Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 6 Number 3 January 1, 2014
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.

Teaching the Mental Game


For the shooter there is more to learn about shooting the ball than the physical act of throwing the ball.  The mind of the shooter must be trained.  The shooter needs to learn how to read the angle to the goal he or she is on, the guard’s arm position and where the goalie positioned in the cage.  None of this stuff is physical.  All of it uses the brain as a mental tool to improve the tactical technique of the 5-meter foul shot shooter.   It is the shooter’s mind that throws the ball and not the muscles.

Shooting is not all about physical technique, which is only part of the shot.  The fact is, the mind leads the shot.  It is a thought before a shot. This brain training is called mental strength training. There is no such thing as a “creative heart” or an intelligent muscle. Creativity comes from the mind of the shooter. All the conditioning, weightlifting and shooting technique is worthless if the well-trained shooter throws the ball perfectly into the goalie’s stomach. The mental game must be developed as much as the physical game.  The shot is a mind/body motion.  As coaches, we have focused all of our attention on the physical and ignored the mental.  A heart does not throw the ball.  A bicep muscle does not throw the ball.  Only the mind reads the angle and the goalie’s position in the goal, not the cardiovascular system or the muscular system.  The legs do not throw the ball.  The mind throws the ball.

The tactical aspects of shooting are not discussed with the players.  Only when a player makes a mistake and does not score, will the coach teach the shooter.  This form of teaching (yelling at a mistake) is a negative form of teaching that may not be the best learning situation for the player.  Especially, for the male coach that is coaching females, negative coaching does not work very well with them.  The shooter should know beforehand what are angles and percentages for the 5-meter foul shot.  The perfectly thrown ball—at the wall—does not score.  The perfect shot needs a perfect read to score

The average player has been taught: “just throw heat.”  The mental concept of actually thinking about where to place the ball in the goal is not taught.  It may even be beyond the limited thinking of the power-obsessed shooter.  There are a lot of “dumb shooters” in the age group and high school level but none are found at the college and international levels.  The question is why?  The answer is it takes brains to score and not muscle.  There are throwers and there are scorers.  To the high school boy with a power shot, his emotional survival seems based on how hard he can throw the ball at the goalie’s stomach or skip the ball over the goal.  The purely physical thrower does not advance past high school.  The purely physical thrower may not even make it onto to the starting lineup of his high school varsity team.  Poor shot selection and having all of his or her shots blocked precludes this type of shooter from graduating to a higher level and actualizing their potential.

If the water polo player were a pitcher, he or she would be deadly—and inaccurate.  All of their pitches miss the catcher’s glove.  The more power placed on the baseball, the more likely the baseball throw will not be accurate.  Some pitcher’s throws miss the catcher by 10-feet (3-meters).  Sounds just like a water polo player.  Power creates stability problems and hence accuracy problems.  In addition, the pitcher (male) who throws all of his pitches as hard as possible soon ends up in surgery with a destroyed shoulder.  Has any water polo coach ever told his or her players to take 5 or 10-percent off the velocity of the shot to improve their accuracy?  No.  Power, control and accuracy exist in baseball and softball but not in high school water polo.  Can the water polo coach learn about throwing from the baseball or softball coach?  Yes.  But, he or she does not make the effort.


When shooting a 5-meter foul shot the question that faces the shooter is “What angle am I on and what type of shot should I select.”  Each of the three angles the US 2, 3 and 4-spots or European 4, 3 and 2-spots (European numbers are the reverse of US numbers) require a different read of the angle to the goal and different shots.  The shot taken from the above the left post (US-2, EU-4) is a different read and shot than one taken from the above the right post (US-4, EU-2).  Increasing the difficulty of decision-making, the point shot from the 3-spot, the point, is a different read and shot than the right post or left post shot.  And to make matters more difficult, the shooter has to read the position of the guard’ right arm or left arm, to see if it changes the trajectory of the shot.  The shooter can have the correct angle, correct shot, and the correct read of the goalie’s position in the cage but can be stymied by the position of the guard’s arm.  “Just throw the dam ball” is not going to fix this situation. Brains—thinking, tactics and problem solving by the shooter has to be involved in throwing the ball.  The shooter cannot “muscle” the ball through the goalie’s body (see Fig. 1).


The shooter from the point spot in the pool has the greatest number of opportunities available to shoot at any corner of the goal.  The 5-meter shooter has several choices: the ball can be thrown at the right or the left corner of the goal.  The over-the-head goalie 5-meter shot is usually blocked by the goalie.  The shooter shooting at the corner of the goal forces the goalie to move laterally in the goal to the right or left.  Shooting at the high corner of the goal forces the goalie to jump high out of the water and move to the right or left high corner to block the shot. Therefore, high right corner or high left corner shots are the highest percentage shots for the 5-meter shooter.  Throwing the ball low at a goalie is usually a low percentage 5-meter shot that is blocked.


The shooter’s “normal” 5-meter foul shot is to shoot at the high right corner.  If the goalie has seen the shooter previously use this shot placement, he or she sets up to block that high right corner of the goal.   Now, the factor of the shooter’s quickness of his or her release comes into play with the high right corner shot.  When the shooter is extremely quick at releasing the ball, he or she can beat the goalie to the corner even if it the goalie knows where the shot is going.  For example, we have all seen penalty shots where the smaller quick wrist penalty shot shooter throws the ball in the high corner before the goalie can react and move upward to the high corner to block the shot.  The quick penalty shooter motto is, “I pick a corner and shoot.  The goalie cannot beat the ball.”  The power penalty shot shooter motto is, “Delay and score.”

This quick release shooter’s motto is not true for the slower arm motion power shooter taking a penalty shot.  To combat the power shooter’s lack of quickness on the penalty shot, the power shooter delays the release of the ball. The power shooter slightly delays the release by starting the ball in the water, swinging the arm back and then moving the arm to the left before releasing the ball.  This extended arm swing motion delays the shot a tenth of second.  The goalie immediately jumps up on the whistle but the penalty shot power shooter shoots the ball a tenth of a second later under the high-out-of-the-water goalie’s arms.  The penalty shot example also applies to 5-meter shooters.

Age group and high school level goalies are not good at reading 5-meter shots and the well-placed shot of the quick 5-meter specialist and not-so-quick 5-meter shooter scores.  In college and internationally, the goalie has an idea before the 5-meter shot is out of the shooter’s hand where the ball is going.  Therefore, in age group and high school, a well-placed shot scores; but at the college level and above, 50-percent of the 5-meter well-placed shots are blocked.  The power shooters invented lateral 5-meter shots as the side arm and lean-over shots to increase their odds of scoring.  For the shooter to take a side arm or lean-over shot requires a nano-second delay in the release of the ball.  To get this slight delay the high and mighty fake was invented.

High and Mighty Fake



There is a time during the game to shoot the 5-meter shot quickly without delay and a time during the game when a slightly slowed arm motion (less than tenth of a second) is necessary to get the guard to jump up in the air so the shooter can shoot to the right or left of the guard’s arm. The high and mighty fake shooter leaps up, pinches the ball, swings the ball forward within 6-inches (15-cm) of the guard’s hand, stops, and shoots to the right or left. This is not a hesitation of the arm but a “slowing down” of the arm and body by using the body to elevate high out of the water and the arm to move forward to buy extra time.  An arm hesitation is a delay of the shot and is a foul.  The player elevating his body high out of the water, and swinging the arm forward within 6-inches (15-cm) of guard’s hand and continuing the arm motion into a shot, is not. There is a big difference between the two (see Figs. 2, 3). 

When the shooter is a quick wrist shooter who can beat the guard’s hand and the goalie, there is no reason to do the high and mighty elevation and arm swing motions. For the slower arm speed shooter who lacks the release quickness of the quick wrist shooter, a little deception is necessary such as a side arm shot or lean-over shot to score.  For example, a side arm shooter, who always takes a side arm 5-meter shot, finds that the intelligent guard holds his or her arm out to the side to block the shot.  To avoid being “read” by the guard, the shooter does a high and mighty fake and changes the shot.  For additional information read The Shot Doctor: Teaching Shooting Part 9.




The shot taken at the point is either a super quick shot or a “high and mighty fake” into a side arm or lean-over shot.  The quick shot is an overhand shot.  No high elevation body fake is needed such as a high and mighty fake.  For the shooter with a slower release the shooter needs to “buy time” to read the goalie and confuse the guard.  This is also true when the guard quickly puts up his or her hand to block the 5-meter foul shot. The 5-meter shot now becomes a “tactical shot.”  The tactical shooter sees that the guard on the point has put up his or her left hand to block the nearside shot at the right corner.  The goalie is positioned at center cage.  If the shooter can shoot around the guard’s hand, to the right or left, the ball will score (see Fig. 4). 

Photograph by Deep blue media.eu/G.Scala

When to Use the Point Side Arm Shot

The high and mighty shooter selects a side arm shot at right corner of the goal.  If the shooter wants a low corner shot, he or she lowers the hand near the surface of the water so the ball skims into the right corner.  If the shooter wants a high corner shot, the ball is skipped with the arm positioned at 45-degrees and slings down to 90-degrees at the release. The advantage of a high and mighty fake is the ball is hidden by the guard’s hand.  The goalie has no idea if the shot is a side arm or a lean-over shot.  By the time the goalie sees the ball, it has travelled halfway to the goal. The shooter’s unseen release of the ball (goalie’s outlook) makes the shot look like a lighting fast 100 mph (160 km/h) shot on goal. This is an illusion as the ball speed is the same but goalie does not see the ball until it is 2.5-meters away instead of 5-meters away (see Fig. 5).

When to Use the Point Lean-Over Shot

Photograph by Deep blue media.eu/G.Scala

When the high mighty body fake and arm swing fake does not convince the guard that shot is an overhand shot and the guard drops his or her arm to the horizontal to block the side arm shot, the shot is changed to a lean-over shot. It is useless for  the side arm shooter to throw the ball from a horizontal arm position into the guard’s horizontal positioned arm.  Once the shooter sees that the guard did not leap high out of the water and is dropping the arm to the horizontal, the shooter leans on their left side for a lean-over shot and shoots the ball at the left corner of the goal.  In this case, the ball is thrown at the lower left corner of the goal.  If the shooter can skip the ball, he or she can also take a 5-meter lying-on-the-side skip shot.  Again, the read is instantaneous.  There are no “slow reads” on a 5-meter foul shot (see Fig. 6).


The 5-meter shooter is located above the right post in what is called the right flat, US-4 spot/EU-2 spot.  EU stands for European Union.  In such a location in the pool, the shooter has to be inside the right goal post to be positioned for an accurate shot.  The quickness of the shot leaves the shooter no time to correct mechanical aiming errors (left foot point).  The shooter’s body has to be aligned with the right corner of the goal with the left foot and left shoulder pointing at the right corner of the goal.  The shot is the overhand shot.  No side arm shot is available from the 4-spot (EU-2).  A side arm shot from above the right post throws the ball into the wall.  A lean-over shot is a possibility when the goalie is leaning towards the right corner of the goal and the guard’s left arm is up.  Do a high and mighty fake, lean to the side, and take a cross-cage lean-over shot at the left corner.


The shooter is located above the left goal post in what is called the left flat, US-2-spot (EU-4 spot).  The shooter first tries to out-quick the goalie to beat the goalkeeper to the high left corner.  When the goalie has strong legs, light hands and is waiting on the shot, the shooter instantly changes to the high and mighty fake, and throws a side arm shot at the right corner of the goal.  When the guard has his or her right hand up and is covering the left corner there is no left corner shot.  The shooter steps-out and throws a side arm to the opposite corner.  The goalie may be located center cage but the guard’s arm is blocking the left corner.



Photograph by Deep blue media.eu/G.Scala

When the shooter is at the point and the guard has his or her left hand up to block the right corner shot the 5-meter shooter throws a lean-over shot at the left corner of the goal as his or her first choice.  The second choice is a side arm shot, if, and only if the shot is open and the shooter knows he or she can beat the guard. A good high and mighty fake hides the ball behind the guard’s hand, allowing the shooter to take either shot in this situation because the goalie cannot see the ball.  It is a judgment call by the shooter as to what shot is better (see Fig. 9).

Point Guard has Right Hand Up


Photograph by Deep blue media.eu/G.Scala

Photograph by Deep blue media.eu/G.Scala

When the shooter is at the point and the guard has his or her right hand up to block a left corner shot, the shooter throws the ball at the right corner of the goal.  The rule is to throw in the opposite direction of the guard’s outstretched arm.  However, there are exceptions as in Figure 11, a lean-over shot with the guard’s right hand up.  In this situation, the shooter shoots to the same side as the guard’s arm (see Figs. 10, 11, 12).



This is an aggressive 5-meter shot where the shooter manhandles the guard and creates free space to take the 5-meter shot.  In previous paragraphs, we discussed out-quicking the guard or using a deceptive shot such as a side arm or lean-over shot to deceive the guard and goalie.  The Mann shot, however, goes aggressively after the guard and pushes him to the side to shoot the ball.  The Mann 5-meter shot has the shooter grab the guard’s waist, step-out to the right and take a completely open shot at either corner of the goal (see Fig. 13). 

As the guard fouls the shooter, he or she kicks up into the foul and grabs the middle of the guard’s waist, turns 90-degrees and steps-out to the right for the shot.  The shooter’s force of the turn may position him to side of the guard with some separation.  Other times, a little elbow or forearm is needed to create separation after the turn.  As a result of the spin, the guard is now located on the shooter’s left shoulder, and is a distance away from the ball. The shot can come from the above the right post, left post or the point.  The shot is an overhand shot or a side arm shot. The lean-over shot is not possible because the guard has been moved to the shooter’s left shoulder.  This is a pure power shot thrown from 5-meters to 8-meters away from the goal. The Mann shot is performed at lightning speed.  There are no clumsy slow motion muscle moves.  All the referee sees is the ball being shot.  This is a great shot at the age group and high school levels.

The drill to practice the Mann shot is go one-on-one with the guard fouling the back of the offensive player who grabs and turns.  This drill can be practiced as a 1-on-1 with guard passing drill or as a shooting drill.  All moves are done quickly.  The coach cannot allow slow moves, poor handwork or footwork.


The technical and mechanics of the 5-meter shot are important but the mental game of setting up the shot and corner location for the ball is just as important to scoring the shot.  Muscles and the heart do not score goals.  The shooter’s mind scores the goal.  Muscles and the heart do not think.  The physical aspect of shooting has to be balanced with thinking.  The shooter reads the position of the goalie in the cage and the position of the guard’s arm to select the correct shot and corner of the goal to throw the ball.  Specialty shots such as the 5-meter lob and the Mann 5-meter shot are used when the situation requires them to be thrown.  The shooter reads the goalie and selects the appropriate shot, such as an overhand, side arm or lean-over shot depending what spot they are on.   It is the coach’s duty to teach the tactical aspects of shooting and train the shooter’s mind to read the defense.  The complete and balanced shooter is trained in both M & M’s,—mechanics and the mind—the technical and tactical aspects of shooting.

© Copyright 2014 Jim Solum
Next month: Teaching Shooting Part 11 Refresher

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