Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 7 Number 3 January 1, 2015
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.





In the first article, Smart Hands Part I we covered the use of the fingers to throw the ball: a 3-finger release, 2-finger release, a 1-finger release and a 5-finger side arm release and topspin release.  Now we look at the five spins that are placed on the water polo ball by the different finger releases.  The ball can be throw with the standard backspin, no spin on the ball, a forward spinning topspin, a diagonal spin, and a sidespin.   Each of these five different ball spins causes the ball to do various movements in the air.   The last four ball spins confuse the goalie’s timing.  A no spin shot leaves zero ball spin for the goalie to predict the speed of the ball.  The topspin shot blurs ball rotation.  A diagonal spin is used to cause the ball to curve for a lob or to drop straight down and stop in the water for an entry pass to the center from the 2-spot or 4-spot (EU 4, 2).  And the side-spinning ball creates the side arm shot that can curve, skim, or skip.  The type of ball spin makes the shot and requires that various fingers be used for the release of the ball.  The ball spin makes the release.  The ball spin makes the shot.




The backspin ball spin is the universal ball spin and is used on almost all shots.  The water polo ball has a backward spin on the ball.  The backspin ball is easy to create, does not require any new hand positioning, and goes straight ahead when thrown properly.  The ball is held in a cradle grip or a pinch grip (see Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Smart Hands Part 1).  The wrist snaps down and the ball rolls off the three middle fingertips, the index finger, middle finger and the ring finger.  The backspin is the first ball spin taught to the age group player, and unless the coach is knowledgeable, it is the only spin taught to the high school and college player (see Figs. 1, 2). 



2-Finger hand on top entry pass

The no spin or as it is commonly known, the knuckleball, is a ball that does not rotate.  The ball is pinched in all five fingers and is released evenly from all five fingertips to create a no spin ball.  The standard  release cause the ball to spins off the fingertips, creating backspin.  The no spin ball can be used for a power shot or  as a knuckleball skip shot.  The knuckle ball shot, however, is rarely used in water polo (see Figs. 3, 4). 

Middle finger off speed


The middle finger release is another no spin release, but it only requires one finger to create a no spin shot.  The ball is pinched and the ball is “jabbed” by the middle fingertip for the release.  The jab creates the no spin knuckleball.  The middle finger release is an important release in European men’s water polo.  However, in the USA, the middle finger release is unknown.  The middle finger release is used to throw an off speed shot.  The off speed shot goes half the normal ball velocity: the 40 mph (64 km/h) shot goes half the expected speed and travels at 20 mph (32 km/h).  The goalie jumps early to block a 40 mph (64 km/h) shot and is sinking as the slower shot arrives a few tenths of a second later in the high corner of the goal.  The ball’s trajectory is flat and the ball is aimed at the high corner of the goal.  The middle finger release has the unique property of being able to duplicate the look of the power shot release with a hard wrist snap but having a slow ball speed.  In addition, the ball can be shot without having the rest of the body set up with the left leg forward, the right leg back and the hips cocked.  The middle finger release lets the shooter take an accurate off balance shot (see Fig. 5).

Middle finger lob


The middle finger knuckleball shot can also be used as a lob.  In Europe, the middle finger lob is considered one of the most accurate shots in water polo.  In the USA, most coaches of boys’ teams have banned the lob.  Furthermore, the coaches have never ever heard of the middle finger release lob. The middle finger lob can be thrown close up to the goal or from half tank.  The ball is pinched, the hand is angled, and the middle finger jabs the ball.  For the high corner shot, the lob aiming point is somewhere less than 12-inches (30-cm) above the crossbar depending on how much arc is placed on the ball.  The ball arc of a middle finger lob is between 20 to 30-degrees.  The further the shooter is away from the goal the greater the ball arc, hand angle and the lob aiming point (see Fig. 6). 

2-Finger knuckleball entry pass


The passer pinches the ball, kicks high in the air, leans forward, slides the hand on top of the ball and snaps the index and middle finger down on the ball.  The hand on top increases the angle from the standard 30-degrees to 70-degree angle pass.  The hand on top positions the fingers so they can jab at the ball producing no spin or very little ball spin.  The pass goes straight to the center’s hand and stops dead in the water.  There is no skimming of the ball.  This is a unique entry pass  was a great idea.  However, it took too much energy for the passer to do in a game and is not used any more.  For more information on entry passes (please read Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Entry Passes Part 1-3) and (see Fig 7).



Topspin power shot

The power shot is taken with a long arm cock and a football grip with the hand barely moving to place topspin on the ball for a high corner shot.  The goalie cannot read the speed of the ball and assumes it is moving slower.   The topspin power shot is a great shot that is rarely used except by elite players (see Fig. 8).

Topspin skip shot


The topspin shot is a ball rotating forward.  The topspin can be used as a power shot but most of the time it is used as a skip shot.  On a power shot, the ball’s stripes become invisible to the goalie.  The goalie is used to seeing a backspinning ball and his or her eyes are fooled by the blur of the forward spinning ball.  The goalie cannot judge the speed of the shot and reacts poorly.  Most of the time the goalie believes that a 40 mph (64 km/h) shot is traveling at 30 mph (48 km/h).  The goalie also misjudges the quickness of the topspin skip shot as it lifts off the water.  The 3-finger skip shot rises slower from the water and is thrown at a 3-meter skip point.  On the other hand, the topspin skip shot is thrown at the goal line and instantly jumps out of the water and into the high corner of the goal (see Fig. 9).

The topspinning ball has a unique grip and a “light release” which distinguishes it from other skip shot releases such as the 3-finger, 2-finger and index finger releases.  In the topspin release, the shooter’s hand is on top of the ball with the fingers pointing inward as if the player was gripping an American football.  This is a new release for the water polo player who has always positioned his or her hands behind the ball.  At the release of the ball, a light wrist snap is used.  This release does not use the hard wrist snap of the backspinning ball releases.&nb

The topspin shooter’s hand, instead of placing more speed on the ball (estimated about 2 mph/3.2 km/h for a backspin power shot), the release simply places spin on the ball.  The topspin release goes against everything that the player has been taught with power shots.  The topspin release puts spin on the ball but contributes no velocity to the ball.  The topspin shooter’s hand only moves an inch (2.5-cm) or less on the surface of the ball.  The standard wrist snap moves the fingers 6 to 7-inches (15-cm to 18-cm).

In addition, the body position of the topspin shooter is altered and lengthened from the backspin shooter.  The arm cock is as long as possible, the torso and right hip are turned back as far as they can go and the right leg is stretched back to the maximum.  These extra lengthening movements are done to increase the range of motion so that power can be applied longer to the ball to increase ball speed to make up for the 2 mph (3.2 km/h) loss of power from the wrist snap.  All in all this is a difficult shot to learn and not many Americans have tried to mastered this shot.  It takes a lot practice to master the light release and not over do the release and not slide the hand 6 to 9-inches (14-cm to 23-cm).  Less is more with the topspin release.  It takes the least amount of energy to get a topspin-rotating ball to skip.  The topspin skip shot is the best skip shot in the world.



The diagonal spin ball has many uses.  It is used as an entry pass into 2-meters to the set player and to curve the ball on the lob.  The entry pass requires different releases from the 2-spot and the 4-spot (EU 4, 2-spots) of the pool.  The modern player no longer uses the same 3-finger release to pass the ball in from the angles.  So many times, there is too much spin on the ball and it skims past the 2-meter player to the set guard or even into the hands of the goalie.  Not enough ball spin and the ball skims halfway to the center and then dies on the water.  The entry pass is number one most poorly thrown pass in water polo.  Especially, from the 4-spot (EU 2-spot) where the righthanded player is at a disadvantage and usually skims the ball past the center.  The 3-fingered release skim pass with backspin only seems to work well with international level players.  For the rest of the players, it is a skim pass sent with a hope and a prayer that skims pass the center (see Fig. 10).



2-spot (EU-4) index finger pass


There is a new release entry pass technique from the 2-spot (EU-4 left flat) that uses the index finger.  The index finger release when thrown from an angle from right to left places a diagonal spin on the ball as the wrist turns inward.  The ball hits the exact spot in front of the center’s hand and stops dead in the water.  There is no skimming of the ball across the goal.  The diagonal spinning ball to the right digs into the water and stops (see Figs. 11, 12, 13).

The passer, however, learns not throw the ball 1-meter or 2-meters away so the ball can skim to the center’s hand.  The index finger 2-spot (EU-4) release is a no-skim entry pass.  A demonstration by coach to the player is to hold the hand up and push the index finger forward and the hand and wrist turns inward to the right (pronation-palm down). The player can see how the hand twisting places a diagonal spin on the ball.  An demonstration of this is to have the player above the left post (US-2/EU-4) point the hand at center cage and twist the index finger inward and then swing it to the right; reverse sides and the US-4/EU-2 twists the ring finger inward and continue moving the arm to the left.  The arm movement sells the concept to the player.  If the player is in doubt, just have them ask a baseball or softball pitcher.  They know everything about ball spin.

4-spot (EU-2) ring finger entry pass


The 4-spot pass utilizes a ring finger release.  The common thought among coaches is that the ring finger cannot pass the ball.  They are wrong.  The only time a ring finger release is used is from the 4-spot (EU 2-spot) as an entry pass.

The ball is pinched in the passer’s hand.  It is released as a 1-finger ring finger release.  The passer’s ring finger snaps down on the ball, (supination-palm up) and slightly turns the hand inward placing a diagonal spin on the ball.  The 4-spot (EU-2) entry pass ball hits the water and stops dead on the water.  The diagonal ball spin to the left digs into the water to stop the ball’s movement.  The entry pass’s aiming point is the center’s outstretched hand.  There is no skim on a ring finger entry pass (see Fig. 14).

The ring finger 4-spot (EU-2) release is a no-skim entry pass that immediately stops on the water.  The coach can demonstrate this concept to the player by holding up his or her hand and push ring finger forward and the hand and wrist will turn inward to the left, which creates a diagonal ball spin that digs into the water.  The ring finger release is never used at the 2-spot (EU-4) as the ball will skim.  The only use of the ring finger release is as a 4-spot entry pass to the center from the perimeter passer.

Curve lob


The curve lob has the shooter’s hand is positioned on the side of the ball or near the top of the ball and uses a “slice” motion or diagonal hand motion on the side of the ball to create a small or large diagonal ball spin.  The amount of diagonal ball rotation determines the degree of the curve.  A curve lob with a slow ball rotation ball curves more than a fast rotating diagonal spinning curve lob.  The curve lob aiming point is 12-inches (30-cm) in front of the right goal post and on the 2-meter line.  Curve lobs are rare because almost no one has been trained to use them.  However, in the hands of a trained shooter they are deadly from the wing (see Fig. 15).



The side arm shot has been banned at most age group and high school pools due to its lack of accuracy.  A side arm shot with sidespin on the ball is an uncontrollable shot that usually goes wide right of the goal.  Therefore, the side arm shot is a bad shot.  Wrong!  Bad side arm technique creates a bad shot.  Good side arm technique creates a good side arm shot with sidespin and a score.  The coach has to evolve past just teaching the backspin, to teaching other ball spins such as the topspin and sidespin so his or her shooters are able to compete in the modern age (see Fig. 16).

The sidespin has a horizontal ball spin.  The ball does not spin backwards as it does in the backspin shot.  A sidespin ball requires a modern shooter who knows the proper side arm shooting technique, which few know.  However, the side arm shot is the latest “hot” shot in college and internationally.  The old-fashioned shooter is at a distinct disadvantage as the goalies can read the backspinning overhand shot but not the sidespinning side arm shot (see WPP: Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Women Shooting Part 5 and Reading the Goalie Part 4).


The technique for throwing a side arm shot is to use a Boyer Side Arm shooting technique with the right leg stepping out at a 30-degree angle with the ball held overhead with the arm at a 45-degree three-quarter arm angle.  The left hand pushes water from the hip to the side.  The sidespinning ball is created by the vertical pinch grip and with the hand turning inward as the right arm drops from the three-quarter position to the horizontal.  The vertical hand twisting inward called a “twist snap” creates the sidespinning ball.  The modern side arm shooter using an angled step-out with a “twist snap” release provides the hand control to aim the ball accurately (see Fig. 17).


The sidespinning ball is curved by the shooter’s right foot snapping softly or forcibly inward .  For a “hard snap-in,” a sharp curve to the left corner, the right foot snaps inward hard.  A “mild foot snap-in” creates a mildly curving ball that curves into right corner of the goal.  The right foot plays a major part in the side arm release of the sidespinning ball and is an integral part of the release on any curve shot.  The right hand and the right foot, together, curve the ball (see Fig. 18).


There are five ball spins that are used to create a shot: backspin, no spin, topspin, diagonal spin and side-spin.  The goal of the shooter’s smart hand is to create the proper ball spin for the shot.  Each shooting situation has a specific ball spin.  The backspin shot is the universal ball spin and it is used with the 3-finger, 2-finger and index finger releases.  The no spin or knuckle ball is primary used for the middle finger lob or off speed shot.  The topspin is a forward spinning ball used for the topspin skip shot. The diagonal ball spin is used for the entry pass from the 2-spot and 4-spot (EU-4, EU-2) and for the curve lob.  The sidespin is used in the side arm shot to skim, skip or curve the ball.  The five ball spins create a great variety of shots that is only limited by the creativity of the shooter’s hand.  Depending on the shooting situation in the pool, there is a ball spin and a shot for the every angle.

© Copyright 2015 Jim Solum
Next Month: Smart Hands Part III

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