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Volume 6 Number 7 May 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


Reading the goalie requires the coach to teach the shooter how to read the goalie’s position in the cage by reading the angle and selecting the correct shot.  In this article, we will discuss how to throw the skip shot  that will score from any of the five angles to the goal. In addition, the coach has to break several bans on great shots that prevent the shooter from taking the highest percentage shot. Coaches have to “un-ban” a list of forbidden shots that are useful in scoring goals such as lobs, skip shots, side arm shots and backhands.  Limiting the number of shots possible at each angle increases the chances of the goalie blocking the shot. The goal of water polo is to score; it is not to help the goalie block shots. Below is a banned shot, the skip shot and its shooting angles.



The skip shot is a shot where the ball hits the water and bounces into the high corner of the goal.  The goalie sees the ball thrown at the low corner of the goal and leaps to block the apparent low corner shot, only to see the ball skip into the high corner.  The goalie fears the skip shot and its unpredictable ways.  And to confuse the goalie even more there are four types of skip shots.  The skip shot is a great shot.  The skip shot is a banned shot by many coaches from age group through high school.  However, in college and internationally it is not.  Same shot, banned on one level, but encouraged on a higher level?  The skip shot joins the list of other “banned shots” by American coaches such as the lob shot, side arm shot and the backhand shot (see Fig. 1).

The skip shot is considered by US age group and high school coaches to be a highly inaccurate shot.  The skip shot, however, is not a “bad shot.”  The skip shot is a great shot when properly thrown.  Half of all college shots and international shots that score are skip shots.  The goalie cannot block the well-thrown skip shot.  There are no bad skip shots, only bad shooters (and bad coaches).  The problem with the skip shot is that few coaches know how to teach the skip shot and therefore the players do not know the mechanics of the shot (see Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Skip Shot Part 1-4). 


Additionally, girls and women can also skip the ball.  They just need to change from a standard 3-finger release that causes the ball to dig deeply in the water and stop (for girls) to an index finger release or a 2-finger release that skips the ball. This allows age group girls and boys, from age 12 and above, to skip the ball if a 1-finger or 2-finger technique is used.  The girl goalie does not expect to have a skip shot thrown at her and is unprepared to block the shot (see Fig. 2).

3-Finger Skip Shot


This is the standard skip shot for boys and men.  The player cradles the ball in the hand or moves the fingers to the vertical and “pinches” the ball with all five fingertips.  The player throwing a three finger release skip shot has to use all of his or her power to shoot the ball.  For the shooter to generate all this power, he or she must use the Left, Right and Rotate rules along with the Split and Kick rules to create enough power for a high velocity shot that can skip into the goal.  There are no low elevation, lazy kicking, and square skip shot shooters.  Once the whole body mechanics are correct, the hand mechanics of the release are trained.  The standard 3-finger release has the ball roll off the fingertips with the middle three fingers as the last fingers to touch the ball.  The shorter thumb and little finger are not in contact with the ball as it has already rolled off these fingertips.  The skip point is the 3-meter line for a slow rising ball that skips into the high corner of the goal at 30-degrees.  The 3-finger skip shot is not recommended for girls (see Fig. 3).

2-Finger Skip Shot


Most players prefer this shot.   The shooter’s middle two fingers, the index and middle fingers, are close together in the center of the ball and make the final contact with the ball.  The ball is pinched by all five fingertips and as the wrist snaps downward, the index and middle finger snap down on the ball.  The skip point is the 2-meter line.  The 2-finger skip lifts off the water quickly at a 45-degree angle and the ball’s skip point needs to be moved closer to the goal so it skips into the high corner of the goal.  A skipped ball that bounces over the top of the crossbar is skipped at a point that is too far away from the goal.  All of the whole body mechanics of high elevation, a vertical back, a long arm cock, and the right leg straight back and slightly bent at the knee must be observed to generate enough power for the ball to skip.  The 2-finger release is highly recommended for girls and women.  Because there is less ball spin, the ball does not dig in deeply and therefore less power is required to skip the ball (see Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Skip Shots Parts 1-4).  The 2-finger release allows the shooter to skip the ball, but also to lob the ball or throw a power shot (see Fig. 4).

Index Finger Skip Shot 


The one-finger release is ideal for age group boys, girls, high school girls, and high school boys.  The index finger skip shot pinches the ball in all five fingers and snaps the ball off the index finger.  The ball skips upward off the water’s surface at a 60-degree angle and uses a 1-meter line skip point (the goal line) If the ball is not skipped at the edge of the cage, the ball skips over the top of the goal.  Age group boys and girls have slightly longer skip points due to reduced ball velocity.  For example, a man throwing a 2-finger skip point uses a 2-meter skip point and a woman taking the same shot has 2.3-meter skip shot because the ball is not lifting off the water as sharply.  The index finger release and the 2-finger release require greater dexterity and control of the shooter’s hand.  The index finger has only one finger placing spin on the ball and requires a tremendous amount of fingertip spin to get the ball to spin with a great rotation.  Girls and women MUST powerfully spin the ball off the index fingertip or the ball will have a slow rotation and stop on the surface of the water (see Fig. 5).

Topspin Skip Shot  


The topspin skip shot is the greatest skip shot.  However, it is the hardest to teach as the ball spins forward and not backward as on the standard backspin skip shots.   The advantage of the topspin shot is the forward spinning ball sharply leaps off the water’s surface into the goal; same as the index finger skip shot.  The technique is to grip the ball like a football.  The hand is across the top of the ball, not behind the ball.  The right leg is moved back as far as possible, the right hip is cocked back as far as possible and the right arm cock is stretched back as far as possible.  Since no power comes from the wrist snap, the body has to produce an extra 2-5 mph (3.2-8 km/h) by extending the right arm and leg to compensate for the power loss.  The shooter releases with topspin, the ball leaps out of the water at a 60-70-degree angle.  The skip point is at 1-meter at the edge of the cage (see Fig. 6).    

At the release, the shooter’s fingers slightly spin the ball with the hand moving an half an inch (1.25- cm) across the top of the ball.  There is not a hard snap of the ball.  The hand only places spin on the ball and not power.  The shooter will usually try to slide the hand 6-inches (15- cm) over the entire top of the ball while applying all his or her hand strength on the ball and fail.  Less is more with the hand mechanics of the topspin release.  A skilled shooter makes the topspin skip shot bounce off the water without any effort.  This is the complete opposite philosophy of the regular backspin skip shot shooters who must apply all of their force on the ball to get it to skip off the water. 

Players practicing the topspin skip shot will fail repeatedly as the ball hits the water and dies.  A slightly more experienced player will get the ball to skip but the ball wobbles with a visible diagonal spin on the ball.  After much practice, the player will get the ball to skip high off the water with no visible stripes seen on the ball because it is spinning so rapidly (standard ball with stripes).  The reason it is so important for the player to learn the football release and how to place topspin on the ball is this new method of releasing the ball opens the way to topspin lobs and to curving the ball.  The standard hand-behind-the-ball release is not the ONLY RELEASE in water polo but one of several types of releases the experienced shooter uses to throw the ball.



Point 3-Spot

The skip shot shooter can shoot from any angle.  The highest percentage shot is from the point or 3-spot.  The skip shot is also valuable for scoring from the mild angles, US 2 and 4 (EU 4, 2), from above the left and right posts and from the worse angles and from the both wings US 1 and 5 (EU 5, 1).  The skip shot is both a power shot and a deceptive shot.  The shooter from the point reads the position of the goalie in the cage and sees if the goalie is leaning to one side or the other.  The shooter knows that a right-handed goalie is probably weaker to his or her left arm.  The shooter fakes the high corner shot by elevating high out of the water and skips the ball to the best spot in the cage.  In a point shot, both corners are high percentage shots (see Fig. 7).

Flat: 2-Spot, EU 4-Spot

In shooting the skip shot from the left flat, US 2 (EU 4) the shooter has three choices: he can shoot low, high or skip the ball to the strongside or weakside corner.  In facing an experienced goalie with strong legs, the shooter may realize that nothing is open in the strongside left corner but the shooter must shoot a skip shot the ball as time runs out.  The goalie has filled the cage (at least it looks that way to the shooter).  The shooter elevates high out of the water, the goalie assumes it is a high corner shot, and then the shooter skips the ball to the strongside left corner.  The goalie dives down to protect the low corner of the goal and sees the ball skip into the high corner.  If the goalie over-commits and overplays the strongside angle, the 2-spot shooter has a good angle while on the left flat to shoot at the gap in the weakside right corner.  Some European coaches consider the 2-spot (EU 4-spot) superior to the point for shooting.  The 2-spot shooter fakes the left corner to lock the goalie in the left corner and shoots at the open right corner.   A 3-spot shooter cannot lock the goalie into a corner.  The 2-spot (EU 4-spot) angle favors the shooter.  The other three angles, US 1, 4, 5 (EU 5, 2, 1) do not.

Right Flat:  4-spot, EU 2-Spot

In Europe, a 4-spot specialist (EU 2-Spot) is trained to take a cross-cage weakside high corner shot from this spot in the pool.  However, the weakside skip shot is a safer shot.  For the strongside 4-spot shooter facing a goalie in the right corner the shooter looks for a gap between the goalie’s body and goal post to shoot low, or a goalie with deep hands for a high corner shot.  If these goalie’s weaknesses are not apparent, the shooter fakes the goalie down and shoots high or skips the ball.  The 4-spot strongside corner shot is the lowest percentage shot.
Left Wing: 1-Spot, EU 5-Spot

In the shooting from the bad angles, the wings, a skip shot may be the only shot that can score on a goalie that has jammed the strongside left corner.  The age group or high school goalie that overplays the strongside corner, drops their hands to block the apparent low corner shot and the ball skips into the high corner.  The strongside skip shot is a desperation shot.  The only way to score on the perfectly set up goalie is trickery—the skip shot.  If the angle allows it, shoot at the weakside corner. 


The drills teach touch, finger dexterity, finger control and the skip point.

The skip shot shooter has to have perfect control of his or her various fingers and fingertips.  The skip shot shooter has to be able to visualize the skip point in the water and skip the ball at this exact point in the water time after time.  The ability to skip the ball and using the proper skip point are integral in scoring the skip shot.

Finger Flick Ball Drill

This is a critical dry land drill for developing finger control for the three out of the four skip shots.  The player holds a water polo ball in the hands and flicks the ball back and forth using four different finger releases.  The index finger flicks the ball; followed by the 2-finger flick; followed by the middle finger flick; and then the ring finger flicking the ball from hand to hand.

Skip Shot Passing Drill

The quickest method for practicing the skip shot is one-on-one skip shot passing.  The players practice 3-finger skip shot passes and 2-finger and index finger skip shot passes.  The coach can see if the player has the proper posture and technique.  When the posture is poor, low elevation, unstable, falling back, falling to the side, square, the right leg not straight back and slightly bent at the knee, not using an index finger or 2-finger release, there is not enough power to skip the ball.  The topspin is an advanced skip shot and is rarely taught in high school. The coach can try having the players throw topspin skip shots but almost all balls hit the water and stop.

Skip Point Drill

The coach has a player stationed on the 3-meter line so the skip shot shooters have a visual of where the skip point is located.  For the 2-finger skip point, station the “marker” at the 2-meter line.  For the index finger skip and the topspin skip shot as the edge of the goal on the goal line is the perfect visual aid.

Shooting at the goal Drill

The player takes three skip shots at the goal.  The shooter can see if he or she missed the skip point in the water or not by whether the ball skipped into the high corner of the goal or over the goal.  When the ball hits the water and stops it is the result of poor shooting mechanics or not enough spin on the ball.

Bar-in Drill 


Once the shooters learn how to skip the ball many of them think they have achieved their life’s goal.  The coach can add a degree of difficulty by adding the bar-in drill that requires precision down to 1/16th of an inch (.158-cm).  The ball hits the angle of the goal post and deflects into the goal. The shooter is on the left post on the 2-meter line or 4-meter line and throws the ball at full power at the edge of the right goal post.  The ball hits the edge and deflects into the goal.  Easy to say but it is hard to do.  The shooter has to have perfect posture and control of his or her body.  Any motion of falling backward, leaning to the side or bobbing up and down and twisting the wrist and the ball misses the goal completely.  The coach can see how much body control the players have with this drill.  Each player takes three shots in a row to establish their rhythm. 

The bar-in drill is reversed and the players throw bar-ins from the right post at the edge of the left goal post (called a left post bar-in).  Soon all of the balls are deflecting AWAY from the cage.  What has happened!  For the ball to deflect into the goal from the right, the shooter has to subtly, and microscopically, turn the wrist inward to make a diminutive curve on the ball.  This left post bar-in technique (shooting from right to left) is called leading with the index finger to "push" the ball into the goal.  Shooting a bar-in from the left post towards the right goal post a right post bar-in is called leading with the ring finger.  Though it is the wrist that turns ever so slightly inward the players understand this finger imagery.   The placing of the correct index or ring finger on the ball is done at an unconscious level.  The shooter cannot consciously only twist his or her wrist inward a half of an inch (.158-cm).  A demonstration on the deck is to have the player hold the hand up and lead with the index finger and see how it turns the wrist and then lead with the ring finger.  The players get the concept immediately during the demonstration.  

Half of the team in time will be able to bar-in the ball after two weeks.  The other half of the team will never be able bar-in the ball.  The accuracy of the shooter goes from a huge 24-inch (60-cm) area of inaccuracy down to a sixteen of an inch or.158-centimeters (see Fig. 8).  

The next drill is to have the shooter positioned on the left post on 2-meter line or 4-meter line and skip the ball at the edge of the goal post and into the goal.  This is a difficult shot to do.  Add a bar-in lob to the high corner and the player’s career goals are laid out for him or her. If any of the “hot dogs” can do the above, move the shooter out to the point at the 6-meter line and have the shooter skip the ball and deflect it (bar-down)off the lower edge of the crossbar and into the goal.  A player I trained, Olympian John Mann, when in high school, was able to do an overhand skip shot bar-down from the point and also a backhand bar-down skip shot off the crossbar into the goal!  When the shooter is motivated, nothing is impossible.  The impossible becomes the possible.

Tennis Ball Drill

he tennis ball drill greatly improves the accuracy of the shooter by practicing this dry land drill in conjunction with the bar-in drill.  The player stands on the deck about 2-meters from a wall and throws a new tennis ball or handball at the “crack” in the wall where the deck intersects the wall.  An accurate throw causes the ball to hit the crack and bounce right back to the player’s hand.  If the ball did not hit the crack, the ball rolls on the deck or bounces away from the thrower.  The record is 20 hits.  This drill is similar to a baseball or softball pitcher throwing a baseball or softball threw through the hole in the tire.  The water polo player has never been taught accuracy drills before and this is a new concept.  This is a fun drill.  Players who are mentally exhausted after doing homework can practice this drill and get mentally refreshed.


The skip shot is a great shot.  Age group and high school coaches should not ban skip shots.  They are no bad skip shots—only bad shooters.  Coaches need to be educated on how to teach the skip shot.  Boys and girls with the proper instruction, can, as young as 12 years of age skip the ball.  The skip shot has the player elevate and kick hard with the proper hand mechanics for the 3-finger, 2-finger, or index finger release aimed at the correct skip point.  The player who masters the skip shot becomes a complete shooter.

© Copyright 2014 Jim Solum
Next month: Reading the Goalie Part 3

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