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.
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 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.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS TO TRAINING
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.
Focus on exercises that develop explosive power. e.g. 1-5 jumps x 5-10 sets. Use complete rest, 2-3 minutes. If you want to develop just pure power then you need long rest periods to recuperate sufficiently enough to put out another maximum effort. Same idea could be for on-land exercises but I will leave that for another article.
For the beginner goalkeeper, short sets of work with longer rests may also be suitable because this is when they are learning the skill of jumping and the other movements involved in goalkeeping. Tire these athletes out to fast and their technique goes down the drain and they just learn bad habits.
Game specific conditioning you could perform both hands up blocking or jumping for short periods (5-10s) with a 1:2 or a 1:3 work to rest. e.g. 5s on/10s off is a 1:2 work to rest ratio.
Include some high intensity training of longer duration and shorter rests to simulate man-down situations. e.g. Perform 5-10 x 20s on/20s off of jumps or both hands up blocking or some other relatively intense leg work drill. You could also rotate through a series of different drills with each set. 1st set jumps to high corners; 2nd set both hands up blocking; 3rd set jumps to low corners; 4th set ready position sliding post – post; 5th set both hands up blocking.
Treading water is low intensity and of little importance to the game so simply train by having the goalkeeper tread water for recovery between drills (no holding on to the wall!).
Something else to think about is all the work the goalkeeper gets in team drills. Coach Dante Dettamanti writes in his book “Between shooting drills, extra-man drills, counterattack drills and scrimmage, the goalie will be blocking a lot of shots during a 2 ½ hours practice. This alone will get the goalie in shape with out piling on a lot of heavy weights or doing hours of legwork.”
Drills that last for multiple minutes and are of medium to low intensity will have a poor carry over to the goal keepers performance. These kinds of drills are important for warm up purposes but not very useful for specific game conditioning in the elite goalkeeper.
It is also my theory that goalkeepers may be more likely to be slightly over trained because everything they do is with their legs. With this in mind I recommend the coach develops some kind of physical test relative to the goalkeepers sport demands. This way the coach can test on a regular basis and be able to make educated decisions about this athlete's training program. A simple test could be both hands up blocking for time while touching the crossbar. If they cannot touch the crossbar then just use something lower; conversely if it is to easy then either use something higher or add some load. You want test difficult enough so that the athlete goes to exhaustion within 30s, but 15-20s may be better at the beginning because it leave room for improvement. I suggest a test no longer then 30s in order to make sure it is relatively specific to the sport. Another test which may even be better is the “in-water vertical jump” (Platanou, 2006).
Good flexibility is essential for not only having a good eggbeater but also in preventing knee pain. If you have knee pain from playing Water Polo, then get your hips checked out. The hips may be the root cause of your pain or lack of performance (Rovere, 1985).
- Swimming. Goalkeepers occasionally need to swim ~2-5m extremely quickly from a dead stop. 1-2x/week of performing some sprint work with the rest of the team would be sufficient swimming for a goalkeeper. As a coach you could organize the sprint swimming on light leg work days.
Please see Craig Wilson's Guide to Water Polo Goalkeeping for more information on many of the other aspects of playing this position.
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?
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
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strength training & conditioning experiences and his web sites.]