“The Real Water Polo Power Athlete”
Research & It's Implications for Goal Keepers

In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo.  Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.


I have heard a high level coach once say, "put your best athlete at the goalkeeper position".

Anyone who has played at any level with a great goalkeeper will know what kind of confidence it gives a field player knowing that they have a near impenetrable force backing them up.

The goalkeeper holds a very unique position on a Water Polo team on many levels (Wilson C) . For the purpose of this article I will discuss the physiological or physical demands of the goalkeeper and how this could be practically applied to a training program.

Photo 1


The short story is that goalkeepers are very different from field players, but in a good way! They need a very different style of training to be successful. They also have a much narrower job description then a field player and a very standardized amount and type of work they are exposed to during match play. From a purely physical conditioning aspect and with all other things being equal, goalkeepers are relatively simple athletes to train. Strong legs, good jumps and a little bit of long passing is about all they need compared to a field player who has many different demands that they must train for.

Dr. Platanou (2007), world renowned Water Polo researcher from Greece, summarizes the goalkeeper's demands below:

1. Goalkeeper’s game can be described as intermittent nature with great variability in the intensity performed.

2. The greater part of the game is associated with a low aerobic demand while a small percentage of the game contains activities with sudden HR increases above the anaerobic threshold implying also a considerable demand on anaerobic lactate or non-lactate mechanism.

3. During a game, goalkeeper performs with the highest possible intensity during a ‘man down’ situation.

4. The intensity of exercise of the goalkeeper does not differ from period to period.

5. The goalkeeper’s game is made of activities that appear to be relatively standardized.

Dr. Smith (1998) also writes regarding international men's match play that “explosive movements were infrequent but were often required of athletes following 10 to 15 seconds of moderately intense work. The activities occurred in sequences lasting approximately 35 seconds.” (note: this research was completed when the possession clock was 35s).

In the same article, Dr. Smith (1998) also writes that “Following each series of activities there was a predictable interval of easy sculling which averaged 47 seconds in duration ...” (e.g. when the goalkeeper's team is on offence).

Below is a chart which really shows the difference between field players and goalkeepers during match play.

  Total Time of Intense or hard Work Total Time of Rest
or easy work
Work:Rest Total Work Time as a % of Game Time
Field Players 34 minutes 20 minutes 5:3 to 1:1 63%
Goalkeepers 16 minutes 39 minutes 1:2 to 2:5 29%
(adapted from Smith, 1998)        

 Note that the time of total work & total rest are almost completely the opposite of each other as is the work to rest ratios. Field players are essentially in the 2:1 to 1:1 work to rest while goalkeepers are 1:2 to almost a 1:3 work to rest. It should also be noted that when goalkeepers are resting they are simply treading water with no contact or serious threat of any kind

One of the research articles published by Dr. Platanou & Dr. Thanopoulos (2002) on Water Polo looked at the quantity and time of various actions a goalkeeper performs in a match. The matches analyzed were from the top men's league in Greece. Below is a summary of what they found:

  Jumps Hands Up Jump+Hands Up Ready Position
average times/match 35 11 45 55
average duration 0.65s 1.5s 0.86s 14s
 average total time 23s 16s 39s 12.5 minutes
     (adapted from Platanou, 2002)        

That is a lot of numbers to digest, now what? I will try aid in your digestion in the next section.


I hope it becomes quite obvious when looking at the numbers of what not to do. Several hundred meters or several minutes of continuous leg work or jumps does not really fit into the “equation” of what is shown in the research. A Water Polo goalkeeper is an anaerobic animal, think power and speed. Below are some general guidelines for goalkeeper physical training.


Just remember, goalkeepers need power, speed and quickness. Short periods of work, followed by relatively longer periods of rest. Limit any kind of long distance work whether that be leg or swimming work to a minimum.

By the way, the picture I have included is not doctored in anyway. I actually played with this goal keeper back in Canada. Judging by the height he gets out of the water, he is not very fit or of high level but he does a good job of using his head!

I want to know; what are your favourite goalkeeper drills or training exercises?

And why?

I will open a thread on the message board with the title of this article. Please leave your comments, questions, suggestions, experiences, ... on the message board.

I can be reach directly through my website: www.waterpolotraining.net


Dettamanti D.  A Practical Guide to Coaching Water Polo.  www.lulu.com, Dante Dettamanti © 2008

Platanou T & Thanopoulos V. Time Analysis of the Goalkeepers' Movements in Water Polo. Kinesiology (2002)

Platanou T. Simple ‘In-Water’ Vertical Jump Testing in Water Polo. Kinesiology 38 1:57-62 (2006)

Platanou T. Physiological Demands of Water Polo Goalkeeping. J Sci Med Sport (2007)

Rovere GD, Nichols AW. Frequency, associated factors, and treatment of breaststroker's knee in competitive swimmers. Am J Sport

Med. Mar-Apr;13(2):99-104 1985

Smith HK.  Applied Physiology of Water Polo.  Sports Med Nov; 26 (5): 317-334 ( 1998)

Wilson C. Guide to Water Polo Goalkeeping. Free PDF available on-line: Craig Wilson's Guide to Water Polo Goalkeeping


[Click Mike Reid's name at top of page to learn more about his
strength training & conditioning experiences and his web sites.]