Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 6 Number 8 June 1, 2014
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.



The backhand shot is a great shot by the 2-meter player.  The center’s back is to the goal and he throws the right arm and ball backward at the goal.  It has been a staple in shooting in the United States and in Europe for over 40-years.  The reason the backhand is banned by lower level coaches is supposedly the backhand is an inaccurate shot that hits the goalie at center cage or misses the goal completely.  Most coaches want the center to face the goal when shooting for good visuals.  The backhand, on the other hand, is a “blind” shot with the shooter’s back to the goal.  The top college and international players shoot backhands most of the time during a game.  Recently, in the 2013 World Championships, the Australian women made the finals by scoring five backhands in the semi-finals.  Interestingly, not all of the backhands came from the Australian center but from players on the wing and on 5-meter foul shots.  The goalie did not expect to see a backhand shot from there and was unprepared to prevent the score.



The first rule for 2-meter player is to set up in the center of the goal, which allows the ball to be thrown at the left corner of the goal. Then the center steps-out at a 45-degree angle by pulling with the left hand, puts his or her hand on top the ball to grip and then half submerges the ball.  Do not put the hand underneath the ball or on the side of the ball.  The center’s left shoulder digs into the guard’s sternum and is pushes off. The left hand’s downward push lifts the tightly griped ball slightly clear of the water.  The right elbow is bent, leads and then straightens out to release the ball.  At the same time, the center’s right leg swings backward with the arm to rotate the body (see Fig. 1). 


Left Shoulder Push Off


The center has to get free of the center guard’s hands.  For girls this is an especially trying situation as the swimsuit provides many places to grab.  The common mistake for the boy or girl center is to use the hand to push off the guard to get open.  When the center uses the hand to push off the guard it always results in an offensive foul.  The proper technique to use is to push off with the left shoulder into the guard’s sternum.  The left shoulder push off results in a 12-inch (2.5-cm) space and strips the guard’s hands off the center’s body.  All the referee sees is the natural rotation of the center’s body and shoulders.

Actually, the technique to push off the guard is complex.  The center arches the back and positions the body at a 45-degree angle so the shoulder thrust has a firm point.  Having a flat square back does nothing for the center.  It may result in an offensive foul if the center uses the head to throw the torso backward instead of the back extensor muscles.  With the back arched and the torso and left shoulder angled, the center kicks back into the guard’s body and springs off the sternum, separating from the guard. The arching the back, angling the torso and kicking back into the guard are all new techniques that the center is unfamiliar.  With practice, the left shoulder push off into a step-out backhand shot becomes commonplace for the center to perform.  Perimeter players can also use the left shoulder technique to become open to pass the ball (see Fig. 2).


At this point, the right hand slides to the side of the ball as it is lifted from the water from the push down. Do not swing the arm high up into the air, as the ball will hit the water at an angle and stops.  Once the bottom of the ball is slightly out of the water, the center’s left hand pulls backward and the right leg swings backward to rotate the center’s body to the right.  As the right leg swings backwards, the right elbow is bent and right arm fully extends to release the ball (see Figs. 3, 4).



The best backhand shot is a left corner skim shot.  The goalie jumps up in the air with the arms and is unable to protect the low corner of the goal.  The rule: Where ever the elbow points the ball follows.  In the illustrations below, Figure 5 & 6, show various incorrect elbow angles of center that throw the ball in different directions.  One of the most common errors in the backhand shot is for the center to step-out straight ahead with the right leg and bend the right elbow with the ball in front of the face.  The ball is used as a floating aid for the center.  The result of the bent elbow is the ball misses the entire goal.  Other examples are swinging the ball up in the air to get ball clearance with the elbow down at the water, which causes the ball to hit the water and stop.  On the other hand, not lifting the ball up out of the water causes the ball to become a torpedo.  Submerging the entire ball with the elbow aimed over the top of the goal causes the ball to fly over the cage (see Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Hole Shots Part 2).  These above errors are common mistakes made by the center (see Figs. 5, 6).



In the above illustration, Figure 7, the five places that the center can place the ball are shown.  There are two shots to the left corner, one shot over the goalie’s head and two shots to the right corner of the goal.  The center reads the position of the guard and the goalie and places the ball in the most open spot in the goal.  For a backhand shot, the left corner is the preferred corner for shooting.  The above the head and right corner are difficult backhand shots and are only used in special situations.  The shooter can also change the angle of the ball by positioning the ball in a different place, using a scissor kick or the left hand to move the ball around (see Fig. 7).

The lower left corner shot is the preferred location for the angled step-out backhand shot with the center positioned in the middle of the cage.  The goalie automatically jumps high for the shot and the ball skims into the lower left corner of the goal under the goalie’s arm.  Goaltenders are taught to raise their arms up to 15-inches to 18-inches above the water (37-cm to 45-cm).  This is the location in the goal that most center shooters throw the ball.  The backhand skim shot takes advantage of goalie’s arm height out of the water to score. 

Left Upper Corner Shot

When the goalie stays low in the water, expecting a skim shot, the center’s elbow is aimed at the high corner of the goal and the ball is shot at the high corner.  Again, the rule is, the ball goes wherever the elbow points.  

Over The Head Shot

The over the head shot is a rare shot.  The goalie usually protects his or her head from the ball.  However, on certain occasions when the goalie has jumped early and is sinking the ball can be thrown over the goalie’s head. 

Right Lower Corner Shot

The right corner shot involves the center changing from a step-out kick with the legs widely separated and eggbeatering into a scissor kick (legs slap together).  The result of a step-out at 45-degres with a scissor kick is to over-rotate the male’s hips, which causes the ball to go into the lower right corner of the goal. If the center steps-out straight ahead using a scissor kick, the ball instead hits the goalie in the stomach at center cage. 


Right High Corner Shot  

When the center is on the left goal post, it is possible with a scissor kick to shoot a cross-cage weakside high right corner shot.  This is a rare shot and requires great control of the body and the hand. 



The ball position in the water is often ignored even though it affects the angle to the goal.  The ball makes the angle.  As we have seen previously, the elbow decides the angle that the ball travels. However, in the Rudic cross-cage shot the ball placement in the water before the shot, makes the angle for the shot to score.  The Rudic cross-cage shot from the left post with the right shoulder facing the goal and center’s back facing the side wall, is an unexpected and deceptive shot by the 2-meter player.  The goalie is used to seeing the center’s back and having him be at center cage.  A center set up off to the side, facing the side wall of the pool, is out of position to shoot the ball according to the goalie’s mindset.  This is not true of course.  The offset center’s shot rips cross-cage across the goal and into the right corner of the goal (see Fig. 8). 

The technique for shooting a Rudic backhand shot is for the shooter to be precisely positioned  2-meters outside of the left goal post on the 3-meter line.  In this position in the pool, the ball is geometrically aimed to go into the right corner of the goal.  The goalie is not paying much attention to the ball when he/she sees the center outside the goal post and off the angle.  The goalie is expecting a pass from the center to the perimeter players for a shot and plays center cage.   The ball zooms past the sleeping goaltender.  The position of the ball in the water is critical for the Rudic backhand shot.  The center has never thought before this type of shot about shooting geometry.


If the ball is placed above the 3-meter line, the angle is decreased and the ball hits the goalie at center cage.  When the ball placed below the 3-meter line, the angle is increased and the ball misses the right corner of the goal.  Ball position in the water is everything to the center as he or she considers the angle their body is positioned in relationship to the ball. The shooter reads the angle but also makes the shooting angle (see Figs. 9, 10).

Advanced Left Hand Scissor Kick Backhand Shot


The center reads the guard the goalie and the angle but also the referee.  The referee controls the game.  In particular, the referee controls whether or not the center scores.  When the referee allows the center guard to be all over the center, the 2-meter player has to change to another shooting technique to score.  In a recent Olympic Games, the referees allowed the guards to  wrap their arms around the center!  The centers developed a new backhand shot to maneuver around the lack of fouls so they could shoot at 2-meters.  They changed their shooting angles by pulling or pushing with the left hand.

The center switches from a step-out to the right to a scissors kick.  The center guard cannot grab the 2-meter player’s legs so at least the legs are safe!  To prevent the male or sometimes the female center shooter from over-rotating, the center’s left hand is used to “steer the ball” to increase or decrease body rotation and the angle of the shot (see Fig. 11).


The center’s left hand pull fixes the over-rotation problem.  When the center wants to shoot at the left corner of the goal, he or she pushes forward with the left hand to reduce body rotation caused by the scissor kick.  The ball travels into the goal near the goalie’s right hip.  The effect of the scissor kick on the center’s body rotation is greatly reduced.  For a right corner shot, the center’s left hand pulls backward, the center’s body rotates excessively (passed center cage) and places the ball near the right corner of the goal. Note: In the narrow hip male 2-meter player, the act of scissor kicking over-rotates the body 180-degrees so the backhand shot hits the goalie in the stomach at center cage (see Fig. 12). 


While it is important to read the goalie’s position in the goal, it is more important to read the position of the center’s guard on the 2-meter player.  If the ball does not get past the guard’s hand, it does not make any difference if the goaltender is out of position in the cage.  The guard has three different positions to defend the center: left shoulder, right shoulder and middle (playing behind the center).  The center sees/feels what shoulder the guard is on and selects the correct shot based upon the on the out of position of the center guard.  There are no great center guards, only bad center shooters.  There are no great goalies, only bad shooters.  There is always an open space in the goal; shoot at the open space and score.

Left Shoulder Defender: Backhand

When the guard is overplaying the center’s left shoulder the correct shot is the backhand or rollout shot.  The center guard takes the left shoulder of the center.  The center’s right arm is free and completely open for the shot.  The out of position guard cannot block a backhand shot or a rollout shot (see Hole Shots Parts 1-4 to see all of the center shots). 

Right Shoulder Defender: Sweep shot, Power Turn shot, Spin Move

When the center guard overplays the center’s right shoulder, the shooter cannot take a backhand because the guard is playing his or her right arm for the shot.  Then, the center grabs the guard’s left hand, does a power turn shot and spins 90-degrees towards the right corner of the goal for a shot.  Another shot is a spin move towards the right corner of the goal.  The center grabs the right hip of the defender and spins 180-degrees to the inside for inside water and an off the water shot.  When the guard is pressing hard against the center, a strongside spin move towards the left corner is possible.

Middle: Behind the Back Defender: Backhand shot, sweep shot, Power Turn shot, Spin

When the center guard plays the middle or behind the back of the center, many center shots are available.  The first shot considered is the backhand shot, followed by the power turn shot and the Humbert shot and the rollout shot.  The Humbert shot where the shooter pushes off the guard’s chest with his or her left shoulder, turns to face the goal, and shoots the ball at the right corner of the goal.  Another shot out of the defender’s middle position is the rollout shot where the center shooter rolls on his side towards the left corner and shoots the ball at the left corner.  The guard is way out of position to stop this type of shot.  The spin move is used when the guard’s hips are down and the guard’s hip can be grabbed.

When the center guard is tightly covering the center and grabbing everything to hold on to, the center layouts on his or her back and pushes away from the guard towards the point, and takes an overhand shot off their back.  Women, because they float are much better at taking layout shots, both power shots and lobs than the men.   Men have a tendency to sink in the water unless they are very skilled at the layout shot.


The purpose of the drills is to teach body rotation, hand skills and left hand mechanics.

Backhand Passes

The backhand is a whole body rotational shot.  Therefore, all body rotational drills will help practice the backhand shot.  The first drill is to have two players practice backhand passes to each other.  Step-out at a 45-degree angle, pull, push and pull with the left hand and backhand pass the ball to a partner.  In the beginning, expect a lot of errant backhand passes flying all over place until they learn to aim the backhand pass.  Then modify the drill and require backhand skim passes.  Skim passes require the passer to master “touch” on the ball.  To assist in skimming the ball, the passers twists the thumb down and inward as the ball is released to increase the rotation of the ball so it skims better.  Skim passes can be throwing facing the partner or with the back to the partner.  The player has to “feel the ball” and develop “touch” to skim the ball.  Until doing this drill, most players are ham-fisted and have stone hands, which makes for some very humbling and entertaining practices in the beginning!

Backhand Walks

The player walks a lap stepping out with the right leg and doing pull, push and pull with the left hand. The player can take a fake backhand to make it feel authentic.  A variation of the drill is to step-out sideways with the right leg, step after step, without hand movements for a lap.  Then reverse direction and have the player step-out with the left leg for a lap.

Backhand with a Guard

This is a three-man drill.  The player has a guard on himself with an unguarded passer throwing the entry pass to him.  The entry pass has to be perfect (a rare thing in age group and high school) and the guard is positioned on his left shoulder for him to take a soft backhand shot into the wall.  The guard shifts position to force he center to read the position of the guard: guard’s chin on left shoulder—shoot; guard’s chin on right shoulder—do not shoot a backhand shot.

Strongside Spin 

Another drill for developing the backhand is strongside or reverse spins.  The player has a partner and practices spinning without using a hand and spinning 180-degrees towards the right corner.  The speed of the spin creates the power for the move.  Slow spin = no spin move.   For those centers that do not have an off the water shot, the center holds onto the ball after the spin and shoots a screw shot.  The woman center, found she spun and floated.  No call by the referee.  The woman adjusted.  She pointed the right shoulder at the goal, picked the ball up and held it high in the air with a palmed hand.  She shook the arm twice and threw the ball over the goalie’s head.  Men, by the way with their non-floating body, spun and sunk to the bottom of the pool.  The sympathetic referee calls an exclusion.

Weakside Spin

A complimentary drill is to do weakside spins to the left, which duplicates the sweep shot motion.  The center grabs the guard’s mid waist area with his/her left hand, grabs the ball in the right hand and spins 180-degrees towards the right corner of the goal.  When the center grabs the guard’s left hip, the spin is only 90-degrees (see Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Spins 1-3). 

Left Hand Mechanics  

The left hand controls ball clearance and power for the standard backhand shot.  The center’s left hand, pulls, pushes down and pulls.  For the drill, have the center positioned with his/her back to the wall, 3-meters out from the wall with a ball.  The center pulls with the left hand and steps-out at 45 degrees, pushes down with the left hand to lift the pinched or palmed ball clear of the water.  Then the center pulls again with the left hand for rotation and throws soft backhand into the wall twenty times.  The left hand is the shot in the backhand.

Left Shoulder Push Off

The drills has two players together, one plays the center and the other the guard.  The center arches the back, angles the left shoulder, kicks into the guard and springs off the guard’s sternum for the push off and gains separation from the guard.


The backhand is a valuable shot for the center.  When the center guard overplays the center’s left shoulder, no power turn shot towards the right corner is possible.  The center reads the position of the guard on his or her left shoulder and shoots a backhand shot at the left lower corner.  The backhand is a low corner skim shot that slides the ball on the surface of the water as the goalie leaps up into the air.  If the center shooting a high corner shot, he or she plays into the goalie’s natural upward movement.  The backhand shooter has to position the elbow so it in points at the left corner of the goal.  Resting on the ball bends the elbow and aims the ball outside the goal posts.  Pushing the ball down deeply underwater creates a high over the goal shot.  The well-trained shooter steps-out, pulls, pushes, and pulls and leads with the right elbow and skims the ball into the goal. 

Coaches ban the only shot that can score when the center-guard  is positioned on the center’s left shoulder.  It is complete nonsense.  Logic, not some kind frozen ideology from the 1970s, needs to govern the actions of the modern 21st century coach.  The center reads the guard, the goalie and the angle, selects the backhand and scores.  The goal of the center is to score.  Hopefully, the goal of the coach is the same.

© Copyright Jim Solum 2014
Next month: Reading the Goalie Part 4 Side Arm

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