Five Player Defense: Part 3

Monte Nitzkowski
US Men's Olympic Coach '72, '80, and '84

Individual Player Responsibilities with the Three-Two Zone

  Defending The Four-Two With The Three-Two Zone - continued  

People playing the  B  position should have good height, long arms, great leg support and an ability to move laterally while in the vertical position. Also, it is important they have good swimming speed as this position helps to lead the five-player counterattack. Defender  B  has major responsibilities in the five-player defense and, whenever possible, should be one of the team's most intelligent players. Nowhere will scouting play a more important role than with the  B  position. It is impossible for this player to cover all his/her responsibilities all the time. However, with good scouting providing an understanding of the opponent's six–on–five ten­dencies, he/she can play the percentages, cheating some with positioning to gain an edge. Once the five-person, defensive, game plan has been put together, defender  B  must study this plan to determine how the opponent's offense likes to operate with its inside line. Along with understanding the scouted defensive plan, the  B  player must be prepared to monitor the eyes of the 1, 6, 4 and 5 offensive players in 3 an effort to anticipate the pass and gain maximum defensive positioning.

There are certain basic defensive positioning moves the  B  player must master, but final movement will be controlled with the help of the game plan.

The first basic rule for defender  B  is to play slightly ahead (to the outside) of the other backline players (defensive players  A  and  C  and other offensive players 1, 2, 3, and 6) See Figure 15.

Figure 15.

The player with the ball, 1 has a hard time making a pass crosscourt to players 3 and 6 because of the defender  B ’s positioning.

Figure 16

In Figure 15 and Figure 16, defender  B  takes a position slightly outside both offensive post players. Defender  B  takes this defen­sive position when either offensive player 1or 6 has the ball. The purpose of being slightly outside is to help cut down the pass­ing lane between 1 and 6 . Although the distance to the outside is not be as great as with the previous situation, defender  B  also remains slightly to the outside when offensive players 4 and 5 have the ball. See Figure 17.

Figure 17

Again, the purpose of the  B  player's outside positioning is to cut down the passing lane between outside offensive players and their teammates on the post. Because the angle of the post pass has changed, defender  B . (Figure 17) does not have to be quite so far outside.

If either the 1 or 6 offensive players moves the ball inside toward the goal line, defender  B  also must move inside, again to cover the passing lanes. See Figure 18.

Figure 18

Defender  B  must master several additional positioning maneuvers. When the ball is with the 1 or 6 positions and they are playing to the inside, defender  B  also will move inside and generally cover toward the near-side post. If 1 has the ball,  B  will move toward the 2 post; if 6 has the ball, defender  B  will move toward the 3 post. See Figure 19.

Figure 19

Second, when the 1 offensive player moves outside with the ball, defender  B  usually will drop off toward the 3 post and again move slightly outside. See Figure 20.

Figure 20

If the ball is with offensive player 4 or 5, defender  B  moves slightly to the outside and

toward the opposite post. See Figures 21 and 22.

Figure 21

Figure 22

Although defender  B  has basic defensive position rules which must be understood totally and practiced, the final decision on positioning is always determined by the scouting report.

Physically, the  D  and  E  defenders don't need to be as large as the  A ,  B , and  C  defenders. What they do need is great quickness. These two outside defenders must continuously cover more water than the inside defenders. The  D  and  E  defenders usually are the driver-type of player. They will lead the five-player counterattack, so both quickness and speed are required. Also, as they have a lot of water to cover, they need to be particularly adept at "getting on the eyes." Their primary defensive responsibility is with the 4 and 5 offensive positions, but occasionally they also need to help inside with the post players. This is particularly true for the  E  defender. As most teams play a righthander at the 3 post, and as a lot of teams are looking for the near-side triangle post pop shot (passing from 5 to 6 to a popping 3 for the shot), the  E  defender needs to be particularly adept at getting back to the inside.

Because they have to cover so much water, the  D  and  E  defenders never play in the vertical for any extended length of time. If they do, they are not able to cover distances required to make defensive plays. Defenders  D  and  E need to play with their legs in the semi-horizontal position. This allows them to move quickly to both the inside and outside. With the legs in the semi-horizontal position, these defenders can step (cross) back-and-forth over their legs, allowing them to maneuver quickly and effectively. This type of leg positioning keeps them from getting "locked" in the vertical, a position which limits mobility.

Once the basics are understood, there are several areas of positioning which makes their jobs a little easier. At lower levels of play, unless the team has several lefthanders, the 5 shooting position may not be as strong as the 4 position. If this is the case, the  E  defender can drop off to be of greater assistance to the inside defense. Although scouting is the final determining factor, it is not advisable for the  D  defender to drop as much as the  E  defender since the 4 offensive position usually is played by an outstanding shooter. See Figure 23.

Figure 23

By dropping off more on the 5 player, the  E  defender is in better position to defend the near-side triangle shot yet get outside to challenge the 5 position when 5 receives the ball. When 5 is righthanded, the pass from 1 must travel farther and be perfect if a quick shot is to be attempted. As such, the  E  defender has a split second more time to cover back to the outside. Also, by drop­ping off, the  E  defender occupies the passing lane between 4 and 6 and the passing lane between the 1 and 6 offensive players. This placement gives another advantage to the defense.

As the 4 offensive player is always righthanded and a good shooter, the  D  defender generally plays tighter on this opponent. This is not to say the  D  defender will crowd the 4 player but, unless the 2 post is lefthanded, the  D  defender drops only to an area where the  D  defender can safely return to effectively defend the 4 player.

Other than basic location planning, the key to player position­ ing for  D  and  E defenders still rests with the scouting report. Oftentimes, Four–Two Offenses run rotational plays and, generally, the  D  and  E  defenders are most responsible for stopping these rotations.

When teams constantly go to the 3 post, a Four-One defensive alignment maybe preferable. When going to the Four-One structure, the  E  defender drops into the inside line and the  D  defender splits the 4 and 5 offensive players. See Figure 24.

Figure 24

Again, scouting is the key to placement for all five defenders. The offense has only: 20 seconds before the ejected player returns to the game. As a result, they are going to be looking for the quick, followed by either a priority passing shot or some type of rotational play. The six-on-five. Four-Two offensive structure can best be stopped with good scouting and execution of the five-player defensive plan.

To be continued ...

(Monte began coaching water polo internationally with the Pan American Games in 1967 and retired following the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles . He served as Assistant Pan American Coach in 1967 (Gold Medal) and 1975 (Silver Medal), and as Head Pan American Coach in 1979 (Gold Medal) and 1983 (Gold Medal). Monte was the Assistant United States Olympic Water Polo coach in Mexico City (5th place) and Head Olympic Coach for the 1972 Munich Olympics (Bronze Medal), the 1980 Moscow Olympics (boycott) and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (Silver Medal). The 1980 Olympic Water Polo Team was one of the finest teams ever to represent the United States and was con­sidered a strong contender for the Gold Medal. During his career, exclusive of the boycott, every Olympic Team which Monte head ­coached won an Olympic Medal. Monte was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale , Florida in 1991.