Jim Socum Shot Doctor Bandage Ball
Biography   Buy Books

Volume 7 Number 8June1, 2015
The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.




The S4 training system is a method to train American athletes in throwing to reach the Eastern European standard.  As such, it requires the American coach and players to completely revise the way they look at throwing a water polo ball.  For Americans these concepts are considered revolutionary but for the Serb or Hungarian these ideas and drills are commonplace and logical.   Since this European training system has been in place since the 1950’s, the question arises, how did we miss it?

The question is answered by our submersion in swim coach ideology: The arms are everything and the legs are nothing.  The swim coach/water polo coach transferred his or her knowledge of horizontal swimming over to vertical shooting in water polo with terrible results.  Swimming is not water polo throwing.  Swimming is just swimming.  That is all swimming is good for—swimming. When one looks at another American sport, baseball, baseball pitching is highly advanced in its technique and training.  In fact, baseball even has a separate pitching coach to teach throwing technique and mechanics. Why have American water polo coaches not borrowed from baseball?

The American water polo coaches that base his or her water polo throwing technique on swimming principles fails to create great shooters.   Most high school coaches only have a rudimentary knowledge of throwing theory.  Whatever their high school coach taught them how to shoot 15-years ago is all they know when coaching today.  Imagine if a brilliant student scientist graduated only from high school.  He or she would not progress to college or graduate school to become knowledgeable.  There many water polo players who never reached their potential because their coach did not know how to teach shooting.

The S4 system was invented so the water polo coach can develop players at all levels.  It is no longer enough for the player to fall over on the back and throw every shot at the goalie’s belly or lob the ball out of the pool. S4 stands for Strong Legs, Sustaining Legs, Smart Legs and Smart Hands.  Using the S4 system develops well-trained shooters.  The average water polo coach, however, may only develop the first part of the system--strong legs.  Or the coach may decide to develop “No Legs” and move on to swimming laps and scrimmaging. They have never heard of the concept that “the legs are the shot.”  The coach of a great player may literally have no idea why he or she developed a great player.  The coach’s comment is its “natural” does not answer the question.  Great players are made and are not “natural.” Coaching makes great players.  The S4 training system makes great players.

The first three parts of S4 are strong legs, sustaining legs and smart legs (well positioned legs).   Only the fourth part, smart hands involves the right hand AND the left hand of the shooter.  The right hand releases the ball it does not throw the ball.  The legs throw the ball.                                                     


          Strong Legs           Strong explosive legs

          Sustaining Legs     Sustain height out of the water

          Smart Legs             Right leg balances out and Left leg points and pivots

          Smart Hands          Right hand touch and Left hand stabilizes

As one can see in the table above, the last item listed is the right hand.  And, since the right arm and right hand are the last part of the body to move, it should be placed last and not first in order to importance.  The right hand is not the shot—the legs are.

Strong legs make the shot possible—no legs equal no shot. 

Sustaining legs provides the stability to remain vertical while passing, faking or shooting.

Smart legs involve the left leg and the right leg, which have separate duties.  Smart left leg aims the ball and acts as a pivot point for the shooter rotate back to cock the ball.  Smart right leg is mobile, balances out the shooter’s body when catching the ball, and throwing the ball. 

Smart hands are the right hand and left hand.  Each hand has separate duties.  The right hand has touch and releases the ball. The left hand does everything else.


Each one of these four elements has specific drills associated with it to develop that part of the throwing motion.  However, the over-riding principle is that these drills must be done quickly. It is not enough for the coach to say, “Eggbeater 6-laps,” and that takes care of building the team’s legs for the day. There has to be specificity behind the leg drills. For example, there are fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers.  Does eggbeatering slowly for 6-laps build quick explosive legs that can jump up for a quick shot?  It does not! 

The shot is over in a second. The drill must duplicate the speed of the throwing motion.  The coach needs to perform fast twitch muscle fiber drills such as eggbeatering with a weight for 10 seconds or explosive jumps out of the water called slam-dunks to recruit fast twitch muscle fibers and to teach leg speed to the player to match the speed of the shot motion. 

The swimming ideology of: “Train slow, be slow” should not be the rule for the shooter who has to shoot the ball in less than a second.  The water polo player is not swimming 5,000 meters where one arm stroke does not matter.  In water polo, one arm stroke is the shot. For example, a 100-meter track sprinter does not train with marathon runners.  The water polo player has to get away from the swimming ideology that more (laps) is better and quality (speed) does not matter. Shooting is speed training. The goal of S4 is to develop quickness.



Every coach is told to develop strong legs and everything else will take care of itself.  What exactly are strong legs is never quite defined?  For that matter what is a strong eggbeater kick? The great player has great legs and the weak player has weak legs.  What is the theory for developing strong legs and the drills?  For the average coach it is slow endurance lap after lap slow leg speed eggbeater kick without weight and without height out of the water (jumps).  The water polo shot is not a slow endurance event.  The shooter’s body is out to his or her belly button.  Slowness and lowness training is of little use for real-world shooting (see Fig. 1). 



Endurance leg training while it is necessary to develop slow muscle fiber endurance and the proper eggbeating technique, it is not enough for complete leg training.  Leg speed training and jumping has to be taught in conjunction with endurance leg training. Since fast twitch muscles live on sugar (glycogen), they exhaust quickly so drills should be 10-seconds to 20-seconds in length with adequate rest for recovery.  This is an all-out effort drill and should not be confused with slow twitch muscle endurance training drills of eggbeatering (see Fig. 2).

Strong Leg Drills

Hands out of the water drill

The coach has the player eggbeater with the hands out of the water.  This is a difficult concept for new players but easy one for older players.  It is a low effort drill and is done for 30-60-sconds. This drill is done at a medium effort with medium leg speed with the forearms half way out of the water.  A more difficult drill is to have the elbows out of the water.  The elbows out of the water drill require more effort from the player and a higher leg speed activity and more rest.

Medicine ball toss drill

Two player toss a medicine ball back and forth in the water. To develop the greatest leg speed, have the partner underarm toss the ball from the deck to the player in the water and have him or her two-hand toss the ball back to the passer. Do from 5 to 10 medicine ball tosses with the legs churning.  When the catcher tires he or she will slam the water with the hands and the drill is immediately stopped.  The next toss will hit the catcher in the face.  Use rubber medicine balls of 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 or 10 pounds.  Girls shoulder use 2, 4 or 5-pounds.  Boys can double the weight.  The drill takes the player to total leg exhaustion and the player must rest for 30-seconds to recover.  Depending on leg strength, the player can do 3 to 5 sets.  This is one of the best drills.

Water bottle holding drill

The players use empty 5-gallon water bottles and fill them up enough so they can hold the bottle over their head for 30-seconds or 45-seconds while it empties out.  This exercise builds medium leg speed and endurance.  It is a popular drill among coaches.

Medicine ball holding drill

The player holds a medicine ball over his or her head and eggbeaters for a specific time.  The time can be long for developing endurance and slow legs, medium for faster legs and a short time for developing explosive legs.  A combination of slow and fast is the best.  Care must be taken when adding weight that the player’s knees are not injured.  Any pain in the knee is an indicator that the player is damaging his or her knee.  Pain in the knee is more likely in female athletes due to the leg bones angling inward.

Slam-dunk drill  


This is a critical elevation drill. The player takes four strokes and places the hand on top of the ball and leaps straight up in the air and then slams the ball down on the water and does four slams in a lap.  This drill teaches explosive legs and height out of the water.  Since the shooter is airborne with half of his or her body, it is necessary to teach in-the-air mechanics.  There are no chin-in-the-water shots. The slam-dunk drill requires maximum recruitment of fast twitch muscles fibers, explosive legs and maximum height out of the water.  Players with weak legs are immediately spotted; players with low-effort are instantly seen (see Fig. 3).

For more information on slam-dunk drills see Water {Polo Planet: Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Teaching Shooting Part 5.  

SUSTAINING LEGS                           

Sustaining legs are legs that have the player airborne for 3-seconds or more.  The purpose of sustaining legs is to develop stability when high out of the water so the shooter can fake, change direction in mid-air (side arm or lean-over shots) and have a stable base from which to throw the ball. It is not enough to get maximum height out of the water if the shooter falls over.  Height with sustained stability is the goal.  For high school, 5-seconds are about the maximum airtime for boys and girls. Drills to develop sustaining legs start with slam-dunk drills that have more time added in the air by extra movement (see Fig. 3). 

Sustaining Leg Drills

Slam-dunk drill with a left turn of 90-degrees to a slam 

This drill adds 2-seconds of airtime and forces the player to move.  The standard slam-dunk only requires the legs to scissor together and explode upward.   Turning in the air adds seconds to slam-dunk and forces the player to be stable while stressed.  

Slam-dunk with two left turns

Adding two 90-degree left turns to a slam-dunk adds an additional 2-seconds to the airtime out of the water.  Many players can scissor kick the legs together for a standard slam-dunk.  However, being able to stay up out of the water, be stable and move increases the degree of difficulty.

Freeze Hesie

The player picks up the ball, elevates, and holds it overhead for 5-seconds.  This develops churning legs as the player learns to remain stable while high in the air.  In high school, a shooter does not need to fake but only stay up for a few seconds before the goalie sinks.  The ball is shot at the high corner of the goal as the goalie sinks into the water. It is an elevation body fake and not an arm fake.  It is the best sustaining legs drill.


          Left Leg:     Fixed

          Right Leg:   Mobile

          Left Hand:  3rd leg of shooter



                             Left Leg:     Fixed, points, pivots, aims left foot at corner

                             Right Leg:   Mobile, balances out, shoots, moves in 4 directions

                             Left Hand:  Mobile, balances out, elevates, rotates hips




Smart Left Leg Duties



Smart legs divides into two separate duties for the player’s left and right leg.  The player’s left leg is fixed, points (aims the ball) and pivots (body rotates around the left foot).  The shooter has to realize that the left foot aims the ball and not the right hand.  Wherever the left foot points, the ball follows.  The body can only rotate around the fixed leg foot if the legs are split with the left leg forward and the right leg straight back and slightly bent at the knee with the torso angled forward at 30-degrees.  A square shooter, usually a girl, has the feet, hips and shoulders parallel to the goal cannot rotate her body.  Once the player splits the legs, aims the left foot, all of the actions of the left leg are automatic.  The player’s left hand also acts as a third leg to balance out the shooter, The left hand and it duties should also be considered whenever one is discussing smart legs (see Figs. 4, 5).

Smart left leg drills

The drills to develop a smart left leg are to point the left foot at the corner and then throw the ball.  The ball follows wherever the left foot points.  Then do a drill and point the left foot at the left corner and fake, then move the left foot to point at the right corner and shoot at the right corner—a left to right hesie shot.  The player must be conscious that the left foot aims the ball.

The demonstration in the water to prove this point is to have the player point the left foot at the right corner and then tries to shoot at the left corner—it cannot be done.  The shooter’s right hand cannot cross the left foot.  There is not enough torso rotation (35-degrees) to move the right arm to point at the left corner of the goal.  Another demonstration is to freeze the shooter’s right hand as it hits the water and have the shooter see that the right hand is above the left . 

Smart Right Leg Duties


Fig 6

Smart legs is the ability of the  player’s right leg to reposition itself repeatedly so the shooter’s body can be cocked, catch the ball cock the arm and shoot the ball.  Mastery of ball handling, for example, is using the player’s right leg to position the right hand to catch the ball and move with the ball.  One can say that almost all mistakes are right leg positioning mistakes.  The coach and the player must know that the right leg controls the throwing motion—not the right arm (see Fig. 6). 

Even though the shooter is high out of the water and sustains that height he or she needs to move the body to catch the ball or shoot the ball around the guard’s upraised arm.  The shooter moves by using the right leg to balance out the body.  The right arm does not balance out the body. The player’s right leg moves the body so the right arm can catch the ball and swing it backward into an arm cock.

A simple demonstration shows the players that the positioning of the right leg rules the body and not the right arm.  The player stands on the deck with the feet together and moves the right arm to reposition the legs—nothing happens.  Then the player takes a large step backward with the right leg and a sharp left shoulder point appears, the left leg is suddenly in a forward position, the right arm is then extended backward with the right hip cocked back.  The right leg is supreme

The coach has to differentiate between cause and effect.  The first part of the body to move during the throwing motion is the right leg; the last part of the body to move is the right arm.  Effects, while visible, are not the cause of the bad shot.  The cause the underwater positioning of the right leg is not visible.  The ball slipping out the shooter’s hand or the ball flying 3-meters over the top of the goal is not the right hand’s fault.  The right hand is the last part of the chain of links to move.  Over 99-percent of the throwing motion has taken place before the right hand begins to release the ball.  Did the last hundred of a second at the release make the bad shot? No,bad right leg positioning did? 

Similarly, throwing the ball 3-meters over the top of the goal is the result of imbalance; the right leg was not straight back to balance out the body.  The result of having both legs under the hips is the shooter falls over when he or she brings the arm back to cock the ball. The right foot has to be under the ball to support it.  No baseball pitcher is ever going to have his legs together when cocking the ball.  His right leg will be straight back to support the extended right arm.

Smart right leg drills

There are a number of different drills that are going to develop different parts of the of the right leg motion.  The coach want to develop a full range of right leg movement so the player can adapt to the bad pass, the attacking guard or a new shooting opportunity.  The average player has stone legs with concrete feet.  He or she is unable to move upward, forward, to the right or the left.  The average player cannot “adjust to the ball” due to paralyzed legs.  He or she must receive the perfect  pass at the point (3-spot) to be able to catch the ball. The player with smart legs can catch the ball anywhere.

Boyer drill






The player must be able to move sideways to the right to pass or shoot around the guard’s upraised arm or the goaltender.  The Boyer shot allows the player to move to the right by having the right leg “step-out” to the right to move the player about 1-meter.  The first drill has the player lean into the wall with the left forearm, the right knee high, with the right arm above the head.  Step-out and push off, as the right arm moves from above the head out to a 45-degree angle.  Add a ball and repeat.  The right knee must be high on the step-out or the legs will cross and the player will drop the elbow.  Move the player away from the wall and repeat the drill with the left hand pushing water to the left from the hip.  Next, have a guard stick up his or her arm and force the player to move to the right to be able to pass the ball.  The guard’s arm is not allowed to move.  Finish the drill by shooting at the goal with or without a guard (see Figs 7, 8, 9).

For more information on Boyer shots read Water Polo Planet: Polo Articles: Women’s Shooting Part 5.

180-slam drill


Since hip speed is ball speed, the faster the shooter’s hip rotate, the faster the shot.  Rotation is the major force in generating power for the shot.  The static 180-degree slam starts with the ball in the water with the player reaching back to grab the ball on top, spins and slams the ball in front of the player’s body.  Do not kick up. The right arm must be straight and above the shoulder.  No side arm motion is allowed. The movement can be timed to see how fast the ball is picked up and slammed on the water.  The top shooters have the quickest times (see Fig. 10). 

180-degree slam-dunk

The slam drill can also be done as a moving slam-dunk exercise but with the player rotating 180-degrees high in the air.  The legs and left hand move the player in a half circle..

Serbian 4-step drill



The Serbs believe that the player must be able to move in a balanced manner in all four directions.  The player moves forward, to the right, back and to the left with or without the ball.  This is one of the foundation drills of Serbia.  The drill teaches the player to be balanced in all directions and to move the right leg to support the ball and the player’s body (see Fig. 11).


Smart hands will be discussed in next month’s article.  The reader should read the back articles in Water Polo Planet: Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Smart Hands Part 1-5 for further information.  It is recommended for the coach to be fully informed on S4 training he should buy the S4 PowerPoint Presentation from the author at [email protected].


The legs are the shot.  The American fixation on the right hand and arm must be eliminated. The right arm is an effect and not the cause of the poor shot.  Knowledge in horizontal swimming does not transfer over to vertical shooting in water polo.  The coach focusses on developing the legs to be strong, explosive, and capable of great height out of the water. Sustaining legs keep the airborne shooter stable during the fake and the shot. Smart legs that are educated in aiming the ball (left foot). And in balancing out the player’s body (right leg).  When the shooter is trained correctly, he or she has a stable base, great height, lateral movement and tremendous power to throw the ball.

Copyright 2015 Jim Solum
Next month: S4 Part II

[Click Biography to learn more about Jim's water polo experiences
and Click Buy Books to learn more about how to buy Jim's books.]


WATER POLO PLANET.COM: the Alternative Voice    www.waterpoloplanet.com