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Volume 6 Number 6 April 1, 2014
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.

Forgotten Angles and Forbidden Shots


We have talked about the correct technique and mechanics for the throwing motion.  Perfect technique leads to the perfect shot.  However, the perfect shot does not lead to the perfect score.  To score every time, the shooter has to analyze the goalie’s position in the goal and “read” the angles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (EU numbers are reversed). Half of shooting is technique; the other half is reading the goalie.  To score, the well-trained shoots must throw the ball at the spot where it has the highest percentage of going into the goal.  The perfect shot thrown at the perfectly positioned goalie is blocked.  Great shooters know that scoring requires the player to read the goalie’s position and shoot the ball where the goalie is not located. 

The next question after the shooter’s mechanics is corrected is, “How do I score on the goalie.”  At the high school level, the thought is more like “How do I hammer the goalie.”  The shooter does not care about scoring only about throwing the ball as hard as possible in the general direction of the goal.  This attitude of “I throw heat” and “no one can block my shot” is an immature attitude that just about every shooter from age group to high school has.  In college and the pros, great goalies block most of the shotsFor the shooter to score on a good goalie requires reading skills of where to place the ball when the goalie is slightly out of position.  The shooter exploits the small gaps in the goalie’s defense.
Reading the goalie’s position is a lifetime job for the player.  Each goalie is different on how they play the shot.  Inexperienced goalies play the shot differently than experienced goalies.  Nothing is ever the same from shot to shot in a game.  The goaltender becomes smarter and smarter as the game goes on.  Every shot must be approached as a different shooting situation.   The shooter should not throw all of the shots as power shots and at the same corner. The shooter has to improvise for the specific situation.  Just throwing the ball as hard as possible does not score goals. The great shooter scores with mind and muscle.



The shooter knows the goalie reads for the open spot in the goal and the particular shots for each angle that will score—the weakside corner.  The successful shooter is prepared to shoot the ball.   The unprepared shooter, however, which is almost all of the age group and most of the high school shooters, has no idea what shot he or she is going to shoot.  Often the inexperienced shooter freezes up when facing the goalie.  The author estimates that half of all of the shots that are blocked in a game would have scored, if the shooter was prepared and knew what shot and spot to select.  The most obvious options for the immature shooter is to throw the ball at the goalie’s stomach or the head.  The goalie is an easy target. Easy to see and he does not move much!  The unseen invisible unprotected corner is an abstract concept that requires thinking and problem solving by the player.  Thinking separates the shooter from the thrower (see Fig. 1).

The concept of “Am I open” is lost on most high school players who do not see the open man.  Instead, “I have the ball, therefore I shoot no matter what” is the major thought that dominates the high school boy shooter’s mind.  On the other hand, the girl shooter thinks, “I have the ball and I need to pass it off quickly to someone else.”  Both concepts are wrong.  If the shooter is open and has a good read on the goalie, he or she must shoot the ball.  Not shooting is as bad as taking a bad shot.  Most players are afraid to shoot the ball. 

The pure shooter, however, has no fear nor conscience, which can be a dangerous thing.  The coach must develop his or her “pure shooters” by developing their reading the goalie skills so they shoot appropriately.  In Europe, at half time, the professional player or national team player has to explain why his or her shot was blocked.  The answer “I don’t know” or “I forgot” lands the player on the bench for the rest of the game.  Since the shot is an extension of the shooter’s mind, the coach assumes that the player is “unconscious.”    

During a game there are only about 20 shots taken per team.  All of the shots have to be high quality if the team is going to win the game.   Every shot counts.  Some of the good shots are going to be blocked.  However, all of the bad shots will be blocked.  Wasting a shot is sinful.  Five wasted shots equals 25-percent of all shots thrown in a game.  In a one-point loss, five possible scoring opportunities wasted is a tragedy.

When the Tactical Game Fails

In the American game, tactics succeed and fundamentals fail regularly during the game.  This unique combination appears in almost every age group, high school and college water polo game.  What happens is the counterattack is executed to perfection with two or three great passes with the open shooter-to-be getting a perfect pass on the hand.  Then the shooter has the shot blocked.  The tactical system worked beautifully but the shooter’s mechanics failed miserably.  The team works for the exclusion, sets up the 6-on-5 and then the pass is thrown away or the ball is thrown at the goalie’s stomach.  Again, the team had success in the frontcourt tactical offense followed by failure in ball handling and shooting on the 6-on-5.  How does a one-on-nobody on the counterattack not score?  How do 6 offensive players playing against 5 defensive players not score? It is not that the tactics failed.  The opportunity to score was created, but the throwing fundamentals failed.  When no fundamentals are taught, such as legwork, passing, catching and shooting—all tactical systems fail.

Finishing the Shot

The last second of the offense ends with the shot and the shooter’s psyche.  Ninety percent of what the player has done may be correct up until then, but then he chokes and blows the shot.  The shooter-to-be drives to the goal, catches the ball, is high out of the water and then disaster follows.  It is this last 10-percent and the last 5-meters from the goal where the shooter finishes off the goalie or the goalie finishes off the shooter.  The great shooter scores and the average shooter fails.  For example, the one-on-nobody shooter throws the ball over the goal has failed to finish the shot.  Finishing the shot requires reading the goalie, throwing the ball with good technique, and SCORING.  This last second of the offense requires the shooter to concentrate and have the will to win.  Someone wins and someone loses in this contest.  Have the player practice Stress Drills where the shooter has less than a second to catch and shoot quickly with the guard attacking the shooter.



The goalie is out position in the strongside left corner Fig. A. Goalie is out of position in the weakside right corner in Fig. B.


In Figure 3, goalie overplays middle, expects a weakside shot, leaves a gap and the strongside shot scores.


In Figure 4, the goalie overplays the strongside left corner and the weakside shot scores.

The shooter that is not on the point is at an angle to the goal, the wings 1, 5 or the flats 2, 4.  The goalie overplays the nearside/strongside, the side closest to the shooter in Figure 4. The left corner is wide open and the shooter lobs the ball into the left corner.  The shooter has a choice of shooting at the goalie on the nearside angle (strongside) or the weakside angle that the goalie is not blocking.  In almost all cases, the weakside is the corner where the ball is most likely to score.  The nearside is the corner where the ball is least likely to score.

 Logically, the shooter should shoot the ball at the weakside corner of the goal.  However, the  age group and high school shooter throw almost all of their shots at the nearside or strongside corner.  In Figure 2A, the goalie is half way playing the strongside angle but leaves a “gap” in the left corner.   In Figure 2B, the goalie overplays the left goal post and leaves the right weakside corner open for the shot.  In Europe, the age group and high school shooters throw all of their shots at the weakside corner of the goal (see Figs. 2, 3, 4).   

I watched a Croatian coach give a clinic at one of the great Orange County, California high schools on weakside shooting from a bad angle to the goal.  Exasperated at all of the strongside drive shots that hit the goalie in the stomach, he wanted to kick anyone out of the clinic that threw the ball at the strongside corner of the goal!  The players learned very quickly that the strongside (nearside) corner was not the place to throw the ball but the weakside corner.  It makes a dramatic difference in scoring.  The goalie routinely overplays the nearside corner expecting all of the bad angle shots to be thrown at his or her stomach next to the goal post.  The shooter reads the goalie’s position throws the ball into the opposite corner (weakside corner).  Further more, Europeans have an interesting concept— no angle is considered bad.  A goal is expected from the shooter from any angle (see Fig. 5).


One of the problems that the coach faces is the players shooting at the nearside corner of the goal when the weakside corner is open.  The coach neglects to tell the players that the left foot aims the ball.  Without the players pointing the left foot at the opposite weakside corner, the ball is thrown at the strongside corner of the goal where the goalie is sitting. The first rule in teaching weakside shooting is to point the left foot at the opposite corner of the goal.  Mechanics and reading the goalie are combined to finish off the shot and score (see Fig. 5).  



The coaching statement that “A boy should never lob the goalie” is one of the greatest problems facing the American shooter!  The coach yanks the male player out of the water because he threw a lob and scored!  This is just nonsense.  The shooter has to be able to select the best shot for the situation.  The rationale for the coach is simple, he sees that all of his the players throw horrible lobs.  Lobbed balls are bouncing all over the deck on every shot.  The coach assumes that the lob is a bad shot.  The truth of the matter is that the coach is a bad coach!  Banning a shot just because you don’t know how to teach it is just crazy  (See Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Lobs 1, 2, 3).   The lob is a great shot and the inability of the players to throw a lob is one of the reasons why the American male water polo player shoots so poorly (see Fig. 6).


The lob is a great shot, not a bad shot.  The coach is wrong and needs to change.  The lob shot requires the greatest skill to score.  In addition, it requires the shooter to read the angle.  The lob shot is a combination of mechanics and the mind.  The lob shot mechanics requires the shooter to have strong legs, split legs, kick high out of the water, not be square, do not drop the elbow for a shot putt lob, the proper ball arc, good hands, and the correct lob aiming point. The lob shot teaches body control.   If you cannot lob, you cannot shoot (see Fig. 7). 


The lob requires the shooter to accelerate the lower body and then slow down the torso rotation and the arm speed.  It is a two-speed differential motion that the shooter must learn.  The lob, due to its slow upper body speed, teaches the shooter to have control.  The power shot is a one-speed all-out shot.  Throwing hundreds of power shots a day at the goaltender does not create a better shooter (see Fig.8).


The mental part requires the shooter to read the goalie’s position in the goal, see that he has overplayed the strongside corner and use the correct lob aiming point.  In Figure 9, the lob shooter aims the ball at the high corner and sees the ball fall into the water.  Little, however, is taught to the player about lob mechanics or reading the goalie, the angle and the aiming point.  No wonder the coach of the boys bans all lob shots!  However, when the shooter is properly instructed in the mechanics and reading the angle, the lob scores regularly.  Just ask any girl. The lob, to the Europeans, is a high percentage shot.  On the other hand, in the US, the lob is considered the most inaccurate the shot in water polo (see Figs. 8, 9). 

The read of the goalie on a bad angle for a lob requires the goalie to be locked on the nearside goal post with the opposite weakside corner wide open.  Another part of the read is to aim the ball at the correct lob height known as the aiming point.  In the US, we just lob the ball up in the air and pray that it goes into the goal.  No one in the US knows about the lob aiming point.  The lob aiming point for the standard 3-finger lob is to aim the ball 24-inches (61-cm) above the crossbar of the goal.  The lobbed ball has a curved trajectory where the ball rises above the top of the goal 24-inches and then drops into the high corner of the goal.  The average shooter assumes that the lob has a flat trajectory and aims the ball at the high corner of the goal and sees the ball drop into the water in front of the goal.  In fact, the average shooter believes that the lob should go into low corner and pass through the goalie’s head!


The 2-finger lob, a more advanced lob, gives the shooter more control of the ball.  The ball is pinched by all five fingers with the index finger and the middle finger together in the center of the ball.  At the release of the ball, these two fingers snap down on the ball.  There is less ball spin and a lower lob curving trajectory with the 2-finger lob.  The lob aiming point is lowered to 1-foot (30-cm) above the crossbar of the goal.  The 2-finger is the choice of most high-level water polo players. The 2-finger release allows the shooter to change from a lob to a 2-finger power shot to a 2-finger skip shot if the goalie is setting up to block the lob shot.



The third concept that radically improves scoring is shooting at the high corner of the goal.  While the coach assumes that all of his or her players automatically shoot at the high corners of the goal, few actually can.  Shooting at the high corner of the goal requires stronger legs and a more a more stable base.  No one can miss the water on a low corner shot!  When the coach demands the team to shoot at the high corners of the goal, very few can actually hit the high corner.  It is a good idea for the coach to have a high corner shooting section during each shooting practice.  High corner shooting forces the player to have stronger legs and develop a more accurate shot.  The goalie knows that the shooter has weak legs and waits low in the water for the low corner shot.  In the case of boys, the boy shooter falls on his back and then shoots across the body at the lower left corner of the goal.  The intelligent goalie waits for the shot and easily blocks the left low corner shot.  The male shooter lies on his back because of weak legs and shoots across the body so he can rotate his hips to create more power for the shot.  The end-result of this body position and throwing motion is to telegraph the location of every shot to the goalie (see Fig. 11).


Croatian weakside driving drill

The driver starts on the wall, drives the bad angle and swims toward the right goal post.  The goalie is told to overplay the right goal post and play for the strongside corner shot.  The driver is instructed not to drive too close to the goal or the angle will be reduced or eliminated and he or she will not be able to shoot at the weakside corner.  Also, the left foot must point at the opposite corner.  This adjustment to weakside drive shooting will take a while to learn.  The shooter has never considered a cross-cage shot, the angle or how close to the goal he or she can get and still score. 

The goalie is not allowed to cheat on this driving drill.  In fact, the goalie must play  “Dummy Defense.”  The goalie may look at this drill as a “Goalie Humiliation Drill” but that is too bad.  Any shot thrown at the goalie’s stomach on the strongside right corner of the goal results in the player eggbeatering hard for 5-seconds.  Wall pull-ups is another good punishment for players that do not listen.

Bad Angle Lob Drive Shot

Women have invented a shot that scores frequently on age group and high school girl goalie.  The driver drives the left post, gets close to the goal and the goalie moves to lock onto the left goal post.  The driver stops, drops her elbow and throws a shot putt lob at the weakside right corner of the goal from a semi-horizontal position.  The bad angle drive convinces the goalie that it is a strongside left corner shot and positions herself so the right corner of the goal is wide open for the weakside shot.  This lob shot may not work on the taller high school boy goalies.  However, the drive lob should work on the age group boy goalies.


The lob is probably the hardest shot other than the side arm skip shot to teach.  All of the mechanics go against what the shooter considers is “natural.”  The legs do not kick weakly, the elbow does not drop, the shooter’s body is not square to the goal and the arm moves in a controlled but not a motion.  The correctly thrown lob has a strong leg kick but slows the upper body as ball is about to be shot, i.e., fast legs and a slow arm.  The shooter also believes that the lob shot requires a square to the goal body position.  Why this is, no one knows!  The lob shooter splits the legs with the left foot forward and the right leg back and angles the body to the goal.  The square body position eliminates all hip rotation and forces the lob shooter to drop the elbow and throw a long distance shot put lob.  When the shooter’s body is angled to the goal, he or she does not drop the elbow.  The last part of lob shooting is to teach the lob aiming point.  On a wall-mounted goal, the coach stands over the weakside corner of the goal and places his or her fist 2 feet (61-cm) over the top of the goal so the players have a target to aim at.  In a floating goal, a red flag that is 2 feet high is placed on top of the weakside crossbar.  If the lob is low—a low aiming point.  If the lob hits the middle of the cage—the left foot needs to be adjusted.  For the 2-finger lob, the coach holds a fist 12-inch (30-cm) above the crossbar.


The shooters are required by the coach to spend part of the practice time shooting exclusively at the high corners of the goal.  The shooter elevates high out of the water with a high elbow with the center of the ball 30-inches (75-cm) above the water.  The coach will be surprised to find that two-thirds of the team is unable to shoot accurately at the high corners of the goal.  However, criticizing the shooters for missing the high corner of the goal soon results in no one shooting at the high corner!  The good news is that within two weeks of practice, all of the shooters, at least at the high school level, should be able hit the high corners accurately.


This drill section for the coach has three parts: weakside shot, lob shot and high corner shot. These three main drills combine throwing mechanics with the mental aspect of reading  the goalie.  When shooting from an angle, the weakside shot is thrown at the open corner opposite the goalie’s position.  The lob shot is a slow high arching shot to the high corner that sails over the goalie’s head when the goalie plays the angle incorrectly.  The high corner shot forces the goalie to jump high out of the water and to judge the speed of the incoming ball.  No longer can the goalie stay low in the water and block the easy strongside low corner shot because the shooter now consistently shoots at the high weakside corner of the goal.  Following these rules the shooter will be well on their way to becoming a well-trained shooter who can score.

© Copyright 2014 Jim Solum
Next month: Reading the Goalie Part 2

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