balance comes from the right leg repositioning itself to stabilize the player. The player’s left leg only points and pivots and has limited leg movement.  In European theory, as seen in the table below, the duties of the left leg are vastly different than the duties of the right leg.  The right leg is the most important leg in shooting.

Left Leg   Right Leg
Fixed   Mobile
Points    Balances out
Pivots   Shoots the ball

The forth part of the S4 training system is smart hands.  That means not only a smart right hand but a smart left hand.  The theory states that the left hand and arm are more important than the right hand and hand and arm.  It is said that the left arm is the third leg of the shooter.  The right arm and hand only throws the ball.  The left hand and arm have over 20 uses such as elevating the shooter, stabilization, sustaining height out of the water, snapping the torso forward, rotating the body, balancing out the body, faking and many more.  There is no shot if the left hand and arm are not used.

Right Arm   Right hand     Left Hand
Moves forward   Catches the ball    Elevates
    Puts spin on the ball   Rotates the body
        Snaps the torso forward
        Balances out, 16 other things

The player’s right arm only holds the ball up in the air and moves it forward.  The right hand has a more complex job and releases the ball.  The release of the ball is rather simple for the low tech shooter, it is complex for the highly trained shooter.  The trained right hand has to able to put four different kinds of spin on the ball: backspin, topspin, diagonal spin and sidespin.  For the shooter’s right hand to be able to place these different spins on the ball the hand has to smart, sensitive, flexible, dexterous and be able to do an index finger release, a 2-finger release (index finger/middle finger), the standard 3-finger release (middle three fingers make final contact with the ball), a middle finger only release for a lob and a ring finger release for 4-spot/EU 2-spot entry pass into 2-meters.


The first drill really seems illogical: driving drills make great legs for the outside shooter.  For almost all coaches, driving drills are used to warm up the shooters after conditioning.  Kind of a swim and shoot drill.  However, the coach has to look and see what a specific type of driving drill works the shooter’s legs.  Obviously, driving towards the goal with horizontal legs and flutter kicking feet does not teach the outside shooter anything useful.  The driver driving in different directions, moving the legs from the horizontal prone to the horizontal supine (on the back) to the vertical and then repointing the left foot so it fakes the ball at the right corner of the goal and shoots the ball at the left corner of the goal does.  The coach can see that a proper outside shot oriented drive-in drill is quite beneficial for the outside shooter.   The driver’s constant leg positioning changes transfer over to the outside shot. 

When we look analytically at the outside shot, there is little movement by the left leg and some movement by the right leg.  When we compare the driver specific drill left and right leg gyrations where the legs are moving from horizontal freestyle to backstroke to the vertical there is tremendous leg movement.  None of this gigantic leg movement is possible when the shooter is vertical in the water.  When leg changing drive-in drills are done, it allows the shooter’s legs to explore all sorts of movement that is not possible in the vertical outside shooting position.


Athletes are a skeptical bunch.  They have developed a specific technique for throwing the ball and they are not going to change it.  It works, so why fix it!  The purpose of the dry land demonstrations is to enlighten our boys and girls into the fact that there is vast unknown world of throwing technique that they know absolutely nothing about.  The dry land demonstrations below will convince the player that these new concepts work.

Right Leg Swing Controls the Body   Stand squarely to wall swing the right leg back 90’, angled body appears
Right Leg makes the left foot and shoulder point   Drill above creates left foot/shoulder point
Right leg controls the length of the arm cock   Stand square, arm overhead, move the arm straight back
Right leg controls the vertical back   Sit in chair with right leg forward which lies the player on his back; stand  
behind the chair, the right leg straight back and the torso tilts forward
Left-Right Left Foot Point   Player points the left foot right corner and then point the left foot to the left corner.


Right Leg Swing Controls the Body

In the water, the player faces the goal squarely and swings the right leg back 90-degrees.  The left side of the body responds and the left foot point and the left shoulder point appear.  The left shoulder point is entirely dependent on the position of the right leg.  Move the right leg under the hips and the shoulders are square to the goal.

Right leg controls the length of the arm cock

The player faces the goal squarely and tries to make a long arm cock without rotating the hips.  The right arm moves back slightly.  Swing the right leg 90-degrees back and the long arm cock appears.  A square shooter cannot have a long arm and has a weak shot.  The coach can have the players shoot square to the goal and angled to the goal so they can see the difference that leg position has on the power of the player’s shot.

Right leg controls the vertical back

The player positions the vertical right leg under the hips then moves the right leg straight back with the knee slightly bent with a split eggbeater and the torso tilts forward.  The player moves the right leg forward of the hips and the player falls over on the back.  The back does not control the back.  The position of the player’s right leg controls the position of the back.  The player’s right leg is supreme and controls the body.

Point the left foot at the right corner of the goal and shoot, then at the left corner and shoot

The player has an angled body with the left foot forward and the right leg straight back and points the left foot at the right corner of the goal and shoot.  The player can add a pump fake.  Then the player moves the left foot to point at the left corner of the goal shoots the ball.


Player stands squarely in front of a mirror and swings the right leg back.  The left shoulder point and left foot point appears.  The player’s right leg controls the left side of the body.

Left-to-Right Left Foot Point

The player stands in front of the mirror with the left foot forward and right leg way back and moves the left foot to point at the right side of the mirror while he or she pump fakes with the right arm.  The player moves the left foot to point at the left side of the mirror.  This drill illustrates that wherever the left foot points the right hand follows.  The right hand does not aim the ball.

Homework is important for our student-athlete.  There is only so much time the coach can devote to fundamentals training.  And there is only so much time the coach can devote to teaching an individual.  The individual has to take responsibility for his or her learning outside the pool.   There are a number of homework drills that can be done to complement each drill.  The first is to practice in the bedroom doing the drive-in drill.  Next the player stands in front of the mirror and practices faking to the right with the left foot pointing to the right and then changes the left leg to point the left foot at the left part of the mirror.  Practice this drill a 100 times in front of the mirror.  Learning is repetition and not brilliance.  Practice, practice and more practice teaches the player the throwing motion.


Diagonal free, back, and vertical and point drill


The driver drives on his or her stomach with the ball either dribbling or walking with the ball (palming the ball and stroking with it) from the 2-spot (above the left post) from the 6-meter line at a diagonal to the right post.  Once the driver is on the 2-meter line and the right post he or she backstrokes back with the ball at a diagonal to the point at the 4-meter line (see Figure 1 and Figure 2).


The driver drops the legs to the vertical, points the left foot at the left corner of the goal and does one gigantic pump fake and may or may not throw the ball.  Then the player reverses direction and points the left foot at the right corner of the goal and shoots the ball at the right corner of the goal.  Wherever the left foot point the ball follows (see Figure 3 and Figure 4).

The player has moved from the horizontal prone doing freestyle to the horizontal supine doing backstroke, moves to the vertical and then moves the left foot twice.  In this drive to a vertical shot the player has radically changed the position of his or her legs many times.  This information on leg repositioning transfers over to the shooter taking the vertical shot.  The dry land and wet demonstrations and homework prepares the player to understand leg positioning when shooting.  This drill MUST be done at full speed to get the most out of this sequence of events.  To be fast you must train fast!  To get the player’s fast twitch muscles to fire, the player has to move quickly.  Throwing a ball in practice during a drill is not a marathon-like slow motion activity—it’s quick.


This single drive-in drill teaches the driver/outside shooter how to reposition his or her legs in a rapid transformation from the horizontal to the vertical to mobile vertical.  To be successful doing this drill the player has to know that the right leg controls the left side of the body so there can be a left foot point.  In addition, the player begins to understand that the left foot point aims the ball and not the right hand.  The rapid and radical change of position of both of the player’s legs, particularly the right leg educates the player’s legs that there can be a wide range of movement in the legs.  The leg movement is not simply the eggbeater kick and the scissor kick to a shot.  The legs have to be educated by dry land and in the water demonstrations, shooting and homework so the legs can learn to balance out the shooter so he or she does not drop the ball or flub the shot.  It is the player’s legs, and not the right arm, that is the master of the throwing motion.

© Copyright 2013 Jim Solum
Next month: How to Teach Shooting Part II

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