Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
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Volume 7 Number 4 February 1, 2015
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.




What is touch?   


The development of sophisticated shots in water polo required the shooter to develop greater touch on the ball to take these shots.  But what is touch on the ball?  No one can quite explain it.  All great shooters have strong legs and great touch; all weak shooters with weak legs have stone hands.  The Europeans have gone to great lengths, like the American baseball and softball pitchers, to develop touch in the hands of their players.  The American water polo coach, on the other hand, has no concept of “touch.” 

In every game from age group to high school, we see countless passes dropped by the players, out of control shots thrown over the goal and goalies hit in the stomach with the ball.  Could this situation exist in baseball or softball?  How could a baseball or softball team exist if the pitcher threw most of the pitches 3-meters over the head of the catcher or hit the batter on each throw?  It would be unacceptable. Why then, is it acceptable in the water polo? 


The teaching of touch to the player is a complex issue.  No single drill can teach everything about touch.   Furthermore, touch requires years of training doing many complex drillsThere is no single drill taught by the coach that is magically going to turn stone hands into sticky hands.  One of the major components of touch is hand sensitivity— a neurological component.  The player’s hand has to be sensitive enough to “feel” the ball, catch it, and then release the ball with “touch” (see Fig. 1). 

Touch also has a whole body component—it is not a hand-only element.  The whole body catches the ball and throws the ball.  The position of the player’s body when passing, catching, or shooting, increases or decreases the degree of “touch.”  For example, a shooter with poor body positioning has stone hands.

The elements of touch are the right hand, the right leg, back and elbow, fingertips, different finger releases, flexible and strong fingers, hand-eye coordination, fingertip pressure and ball spin.   Touch in addition is a whole body throwing technique.  Touch is the ability of the hand and body to adapt and change in catching the ball and shooting the ball.





Strong legs

Smart legs

Strong kick


No player with weak legs, for example, has good touch on the ball.  A player with strong legs has good touch on the ball.  A player with a smart right leg can move and adjust the shooter’s hand to any position.  One could say having good touch on the ball is dependent on the legs.  The legs, in a sense, control the sensitivity of the hand.  The pitcher does not throw the ball only with his or her hand.  Why should the water polo player be any different?  The player with good touch has to have strong legs and smart legs—split with the left leg forward, the right leg back and balancing out and a strong kick.  The player’s right leg has to balance out the body so the right hand can catch the ball (see Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Smart Legs Part 1-4).  Failure in any one of these three areas creates a player with stone hands that cannot catch or throw the ball accurately (see Fig. 2).


Back angle

Elbow height







No player can catch the ball when he or she is falling over.  The ball rolls out of the player’s hand as the back angles the hand back.  No one seems to know that the player’s back angle controls the hand angle.  A vertical player can catch the ball; a falling over player cannot catch the ball.  Furthermore, a falling over shooter throws the ball over the goal.  Was this a hand touch problem; or was the shooter’s hand aimed over the goal by a bad back angle that changed the hand angle? The author believes that both are responsible for the player who has “stone hands” (see Figs. 3, 4, 5).    


The ability of the shooter to hit the high corner of the goal is dependent on a high elbow and hand position.  While it might seem to the coach that hand touch is responsible for high corner accuracy, it is not.  The ball can only go in a straight line into the high corner if the ball is level with the high corner of the goal.  The player lying on his back, cannot make a ball aimed at the sky, magically bend, and go down into the high corner of the goal.  No amount of hand sensitivity can bend a ball trajectory aimed 6-feet (2-meters) above the goal when the center of the high corner of the goal is only 30-inches (76-cm) high (see Fig 6).    


Light touch nerves

Different releases

Flexible and strong fingers

Control of the fingers

Fingertip pressure

Ball holding

Ball spin

Trunk rotation

Most coaches assume that touch only relates to the hand.  They are wrong.  As we have seen above, touch is a whole body mechanism.  The development of leg strength is as important as hand strength; the development of leg positioning is as important as finger positioning on the ball.

The player’s hand must be sensitive to feel the ball and adjust to the ball hitting the hand.  Hand sensitivity means that the light touch nerves in the palm and fingers are sensitive enough to feel the texture of the ball as it hits the hand.  The coach needs to learn and understand that “Touch” is a hand nerve relationship and a whole body relationship. 

Light Touch Drills   

Tracing and Texture Drills

The Europeans solved this sensitivity problem by hand exercises that worked on developing the fine touch nerves of the fingers.  The first drill was to close the eyes and lightly feel the peach fuzz on the ball.  Next, the player traced the lines on a striped ball around its circumference.  Then, the player picks five different textures to touch.  The surfaces will vary from rough sand paper to fine grade sandpaper, a needle, a brick, silk or a very soft cloth.  The player with the eyes closed gently feels the texture of each one of the items.  The player cannot press the hand down hard or the deep nerves will be activated and not the light touch nerves.  The fingertips must move very slowly across the surface of the item to activate the light touch nerves. 




3-Finger release

2-finger release

Index finger release


In first article, Smart Hands Part I, we covered the use of three different finger releases for throwing the ball.  There is the 3-finger release, the standard release, where the middle three fingers make final contact with the ball.  The grip is either a cradle grip or a pinch grip. There is the 2-finger release where the index finger and middle finger are pressed together.  The two fingers are positioned in the center of the ball and snap down to make final contact with the ball.  And there is the index finger release that is only used as a skip shot.  The index finger snaps down and makes final contact with the ball.  Both the 2-finger and 1-finger release use a pinch grip with the fingers almost vertical (see Fig. 7). 


The use of different finger releases on the ball teaches control and touch on the ball to the shooter.  When less fingers are used, as in the 2-finger and index finger releases, the player has to place more spin on the ball from the fingertips.  An insensitive hand does not “feel” the need to increase the spin on the ball.  For example, the slowly rotating skip shot ball hits the water and stops; the slow rotating lob does not reach the goal.  Placing the correct amount of spin on the ball is the ultimate test of tou


FLEXIBLE AND STRONG FINGERSch.                                               

Rubber band for extensor muscles

Weighs for flexor muscles




The player develops strong and flexible fingers so the hand can adjust to the ball and hold it firmly without dropping it.  There are several drills for doing this.  There is the rubber band drill and five strengthening drills.  The rubber band drill builds up the hand and forearm extensor muscles.  The extensor muscles open up the fingers and are located on the top of the forearm.  The rubber band is placed around the fingertips and then the fingers expand to stretch it.  The best rubber band is found in the produce section and is used to bind cauliflower.  For younger male players and women, go to Amazon.com and buy Flex Ex a finger tubing exerciser.  A red Flex Ex is the lightest strength and black is the highest strength (see Fig 8).

Finger Drills

Grip drills

Small Gripmaster Drill



The Grip Strengthening drill uses the “Gripmaster” and is available from Amazon.com in four strengths from yellow (lightest) to black (strongest).  It consists of four small vertical springs with individual plastic tops on each on with a full-length plastic bottom.  The player can push down with all four fingers or with one or two fingers.  The grip master develops strength and control of the fingers (see Fig. 9).

Big Grip Drill


The big grip master drill is used to strengthen the forearm flexors.  These  forearm muscles cause the wrist to snap down.  The Gripper devices come in different sizes and strengths.  Most players get grippers  that are too strong for them to use (see Fig. 10).

Biceps Curl Drill  

The Biceps curl drill is used roll up the dumbbell, or barbell to strengthen the forearm flexors and extensors.  Both muscle groups are necessary to catch and throw the ball.  A single barbell weight with a string attached to it and tied onto a wooden dowel can also be used.  The player slowly winds up the weight and slowly unwinds the weight with the palms up or the palms down.  Another drill is barbell curls. 

Thumb Drill

The thumb drill has the players in the pool throwing passes only using their thumb.  The player pinches the ball and places the thumb in the middle of the ball.  The first passes will go off to the right as the player learns to adjust the thumb pressure so the ball will go straight ahead.  The thumb and hand learn to adjust to this awkward hand position. 

Middle Finger Jab Drill

The middle finger jab drill has the middle finger jab create a no ball spin pass. The ball is pinched and the player snaps the middle finger down on the ball to pass it.  This drill strengths and sensitizes the middle finger.


          Hand and eye exercises

The eyes and the hand have to be coordinated so the eyes guide the hand where to throw the ball.  Many age group and high school players lack hand-eye coordination.  The player has to have both great touch and good hand-eye coordination to be successful. The major drills to fix this hand-eye coordination problem are a tennis ball drill, bounce the ball off the pool gutter drill, bar-in drill and close-to-the-ball passing drill.

Hand-Eye Drills

          Ball drills

Tennis Ball Drill


The tennis ball drill throws a new tennis ball from 5-feet (1.2-meters) at the “crack” or intersection where the wall and the deck meet.  An accurate throw causes the ball to bounce right back to the thrower’s hand.  It is a great hand-eye drill (see Fig. 11).

Pool Edge Drill   

The pool edge drill bounces the ball off the edge of the pool.  An accurate toss has the ball bounce right back to the thrower’s hand.  Throw the ball inaccurately and the ball flips onto the pool deck or hits the water.  While the drill appears simple, mastery of this drill is hard to accomplish.

Bar-in Drill


Right Bar-in------Ring Finger Pressure

Left Bar-in--------Index Finger Pressure


The bar-in drill positions the shooter at the 2-meter line on either the left post or the right post.  The shooter throws the ball at the edge of the goal post so the ball deflects into the cage.  When the shooter is shooting from the left post position at the right corner, the hand has to turn in slightly so ball micro curves into the cage.  The right finger exerts a very slight fingertip pressure on the ball so it will deflect into goal when it hits the edge of the right goal post.  If the index finger dominates the release, the ball deflects out into the pool (see Fig. 12). 

When the bar-in drill shooter is throwing from above the right goal post at the edge of the left goal post, the index finger exerts a very slight pressure on the ball to cause it to deflect into the goal.  If the ball deflects off the edge of the left goal post into the pool, then the ring finger “pushed” the ball off the goal post edge and into the field.  When the ball bounces, right back to the shooter’s hand, the shooter’s hand was perfectly flat.  For the ball to deflect into the goal, the index finger has to “pull” the ball into the cage. 

A good demonstration for a player is to hold the hand up facing to the right and turn the hand  inward (supination with the ring finger leading) with ring finger micro pressure for a right goal post bar-in.  Then face the hand to the left with the index finger turning inward (pronation with index finger leading) for a left goal post bar-in.

Close to the Wall Drill

The close to the wall drill has the player bouncing the ball off the wall with the hand 6-inches (15-cm) away.  The closer the hand is to the wall the harder it is for the player to catch the ball.  This drill develops sensitivity and hand positioning on the ball.  It is a great drill. 


          Fingertip Exercises

The player needs to develop touch so he or she can feel the difference between releasing the ball with three, two or one finger.  The bar-in drill described above develops hand-eye coordination but also develops the player’s ability to place a microscopic amount of fingertip pressure on the ball with either the ring finger or the index finger. 

Fingertip Pressure Drills

Middle finger jab Drill

The middle finger jab drill teaches the shooter how not spin the ball off the fingertip.  For the entire career of the player, he or she has been taught to spin the ball off the fingertips.  Now, the player has to prevent ball spin by jabbing the finger straight ahead and not spin the ball off the fingertip.  A jab release creates a knuckle ball no spin ball that sails through the air without rotating.  All of the players have a difficult time adjusting to not spinning the ball off the middle fingertip.  This is a good drill for the player to learn control of the fingertips.  It is used on the middle finger lob and on the off speed shot (see Polo Article: Shot Doctor: Smart Hands Part 1, 2).

Flipping the Ball Drill

The flipping the ball drill is a drill where the player holds the ball in one hand and then uses different fingers to flip the ball to the other hand.  In succession, thumb, index finger, index and middle fingers, middle finger, three middle fingers, and ring finger are used flick the ball back and forth from the either hand.  This is a great drill for learning finger control and sensitivity to the ball. 

Ball holding drills: fuzz, sleeping and eating

Another drill is to sleep with the ball and focus on feeling the fuzz on the ball as the player is in the twilight period before he or she goes to sleep.  The next drill is to hold the water polo ball in your right hand the entire day and eat with the left hand.  This drill develops feel for the ball and gives the player greater control of the left hand. 




Developing Fingertip Touch

The ability to place spin on the ball is the ultimate test of the player’s hand development.  Several drills place various spins on the ball.  The coach has the player throw backhand skim passes, sweep shot skim passes, overhand skim passes, screw shot skim passes and T-shot skim passes and index, 2-finger, and 3-finger skip shot passes back and forth to a partner (see Fig. 13). 

Skip shot passes in particular require a lot of spin on the ball to prevent the ball from stopping on the water.  The use of the index finger skip shot and the 2-finger skip shot have one to two less spinning fingers and requires the player to increase the amount of spin on the ball (see Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Skip Shots Part 1-4). 

Ball Spin Drills


Ball Spin Skim Pass

The overhand skim pass is the hardest skim pass to throw and most high school players do not have the hand control to skim the ball.  The overhand skim shot is performed by dropping the elbow with the ball released near the surface of the water.  Players will instead skip the ball from a high ball height rather than lower the release point (see Fig. 14).

Backhand, Sweep Shot Skim Passes

Two partners throw backhand passes and sweep passes to each other. 

Screw Shot Skim Passes

The screw shot skim shot requires the same precise release to skim the ball.  The ball cannot be lifted high out of the water but must be held close to the surface of the water so the ball can skim. 

T-Shot Skim Pass


The off the water T-shot skim pass forces the player to realize that the hand angle of the striking hand and the hand angle of the platform have significant effects on  whether the ball skims or stops dead in the water.  When the player has a high elbow and aims the hand down on the ball like a karate chop, the ball instantly goes down and stops on the water.  If the driver’s right hand is swung at the ball like a baseball bat, the ball goes wide to the left.  The player begins to realize that hand position on the ball is everything in the shot.  Thumb pointed down and the fingers horizontal produce the desired skimming effect (see Fig. 15).


          Medicine Ball Exercises

Is trunk (torso) rotation part of good hands?  Yes it is.  Rotation is the major force in the body’s catching the ball and throwing the ball.  If there is no trunk rotation for example, the ball hits the hand and drops instead of being swung back.  The square passer (feet, hips, shoulders parallel the goal) is only using the flexion of the trunk forward and extension of the arm to create power and not rotation.  Thus, a square to the goal girl water polo player’s shot produces a slow speed shot.  The question is what kind of drills develops trunk rotation?  Passing and shooting the ball in the water solves the problem in the pool.  Across the face catching and across the face passing are very good drills for moving the trunk and legs.


Dry land exercises for trunk rotation require a weight lifting drill that rotates the trunk.  Most weight lifting drills such as a bench press only involve one muscle, one angle and one motion—extension.  Extension/flexion weightlifting motions such as arm bench press and biceps curls do not help hip/torso or spinal rotation.   To strengthen the trunk rotational muscles, one must rotate!  In Hungary, the water polo coaches invented their own rotational drills using medicine balls.  The large muscles in the hips and the torso rotators are exercised with the standing side-to-side medicine ball tosses (see Fig. 16). 


Isolating the small spinal muscles of the upper back requires a different exercise strategy.  These small rotary muscles are shorter than the player’s pinkie finger, attach to the spinal vertebra, and rotate the spine.  But if the spinal muscles do not move, the spine does not rotate and the trunk does not rotate.  The spinal muscles are  isolated by kneeling, which prevents hip rotation.        

Trunk Rotation Drills

Standing Side-to-Side Medicine Ball Tosses

For the large muscle groups the standing players tossed the ball side-to-side.  They do medicine ball drills where the players throw the medicine ball side to side to a partner to develop the hip muscles of rotation. 

Russian Twist


Another drill is the Russian twist where the players are back to back and turn to the side to hand their partner a very heavy medicine ball (20 pounds or 10 kilos or more).  Then partner turns to the opposite side and hands the ball back to the partner (see Fig. 17).   

Universal Machine Cable Drill


A standing trunk rotation drill is to stand next to a Universal machine, elbow jammed into the side so it cannot move, grab the cable handle at waist level and turn the body to the left and right using the hips without moving the arm (see Fig. 18).

Spinal Muscles Kneeling Medicine Ball Drill

To activate the small spinal muscles, the kneeling position medicine ball exercise is used, to prevent hip rotation. The players kneel and toss the ball back and forth to a partner on the side.  In this position of side-to-side medicine ball tossing, only the spinal muscles rotate.


The development of touch by the player is a whole body exercise.   There are many elements, which go into making touch. The whole body of the player is involved in catching and throwing the ball.  Weak legs lead to poor touch; strong legs lead to  good touch.  The legs are as important as the hand in developing touch.  The player, to release the ball correctly from the hand, must have a vertical back so the ball can be shot.  A high elbow is also necessary for the ball to go into the high corner.  The fingers of the shooter’s hand have to become exquisitely sensitive so the light touch nerves can feel the ball to catch it and to place the proper amount of spin on the ball when passing and shooting.  The player, with practice, masters control of touch, both of the hand and body, and develops a smart hand that is able to control the ball in any situation. 

© Copyright 2015 Jim Solum

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