Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 6 Number 8 August 1, 2013
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.



How to get water polo players to jump high out of the water has long been a question on a coach’s mind.  High elevation out of the water with power from the legs transferring into the right arm is the shot.  For all intents and purposes, the water polo shot is basically a leg shot.  The legs throw the ball—not the right arm.  Hard quick kicking legs make a hard quick shot. There is no such shot as a pure quick hard right arm only shot. Most players are unaware of this fact.  They have lazy legs and do not want to put out the effort to jump high out of the water. As a result of the weak leg kick, they have weak shots. In other sports, such as basketball, the player not jumping high in the air would be unthinkable.  Can you imagine, a flat footed lazy-legged NBA basketball player missing a slam-dunk by only getting to the bottom of the hoop due to lack of effort?  How about a women’s volleyball game where the players in front of the net do not get above the net to spike or block the ball.  Or a diver just walking off the diving board flat footed for the dive.  Not one of these sports would tolerate the lazy leg athlete and water polo should not either.  Leg acceleration must be taught for power and elevation.

The origin of water polo is swimming.  You have to be able to swim to play water polo.  In swimming, the legs are not as important as the arms.  Everything in swimming is devoted to arm strokes and arm technique.  Because women’s legs float, the women do not have to kick as hard as the boys and they do not.  Because a male’s body has less fat content, their legs and body do not float.  The males must kick hard with their legs to keep from sinking.  When the swimmer gets to the water polo season he or she is still hypnotized by “the arms are the stroke and therefore in water polo, the arms are the shot.  Neither of these concepts is true.  In the women’s case, they have lazier legs than the men.  In no other sport, do women have lazy legs excerpt in swimming and water polo and most men are not too far behind!  The slam-dunk drills were designed to force the water polo player to kick the legs high and hard to reach maximum elevation out of the water.  The legs are the shot. This concept must be drilled into the head of every water polo player.  The legs generate most of the power to throw the ball.


In the S4 training method the player must have strong legs, sustaining legs, smart legs and smart hands.  These jump drills contain strong explosive leg exercises, sustaining leg training where the player is up in the air for 2 to 3-seconds, smart legs where the right leg makes adjustments for turning and a smart left hand that helps turn the player’s body while it is in the air.  Some drills such as the simple slam-dunk drill only work on strong and explosive legs.  Most of the drills contain all four parts of the S4 training system.

Leg acceleration is the key to having the water polo player taking an elevated shot with a good sustaining base.  Strong legs and sustaining legs (legs able to sustain the shooter’s height out of the water for 3-seconds) are the foundation of shooting.  Weak legs = a weak shot; strong legs = a strong shot.  Players that are weak shooters and passers have weak legs.  They do not have a “weak arm.”  A strong right arm means the player has two strong legs.  The right arm does not throw the ball, the legs throw the ball.  The emphasis on right arm throwing instead of leg strengthening and leg positioning technique dooms the potential great shooter to mediocrity.

Slam-dunk drills are the primary drills used to develop explosive high elevating legs.  The right arm does not elevate the player—the legs do.  In a slam-dunk drill, the player jumps as high as he or she can jump up into the air with the ball and then crunches the abdominal muscles and slams the ball down in the water.  This is an explosive leg movement.  The player with lazy legs cannot get their chin out of the water.  The coach can quickly see the players that have weaker legs and the players that are not trying to kick hard.  It is that obvious to the coach.  The coach needs to spend more time strengthening the legs of the weak leg players. 

The first of the leg acceleration drills or jump drills is called the standard slam-dunk.  It is the first drill taught and maybe the last drill they perform as players.  The player swims with the ball, picks it up on top, pushes the ball down to gain extra power and leaps high in the air using the scissor kick.  If the player cannot pinch the ball with the hand then the ball is palmed between the hand and the forearm.


It is difficult to demonstrate a slam-dunk on dry land.  The coach has his or her hand on the ball, jumps up and throws the ball down on the deck.


The player swims a few strokes, picks up the ball on top, pushes the ball down a little and leaps high in the air by taking one big scissor kick.  Once airborne, the player has the ball high over his or her head and then crunches the abs and slams the ball down into the water.



It is important that the abdominal muscles first snap the torso forward and then the right arm follows to throw the ball.  The slam-dunk is a great drill for strengthening the abdominal muscles.  This amounts to a sit up in mid-air.  Players with weak legs and weak abdominal muscles barely get the neck out of the water and only lift the ball over their heads.  The ball slam into the water is also very weak.  The slam-dunk drill can be done as a lap swimming conditioning exercise, but do not allow the players to skim the ball 3-meters away so they do not have to do as many slam-dunks.  When the drill is done by a strong player it is an awe-inspiring sight.

A dry land abdominal exercise is to stand on a bench with a 10-pound (4.5 kilos) inflated rubber medicine ball (men) or a 5-pound (2.2 kilo) med ball (women) and raise the ball over the head and then slam it straight down into the deck. Crunch the abs first and then move the arms.  This is not an arm exercise!  The medicine ball should bounce right back to the player’s hand.  Another drill us a plyometric sit up where the player lies on the back with a 10-pound or 20-pound (9 kilos), sits up and throws the ball with both hands to a partner.  These are dynamic drills that duplicate the motion of the shot (see Fig.1)



This is the first drill of many slam-dunk drills.  The player needs to master this basic move first before moving on to more advance slam-dunk drills.  None of these drills are particularly complex or difficult to do but they require 110-percent effort.  The slam-dunk player swims 3 to 4 strokes, picks up the ball on top, and pushes the ball down a little for added lift and leaps high in the air by taking one big scissor kick.  Once airborne, the player has the ball high over his or her head and then crunches the abs and slams the ball down into the water (see Fig. 2)

Slam-Dunk 90

After the basic slam-dunk drill is learned a twist is added to the drill.  The slam-dunk develops strong and explosive legs, but it can be used to teach sustaining legs and smart legs too.  In the S4 system of teaching shooting, the player has strong legs, sustaining legs, smart hands and a smart right leg.  The player swims, picks up the ball, leaps in the air, holds it, turns 90-degrees to the left and then slams the ball into the water. The player is forced to use the left hand and the right leg to make the 90-degree turn in the air.  This is a fantastic drill!  If time is a problem, do slam-dunk 90’s over the standard slam-dunk.

Slam-Dunk Freeze

The player leaps up and holds it 3-seconds and then slams the ball down.  This forces the player’s legs to not only have explosive legs that can leap high in the air but legs that can sustain that height in the air. When the player is in the air he or she changes to an intermediate eggbeater kick consisting of a high knee motion with rapid small eggbeater kick circles to stay up.  The regular slam-dunk uses a strong scissor kick to leap into the air.  The intermediate kick does not appear until about 1-second has passed.  Because most leg drills never practice sustaining leg “hang time” that long in the air, this intermediate leg kick is almost never practiced.  The intermediate eggbeater kick is the leg kick of champions.  The intermediate kick is the difference between the average shooter who is only airborne for a second and the great shooter that is airborne for 3-seconds.

Slam-Dunk 180


The player leaps up high in the air with the ball and then spins 180-degrees and slams the ball down in the water.  Girls and women due to their wider hips cannot spin more than 180-degrees.  Interestingly, girls age 12 and under can spin 360-degrees due to narrow hips (see Fig. 3).

Slam-Dunk 360

This is a boy or man’s drill.  The women’s hips are too wide and create too much drag in the water to allow the woman to rotate 360-degrees.  However, 12-year old girls with their narrow hips can spin 360-degrees.  The player leaps up and spins 360-degrees and slam-dunks the ball.  Younger players, players with weak legs or heavily muscled players may not be able to completely spin in a circle. The author had an elite male water polo player in high school that was 6’1 (1.85 meters) and 155-pounds (70-kilos) who could actually spin 360-degrees twice in the air.  When he got to college and added 20-pounds (7-kilos), he could no longer spin twice in the air.

Ballerina Slam-Dunk

This is a combination of a rotational drill and a leg acceleration drill.  One part of the drill teaches body rotation using the left hand to sweep to the left and the right leg is taught to swing to the extreme right in a straight back leg position with the knee slightly bent.  Once the right arm is fully cocked back over the straight right leg then the player leaps up and slams the ball down in the water.

Slam-Dunk 4X

The player leaps up in the air, holds it, and turns four 90-degree turns in the air.  The drill forces the player to sustain his or her height out of the air for 3-seconds.  After the player has finished his or her last 90-degree the ball is slammed down in the water.

Slam-Dunk Slow 4X

Slam-Dunk 2-Step

The player leaps up in the air, steps-out to the right with the right leg and then swings the right leg straight back and slams the ball down on the surface of the water.  This drill develops strong, sustaining legs and a smart right leg.

Slam-Dunk 3-Step

The player leaps up with the ball high over his or her head, steps-forward with the left leg, steps-out to the right with the right leg and then swings the right leg straight back and slam-dunks the ball.  This drill teaches sustaining legs and smart legs.

Serbian Straight Arm Slam Dunk

This is a great drill for the girl or woman who drops her elbow when throwing the ball.  The player is stationary, and holds the ball high over her head with the elbow locked.  Then she elevates, crunches the abs and then slams the ball into the water.  The emphasis is on crunching the abs and snapping the torso forward and using the right arm.  For a girl or woman that is used to dropping the elbow this is almost an impossible drill to do.

Grab and Slam

The player is stationary, has the ball behind but within reach of the hand.  The player’s hand is above the ball, he or she grabs the top of the ball, turns the hips and slams the ball down in the water. The player’s arm goes straight up over the top of the shoulder and he or she does not side arm the ball. This is a hip speed drill and not a leg acceleration drill.  The faster the player can pick up the ball, spin and slam-dunk the ball indicates how fast the hips are rotating.  The better players use less time and are quicker at slamming the ball into the water.  A great drill for developing a quick rotating body in the water.  It shows that hip speed is ball speed.  Rotation is the major power generator during the throw.  Straightening out the elbow into extension or flexion of the abdominal muscles to flex the torso forward creates nowhere near the power that hip rotation does.

The coach can time the ball pick up to when the ball hits the water to see how much time it takes for the player to accomplish this task.  Times vary with elite high school boys and girls from 0.50 to 1.00 seconds. Usually the girls have slower times than the boys but not always.  Never allow the player to cheat and use a side arm motion as this ruins the drill and gives the player a quicker time than he or she deserves.  This drill can be done with or without a stopwatch during practice.  The author times the drill a couple of times a month.  This shows the players how quickly the hips rotated to throw the ball. Timing the drill will give you a baseline to refer back to when evaluating player’s progress.  The players need to understand that hip rotation is the shot.

Grab and Slam-Dunk

After the coach has timed his or her players, the coach can increase the degree of difficulty of the drill by having the player grab the ball quickly, spin, kick high out of the water and then slam-dunk the ball.  The drill requires strength, hand and leg quickness and body control.  Dynamic drills where the player is moving rapidly in the air and trying to stabilize are great drills.

Cage Slam-Dunk


The player lines up on the 2-meter line (closer for girls and age group) with the ball to the side.  The player pushes down on the ball for lift, pulls underwater with the left hand, scissor kicks and lifts the ball high in the air above the head.  The player lunges forward and touches the ball to the underside of the crossbar and then, only then, slams the ball into the water inside the goal.  A dolphin kick at the end helps the player’s glide.  In a wall mounted goal there is not much space and the player stops immediately.  If not, he or she hits the back of the goal (see Fig. 4).

The coach cannot let the player use the right arm to throw the ball at the goal.  The player lunges to the crossbar with the right arm stationary above the head.  Once the ball reaches the crossbar the player’s ab crunch the torso forward to slam the ball into the water.  As in all slam dunk drills the abdominal muscles supply 90-perecent of the power for the slam-dunk.  For those that cannot quite make it to the crossbar, let them move closer to the goal. Another technique is for the player to take two underwater pulls and a small extra scissor kick for extra power to reach the crossbar.

The cage slam-dunk is the ultimate slam-dunk drill.  The coach can see how high the player is getting out of the water by seeing the ball touch the crossbar.  The coach can see if the legs sustain the player to the goal.  This gives the coach a true visual gauge for measuring and evaluating the strength of the player.


In concluding, the coach uses the 14 leg acceleration slam-dunk drills to force the players to kick high and hard with the legs, increase leg explosiveness and to elevate the player high in the air for the pass or shot.  Freeze slam-dunks and turn slam-dunk work on sustaining legs and developing smart legs and a smart left hand.  These are all simple to perform drills but they require 110-percentage effort from the player.  If the coach continues one or two of the drills as part of the conditioning he or she will soon see the players getting much higher out of the water and shooting at the high corners of the goal.

© Copyright 2013 Jim Solum
Next month: Teaching Shooting Part 6

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