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Volume 6 Number 12 December 1, 2013
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.

& The Triple Option 5-Meter Shot


This article examines the new method for shooting a 5-meter shot.  The shooter has a triple option of using an overhand shot, a side arm shot or a lean-over shot.  This shooting sequence originated in the Serbia, Croatia and Italy around the late summer of 2010 and first appeared at the 2010 European Men’s Championships. The shooters had realized after 10-years of 5-meter blocked foul shots that the overhand shot was a simple shot for the guard to block.  Just put your hand up in the air in front of the shooter’s left shoulder point and he or she will throw the ball into guard’s hand.  The guard’s follows the rule: wherever the shooter’s left shoulder (and left foot) points the ball follows. To combat all of these defensive field blocks, the players added two more shots, the side arm shot and the lean-over shot (shooter lies on his side and shoots), to confuse the guard.  The shooter now can set up the guard, the goalie and select the best shot for the situation.  For example, if the shooter is at the point, the 3-spot, he or she can shoot to the right corner, left corner or over the top of the guard’s head.  The shooter comes up big out of the water and looks at the right corner of the goal.  If the guard puts his or her left arm up to block the right corner of the goal and goalie overplays the right corner, the player shoots at the left corner of the goal. Neither the guard nor the goalie anticipate this unexpected corner selection.  (See The Shot Doctor: Vertical to Horizontal Shooting Parts 2, 3).   

The triple option 5-meter shot requires knowledge of three shots, overhand shot, side arm shot and lean-over shot.    The vast majority of players have never done a quick wrist overhand shot much less a side arm shot or a lean-over shot from the field. Coach needs to train the shooter to shoot a wrist overhand shot, a side arm shot and a lean-over shot before teaching the 5-meter foul shot.  The foul shot is a high skill shot that requires extensive training.  For further help, the reader should read last month’s article, Teaching Shooting Part 8, which looked at the overhand 5-meter foul shot.  The reader should go to “Polo Articles”; click on “The Shot Doctor” and scroll down to the article before reading this month’s article. 

In addition to the three shots, the coach needs to teach courage to the shooter.  The shooter needs to commit the guard with a fake.  That is to say, the shooter commits the guard by swinging the ball forward with the hand to make it look like an overhand shot.  The shooter’s forward movement of the arm causes the guard to leap up high out of the water and become frozen in the air.  The immobile guard’s arm now can be shot around to the right or left. Failure to move the right arm forward with the ball results in the shot being blocked.


The triple option 5-meter foul shot is composed of four elements.  The first, part is getting high out of the water using explosive legs to reach maximum height out of the water.  No high leap out of the water = no shot.  If the shooter has weak legs or lacks the intent to kick the legs high and hard, this shot cannot be done.  The second most important part of the triple option 5-meter shot is the forward arm swing fake.  The courageous shooter swings the ball directly at the guard’s outstretched hand and suddenly stops 6-inches (15-cm) in front of the guard’s hand. But this must be a smooth transition into the shot to avoid the contra foul for faking. 

 If the forward swing fake is effective, the guard will scissor kick high in the air and be “frozen” in the air, unable to move his outstretched arm to the right or left.  The shooter varies the shot selection by throwing at the right corner of the goal using a side arm shot; and throwing at the left corner of the goal and shoots a lean-over shot. A lean-over shot has the shooter lying on his or her side (see opening photograph).


The offensive player has to have strong and explosive legs and that are able to lift the shooter high out of the water.  A low altitude drowning shooter cannot take this shot.  This is an all-out shot using maximum force to commit the guard and to shoot the ball.  Unlike the leisurely rhythmic pump fake to a shot sequence, this is NOT a slow motion body movement to a shot.  To commit the guard, the shooter has to be committed with the legs for the body elevation fake.  The guard reads the motion of the shooter upward to see how to respond.  An offensive player jumping up to where the guard can see the shooter’s hips convinces the guard the shot is coming.  The defender looks at the height out of the water of the offensive player to decide if it is a pass (player low in the water) or a shot (player high in the water). When the guard does not see a quick explosive motion from the offensive player, the defender waits on the shot with the legs eggbeatering and the hands wide to see what the shooter is going to do. The high body elevation is a fake.  There is more to faking than arm fakes.



After the shooter’s explosive leg acceleration lifts the offensive player high in the air, the guard begins kicking hard to leap up in the air.  The forward swing fake completes the deal by swinging the ball right at the guard’s outstretched hand and forcing the guard to leap high to block the apparent overhand shot.  The guard’s arm and body MUST be fully extended to be locked in the air.  The shooter’s pinched ball stops 6-inches (15-cm) in front of the defender’s hand.  If the upward movement of the shooter’s body and the forward motion of the shooter’s arm are not convincing, the guard does not scissor kick and “lock out” in the air.  The guard, like the goalie, does not want to commit high as the body is locked in the air and unable to move anywhere else.  Practice this fake by having the guard hold the arm straight up without moving, have the player swing the ball, and stop just short of the hand.  For the weaker player with weak legs and abs he or she cannot stop the arm before it hits the guard’s hand.  The average player holds the ball way back in a cocked arm position and the guard and does not jump (see Figs. 1, 2)


Photograph by Deep Blue Media.eu and Inside Foto.it

Photograph by Deep Blue Media.eu and Inside Foto.it

The side arm shot was discussed in Women’s Shooting Part 5 and the Vertical and Horizontal Shooting Part 3.  The author recommends to the reader to read these articles to get all of the information on side arm shooting.  In this article, the author will briefly go over the basics of the side arm shot.  Until recently, the side arm shot was a highly inaccurate shot that missed the goal by a wide margin.  If it was a side arm skip shot, the ball bounced way over the cage.  Because the side arm shot never scored, the coach banned the side arm shot.  A few male players were good at the side arm shot but the rest of the players were terrible.  The girls and women thought they lacked the arm strength to shoot side arm shot and never took the shot.  Advances in shooting technology make it possible for females to take side arm shots and side arm skip shots.  To be able to take a triple option 5-meter shot the shooter has to be proficient at both the side arm shot and the lean-over shot (see Figs. 3, 4).  

The technique that the side arm 5-meter foul shot shooter uses is to kick up high and hard for an elevation fake, swing the arm forward to lock the guard’s arm in the air and then step-out.  The shooter lowers the arm, snaps-in the right foot, uses a twist snap release and shoots the ball at the right corner of the goal. 

A side arm skip shot positions the arm at a 90-degree angle, which causes the ball has to strike the water at a sharp angle and skip upward.  However, for the skim shot, the shooter’s arm drops lower, the ball is closer to the surface of the water, and the ball skims.  The shooter curves the ball to the right by softly snapping-in the right foot so the curved ball is “pushed” to the outside to the right corner of the goal.  To curve the ball sharply to the left, the right foot snaps in hard to “pull” the ball away to the farside corner.  For example, of pulling (curving) the ball to the left, is the shooter is at the 2-spot (EU-4), steps-out, the goalie jumps towards the right corner but leaves the left corner of the goal open for the sharp curve shot to score.   

It is important to note that when the shooter is unconvincing on the leg kick up/arm swing fake for the side arm shot, the guard simply lowers the arm to the horizontal and blocks the side arm shot.  In the recent 2013 NCAA Women’s Semi-Final game between Stanford and UCLA, there were Stanford side arm shots galore flying at the UCLA goalie.  In the NCAA final, between USC and Stanford, the Stanford women did not know to elevate and arm swing fake the guard to commit them.  The USC guards simply placed their left arms out to the side and blocked all of the Stanford side arm shots.  The European men, a couple of years ago, discovered this fact when they had all of their new side arm shots blocked.  They learned to elevate to commit the guard and then shoot around the guard’s arm.


The position of the shooter in the water also has a bearing on what type of shot is taken.  When the shooter is outside the right goal post, it is not impossible to take a standard side arm shot.  Instead, a right foot side arm shot is taken. The Boyer shooter moves the right foot slightly forward, which allows the shooter to turn the body to the extreme left to shoot at the left corner.  The goalie is locked on the right goal post and is out of position to block the shot (see Fig. 5).


Russian shooting a Lean-Over shot at Dutch goalie.
Photograph by Deep blue media.eu/G. Scala

Montenegrin player shoots around Croatian guard’s hand at 2010 European Championships. 
Photograph by Deep blue media.eu/G. Scala

The lean-over shot is discussed in the article in Vertical Shooting Part 2 and the author will go over the major points of the lean-over shot.  When the guard has the outstretched arm in front of the shooter’s left shoulder, it is foolish to throw the ball into the guard’s hand.  Instead, why not just shoot around the guard’s hand?  The lean-over shot was invented so the shooter had a shot to the left of the guard’s arm at the left corner of the goal.  The 5-meter foul shooter is positioned from the right wing, right post to the point position.  Do not have the shooter who is positioned on the left goal post or in the left wing shoot a lean-over shot as the ball with hit the left wall (see Figs. 6, 7).



The first drill is a leg drill such as the slam-dunk to get the player to leap high in the air with the legs kicking high and hard.  For some players, getting high in the air is unheard of.  The rule is the greater the shooter, the greater the height out of the water.  Height out of the water is a fake, an elevation fake, which tricks the guard into jumping high in the air to block the apparent shot.   Low attitude shooters need to go out for scuba diving and not water polo (see Teaching Shooting Part 5).  Once the legs are established by the slam-dunk drills, the forward swing fake can then be introduced (see Fig. 8).

Forward arm swing fake drill

The forward arm swing fake is used when the guard’s hand is high in the air and blocking the path of the overhand shot.  The forward arm swing fake allows the shooter to commit the guard, hide the ball from the goalie and shoot a side arm or lean-over shot.

The arm swing drill has the shooter swing the right arm and ball forward and stop in front of the guard’s outstretched hand.  The shooter’s hand must be strong enough to pinch the ball and the player’s core muscles have to be strong enough to decelerate the player’s body.  Deceleration is stopping.  A player with weak back muscles cannot stop their body from moving forward.  A player with a weak core cannot do this shot.  The fearful player wants to hold the ball back in a long arm cock to keep the ball as far away from the guard’s hand as possible.  This ruins the 5-meter shot and telegraphs the shot to the guard.  The drill is to have the guard jump straight up and the shooter touches the ball to the guard’s outstretched hand and the shooter then moves to the right for a side arm shot or to the left for a lean-over shot.  The shooter has to have the courage to swing the ball forward to commit the guard or the 5-meter foul shot is dead.  Effort and courage are required for this part of the triple option 5-meter shot.

The coach has the players do sit ups, hyperextensions, balance sit ups and superman drills and plank exercises to strengthen their core muscles.  No core = no shot.  A good source of core exercises is Mike Reid’s articles on weight lifting in Water Polo Planet and Dr. Chu has written books on balance ball training.

Side arm shot drills

Boyer Drill


The push off the wall Boyer drill is the main drill taught to the players.  The player is next to the wall with the left forearm against the tile.  The right knee is high, the arm is held high above the head and near the head, and the torso is cocked to the left with the right hip jutting out.  The player pushes off with the forearm and steps-out with the right leg and the arm held at a ¾-arm position.  Add a ball and repeat the drill.  Do not allow the player to have a horizontal right arm, as the right arm is the last part of the body’s cocking mechanism.  A horizontal right arm robs the player of the momentum that is traveling up the body from the legs and torso.  Another point is to make sure that the player’s right knee is high so when he or she steps-out the pelvis is level.  A low knee step-out causes the legs to cross, the right elbow to dip and the ¾ arm position becomes a vertical arm overhand position.  The shooter cannot shoot around the guard with a vertical arm.  The ball is released at the apex (maximum height) of the step-out.  Do not allow the Boyer passer to sink due to the late release of the ball.  When the shooter is not convincing in the elevation and arm swing fake, the guard needs to tell the shooter what he did wrong (see Fig. 9).

Skim and Skip Passing

In the one-on-one skim shot passing drill, the player has the arm positioned low.  For side arm skip shots the player’s arm is positioned a little higher for more angle on the ball hitting the water.  Players skimming and skipping the ball will make a lot of mistakes until they figure out the touch and timing of the side arm shot.  Finally, move the players to the goal, have the Boyer shooter at the point with the guard having the arm up and practice shooting around the guard’s arm to the right corner.  Goalies have to play “dummy defense” and not block any shots.  The skip point for the side arm skip shot is the invisible line drawn across the goal posts, the goal line.  The faster the skip shot the closer the ball has to be to the goal line.  Taking a side arm skip shot and using a 3-meter skip point guarantees that the ball will skip over the cage. 

Right Foot Snap-In Drill


The drill for practicing the right foot snap-in is for the shooter to be positioned slightly inside the left goal post on the 5-meter line.  The shooter softly snaps-in the right foot using a side arm to shoot a high corner shot or a skim shot to “push” the ball into the right corner of the goal.  A hard right foot snap-in pulls the ball back to the left corner of the goal.  The shooter uses the motion of the right foot to change direction of the ball.  This is a new concept to the shooter and it will take some time to learn. Either the US 2-spot / EU 4-spot shooter does not snap-in the foot at all and the ball drifts outside the goal post or he snaps-in the right foot too hard and hits the goalie in the stomach at center goal.  The goalie, however, only sees the shooter’s arm movement to predict where the ball is going.  The shooter’s right foot snap-in motion is underwater and the goalie cannot see the right foot motion and therefore the direction of the ball (see Figs. 10, 11).

Lean-over shot drills

The 5-meter double option goes through the same steps to kick up high and hard and to arm swing the ball at the guard’s hand and then lies on the side and shoots the ball at the left corner of the goal.  The lean-over shot is not as complicated as the Boyer Side Arm Shot.  It does, however, require the shooter to learn how to shoot in the horizontal.  Of special concern is the hand position and touch on the ball for the skip shot and skim shot.  For the skim shot, the arm is moved to the extreme left of the shooter’s head with the hand twisting slightly inward lead by the thumb.  This wrist twist place more spin on the ball so it does not hit the water and die.  For the skip shot, the shooter has to use more power.  For the high school girl or boy they may not have enough power to shoot a horizontal skip shot.  In this case, the ball is thrown at the lower left corner of the goal.  A high corner shot requires more body control.  It greatly increases the degree of difficulty to require the shooters to throw at the high corner of the goal.  If a skip shot is taken, girls, women, and some high school males should use an index finger or 2-finger skip shot release to skip the ball (see Skip Shots 1-4).

The main drill is to position the shooter at the point, kick up, commit the guard with the forward arm swing fake, lean to the left, scull strongly with the left hand, and shoot.  Guards have a more difficult time recovering and moving to the shooter’s left to block the lean-over shot.  Again, the player has to explode upward with the legs and have the courage to swing the ball forward to commit the guard.  Much of the success of this technique for the lean-over shot is based on effort and courage.  Due to these two factors, there are only a couple water polo players on the team that are skilled enough to take the triple option 5-meter shot. 


The players face many situations in a game.  The 2-meter player is underwater, the 6-on-5 cannot score and the outside shooters are afraid to shoot.  The only player left in the game that can score is the 5-meter specialist shooter.  The 5-meter foul shot can score up to half of the goals in a game.  The quickness of the 5-meter shot catches the guard and the goalie by surprise.  The referee gives the shooter a blank check to shoot the ball 5-meters away from the cage without being attacked by the guard.  However, the 5-meter shot has been under-utilized by water polo teams.  The 5-meter shot demands strong legs, a courageous forward arm swing fake and the ability to take an overhand, side arm or a lean-over shot.  The mental part of the game requires that the shooter be  positioned correctly in the pool. The shooter reads the defense to see what side of the goal that the goalie has left open and where the guard’s arm is located.  The triple option 5-meter foul shot is the secret scoring weapon for the team.

© Copyright Jim Solum 2013
Next month: Teaching Shooting Part 10

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