Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 6 Number 5 March 1, 2014
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.

The Legs
Split and Kick


The coach has followed the Big 5 and its Left, Right and Rotate rules and now needs to add a further dimension to his or her coaching.  The rules Split and Kick High and Hard are added to enhance the Big 5 and make the thrower’s shot faster and more accurate.  Split the legs with the left leg forward and the right leg straight back and kick high and hard with legs for power and height out of the water.  It is a simple statement with deep meanings.   It is an easy rule to say by the coach but a difficult motion for the players to implement.  When the player splits the legs with the left foot forward and  the right leg back and kicks hard there is tremendous leg acceleration  and elevation.  The right leg back on the split legs provides the verticality for the shooter’s back.  The split legs allows for complete rotation of the hips.  With hip rotation comes power for the shot.  The left foot point aims the ball for an accurate shot.  Split and kick produces six improvements to the shot shown below.

How does the statement Split and Kick High and Hard with the legs create six different subsets of actions affecting the posture of the shooter when throwing the ball?  If the player has strong legs, splits, and kicks, he or she will be able to throw the ball at their full potential.  The author’s golden rule is 90-percent of shooting is elevation and verticality.  If the coach gets his players to get high out of the water and have a vertical back just about everything is covered in the throwing mechanics necessary to be a great shooter.  However, in practice and in the game, most players are low in the water and lean backward at the release of the ball, whether it is an age group shooter or high school shooter.  Weak legs, a weak kick and weak leg positioning of the shooter creates the weak shot.

The difference between the college players and the high school players is that none of the college players are low in the water or falls on their back.  The difference is so startling that one would expect any coach to see the radical difference between the high school and college player and immediately implement “Split and Kick.”  However, very few coaches notice the difference and even fewer emphasize the legs in training. 


When the water polo coach goes out to the track, he or she sees tremendous emphasis on strengthening the legs and footwork in football, soccer and track and field.  If the coach wanders into the gym, he or she sees basketball, gymnastics and volleyball players working hard on strengthening the legs and footwork.  The water polo coach then goes back to the pool and immediately starts developing the right arm of the water polo players!  The coach’s slogan is strong arm = strong shot. The coach is dead wrong.  The legs are the shot.  The shooter’s right arm is like the tail of the dog—which does not wave the dog.  The water polo player’s body waves the arm.  The duties of the two legs are quite different as are the subsets of leg actions affecting the shooter’s posture (see Figs. 1, 2, 3).





The shooter generates his or her greatest power from the legs by kicking with both legs as hard as possible.  The golden rule is to kick high and hard with legs.  No player can have a stable base when shooting if the legs are not strong AND kick hard.  Kicking up hard to shoot the ball should be instinctual and not have to be taught.  However, almost none of the boys and girls kick the legs hard.  This reduced leg action is unthinkable in land-based sports.  Can anyone imagine a sprinter in track slowly coming out of the blocks at the start of the race?  Alternatively, would a basketball player weakly jumping half way up to the basket to slam-dunk the ball?  In the land-based sports, all of the athletes understand that the legs are everything.  This understanding does not extend to the water polo player (See Fig. 4).

In water polo, with its background in swimming, the players are  taught that the legs are not very important for generating power.  In swimming, 70-percent of the power comes from the arms; in water polo, 70-percent of the power comes from the legs and hips.  Players have not made the connection in their mind that a hard kick makes a hard throw.  This fact is especially true for girls and women, who have legs and bodies that float.  Because the woman’s legs float, it requires less effort than the males for them to kick up with their legs to throw the ball.  With the females, lazy legs is a universal theme in water polo.  Males (motorized rocks) sink and have to kick hard with the legs to stay afloat.  When coaching female water polo players, the coach has to stress kicking high and hard with the legs to generate the maximum force out of the legs to transfer energy up into the right arm to throw the ball hard (see Fig. 5).

Photograph 2010 Women’s European Championships by Blue Deep Media.eu and Inside Foto.it

It is interesting to note that females can lift the bottom of their swimsuit completely out of the water.  The college and pro level males, on the other hand, can only get the top half of their swimsuit out of the water.  The leg strength of a woman is 87-percent of a man of comparable size.  The combination of women’s longer legs and a shorter and lighter torso allows the female player to lift her the lower part of the body higher out of the water than the male.  The men, on the other hand, with their shorter but slightly more powerful legs are handicapped by carrying a longer and heavier torso.  The coach should never believe the female player’s excuse of “I am a girl, I am weak, and so I cannot jump high out of the water.”  The player should  know that the higher out of the water the harder the shot. 


Slam-dunk drill

The best drill for teaching explosive leg kicking that lifts the player’s body high out of the water is the slam-dunk drill (see Teaching Shooting Part 5).  This drill forces the player to jump up high out of the water with the ball.  The player swims a few strokes and places the hand on top of the ball, pinches it or palms the ball, and scissor kicks straight up in the air.  The side of the swimsuit should be visible.  The buttocks appear when the player slams the ball straight down and falls forward.  This is a great functional drill for evaluating  the legs of all of the players.


This is the Number 1 drill to develop leg acceleration and is performed daily.  There are variations on the slam-dunk drill of exploding up and turning to the left 90-degrees.  Another drill is to explode upward, spin 180-degrees and then slam the ball.  Some of the males, with their narrower hips, can spin 360-degrees.  The females with their wider hips cannot spin more than 180-degrees if older than 12-years old.  Young girls can spin 360-degrees because their hips have not yet grown wider (see Fig. 6).


When the legs kick high and hard and the left hand pulls down the shooter’s body rises high out of the water.  There is a maximum height out of the water, which is only attained during the vertical jump test.  The optimal height out of the water is the highest the water polo player can reach and still have a stable base to shoot the ball.


The player’s use of the left hand enables the shooter to add another 6-inches (15-cm) to their height out of the water and stabilizes the player in the air.  Water polo is a game played in the air and not in the water.  A demonstration to prove this point is to jump up as high as possible without using the left hand to create added lift.  The player does not jump very high out of the water.  Then try the drill again with the left hand pulling down and the player rises high out of the water (see Fig. 7, 8). 


The secret to high corner shooting is for the shooter to elevate with a high elbow for the ball to go into the high corner of the goal.  For the shooter to hit the high corner of the goal, the center of the ball and hand (release point) must be at least 30-inches (75-cm) above the water.  This is where the “High Elbow” command came from.  A high elbow also means that it is a high positioned ball.  It is easier for the coach to see the position of the elbow than to judge the height of the ball.  A low elbow means a low shot; a high elbow means a high corner shot.  Girls, because they float, usually have a high elbow.  Boys usually drag their elbow in the water due to laziness (see Fig. 9).


A leaning back or lying on the back boy trying to shoot at the high corner of the goal will always throw the ball over the top of the goal.  The ball can only travel in a straight line from two same height vertical points at 30-inch release point to the 30-inch high corner (76-cm to 76-cm) of the goal.  The ball cannot be thrown at an angle up in the air and then flatten out and go into the high corner of the goal.  The boy or girl has to be trained to realize when they are lying on their back, no high corner shot is possible.  All shots that go over the goal are the result of the male player (or female) falling backward.  The major flaw of the female player, on the other hand, is to be square, and to drop her elbow, which sends the ball over the goal.  See the illustrations above for the correct mechanics for a high corner shot (see Figs. 10, 11).


Slam-dunk drills work for attaining great height out of the water (see Shot Doctor Teaching Part 5).  Drills that emphasize the left hand pull down along with the leg kick help.  The player has to realize that the left hand pull down is vital for great height out of the water.  A weak kick dooms the shooter.  The shooter has to have the intent to leap high out of the water. 



Verticality is having a vertical back.  Get off your back is the popular saying that goes with the rule. This has been the favorite coach saying for over a hundred years.  The coach actually believes that a vertical back is the result of the player’s back and abdominal muscles keeping the torso erect.  This is true to an extent.  However, the real reason for the player having a vertical back is having strong legs.  Translated that means having a strong right leg position.  The player’s position of his or her right leg determines the angle of the back.  There is a difference between muscular legs and a correctly positioned right leg, i.e., strength versus positioning.    With the player’s right leg straight back and slightly bent at the knee, the right leg acts as a tripod to balance out the player’s body when catching or throwing the ball (see Fig. 12). 


In the illustrations above, the bad shooter is on his back with the ball aimed over the top of the goal.  At the release of the ball, the ball flies over the top of the goal.  In the player’s mind however, he can take a “magical shot” and cause the ball to bend down to go into the high corner.  This is a very common imaged fantasy for the shooter (see Figs. 13, 14).


The player can be vertical on the land with ease.  However, any extreme arm movement back causes the right leg to swing back to support the arm.  The same action happens in throwing in the water but the right leg must move further back to support the right arm because the body is less stable in the water.  The two genders approach dry land passing differently.  The boys s throw the ball around the deck all of the time.  The girls do not pass on dry land.  The reason is that dry land passing for girls forces them to extend the right leg back and rotate the hips.  The deck does not allow them to fall over safely as they do in the water.  Any dropping of the elbow on the dry land pass indicates that the player is not splitting the legs and rotating the hips.  The square passer compensates for the rotational power loss by dropping the elbow so she can shot put the ball by using arm extension.

In the water

There are not any drills, there is only recognition and critiquing of the player’s shot by the coach.  The coach has to be vigilant on never allowing a player to lie on his or her back. The coach has to have a visual record of the player leaning backward.  The coach uses the camera on a phone or tablet to film the shot.  The player has to see on the screen that they do not have perfect posture in the water.  When the shooter is using a long arm cock but does not swing the right leg way back so the right foot is under the ball for support, the coach sees the shooter’s torso falling backward and the ball flies over the goal.  Any shot thrown over the goal is because the shooter was falling backward.  The only exception to the rule is the square girl who drops the elbow, which causes the ball to go high. 


Photograph by Allen Lorentz at mypolopics.com

Body rotation caused by hip rotation is the major force in throwing and catching a water polo ball.  Crunching the abdominal muscles to flex the torso forward is a minor force.  Extending the right fore arm forward to throw the ball is also a minor force.  A tremendous amount of the dry land practice time is devoted to flexion/extension sit-ups and the bench press drills.  Little practice time is allocated, if any, to developing the hip muscles that create body rotation.  The result is the hip muscles are weak and the shot is weak.  Weak body rotation is also responsible for dropping the ball on the catch (see Fig. 15).


Dry land

Medicine side-to-side tosses standing and kneeling develop the muscles of rotation.  Standing medicine tosses develops the hip rotators; kneeling develops the small spinal muscles surrounding the spine.  Another drill is the Universal Machine cable drill.  The player is standing to the side of the machine, with elbow tucked into the side, and pulls horizontally out by rotating the body.  Do not move the arm as the drill now becomes a rotator cuff drill and not a hip rotator drill. 

For the player’s hips to rotate the legs, the legs must be positioned in a split leg position, with the left leg forward and the right leg straight back and slightly bent at the knee.  In the split leg positioning, the player’s hips can rotate backward to cock the arm and the body and rotate forward to throw the ball.

In the water

The easiest method for seeing if the hips are rotating underwater is to look at the player’s shoulder when passing or shooting.  If the shoulders do not move, the coach knows that the legs were not split and the hips did not rotate the shooter’s shoulders. 


Verticality and hip rotation creates power, the power stage.  If the player is lying on his or her back on the water, no power in the world from the legs and hips will help the player’s back into a vertical throwing motion.  Without verticality, there is no rotation, and therefore no power.  Body rotation is the shot.  No rotation = no shot.  However, the elements that produce power are underwater and unseen.  The player’s  legs must be split, the right leg straight back to make the back vertical and balance out the thrower so the hips can rotate to produce power.  Power is not a right arm motion.  The right arm is part of a kinetic chain that produces most of its power before the right arm moves.  A weak right arm, means in reality, a weakly positioned body.  The coach has to get out of the fixation on the right arm motion being the shot.  It is an illusion.  Split, kick and rotate is the golden rule.

Photograph by Allen Lorentz at mypolopics.com

No one has seen a baseball pitcher with his legs together flex the torso forward to throw the baseball.  The baseball pitcher’s power comes from having split legs, a vertical back and hip rotation to rotate the body.  The rotational power from hips is used in throwing a javelin, the tennis swing and in a quarterback throwing a football.   The major power generator in all of these sports is hip rotation (see Fig. 16). 


An efficient and perfect technique creates the most power for the shot.  Strength without technique does not produce great power to throw the ball.  Power has to be applied from the legs onto to the ball to make a high velocity shot.  The legs are split to allow the hips to fully rotate to generate power for the shot. 

Dry land

The player has his/her legs together throws the ball against the wall AND SWINGS THE RIGHT LEG BACK so the hips and shoulders can rotate.  The usual wall passing drill has the passer square to the wall with frozen shoulder and without right leg and shoulder rotation.  The right leg controls the right arm so it moves back first and the right arm follows.

In the water

In the shallow end of the pool, the player gets on his or her left toes and practices lifting the right hand from in front of the face on the surface of the water and then swinging the right leg and right arm back to teach hip rotation.  In catching the ball, the player is vertical, has the right leg back, uses the left hand to sweep water to the left to turn the body to the right and swings the right leg way back.  The coach should see the player’s shoulders rotating if the drill is done correctly. 



We have seen the effect of both legs on the shot in elevation, the right leg on verticality and now we examine the left leg’s effect on accuracy.  This quest for accuracy has befuddled water polo coaches for a long time.  Does the right hand aim the ball or is it the left shoulder?  The answer is the left foot aims the ball.  The rule is: Wherever the left foot points, the ball follows.  Point the left foot at the left corner of the goal and the ball goes into the left corner of the goal.  Point the left foot at the goalie’s stomach and the ball hits the goalie’s stomach (see Fig. 17).   


Dry land

Point the left foot at a spot on the wall and throw the ball at that target.  The Serbian Tennis Ball drill is great for improving hand-to-eye coordination.  The player holds a tennis ball in his or her hand about 5-feet from the wall while standing on the deck.  The ball is thrown exactly at the “crack” in the wall where the deck meets the wall.  A perfect throw causes the ball to bounce back to the thrower’s hand.

In the water


Shooter is at the point position in the pool, he or she points the left foot at the left corner and shoots the ball.  Then the player reverses direction, points the left foot at the right corner and shoots the ball.  The second drill is to fake right, then reposition the left foot and aim it at the left corner and shoot at the left corner of the goal (see Fig. 18). 


The rule for shooting hard and accurately is Split and Kick High and Hard.  It is a simple command to say and difficult for the players to do.  This complicated command requires the shooter to split his or her legs wide apart for hip rotation.  With the legs correctly positioned, the player kicks hard with the legs for elevation, verticality, rotation and power.  Having the right leg straight back and slightly bent at the knee creates verticality and balance.  And pointing the left foot at the goal determines the direction of the ball.  Though the words Split and Kick are easy to understand the six processes involved in throwing the perfect high velocity and accurate shot are not.  The coach needs to apply Split and Kick Hard and High to the previous article that discussed the Big 5 rules of Left, Right and Rotate.  The coach will see immediate improvements in leg acceleration, elevation, verticality, rotation, power and accuracy. The coach combines the two systems and creates the high-level shooter. 

© Copyright 2014 Jim Solum
Next month: Teaching Shooting Part 13

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