Five Player Defense: Part 4

Monte Nitzkowski
US Men's Olympic Coach '72, '80, and '84
12/15/06

Individual Player Responsibilities with the Three-Two Zone

  Defending The Three-Three Offense  

Around the world, the Four - Two is still the most popular structure for a player-up offense. However, many teams have begun to employ the Three - Three structure as part of their offensive thinking. This is particularly true when rotational play situations are included as part of the offense. The defense must pickup these rotations quickly, following them through to the attempted shot. A lot of communication is require by the defense if the moves are to be monitored successfully by all five field defenders plus the Goalkeeper.

When defending the basic Three - Three structure, the Three - Two zone is maintained, but positioning for individual defenders must change. When the offense plays a Four - Two structure, the free offensive player is on the inside line. When a team plays a Three–Three, the free player is with the outside line. As such, the defenders outside are playing two against three.

Let's take a look at each defender's basic responsibilities when facing the Three–Three Offense. For defender  A  and defender C  , the same physical characteristics prevail for these two defenders as do when defending a Four–Two offensive structure. Since both defender  A  and defender  C  are even up (man- to-man) on their opponents, they can pinch in to help the Goalkeeper defend the goal. At the same time, the defenders must be in position to aggressively guard their opponents successfully (player 1 and player 6) should a pass be made to one of these positions. The  A  and  C  defenders should be in the vertical posi tion. The  A  and  C  defenders should help channel all shots to the center of the cage where the Goalkeeper has the best opportunity for making the save. Against the Four–Two structure, defender  A  and defender  C  players hold their outside arms up to help defend the corner of the cage. Defender  A  and defender  C  play even up in the Three - Three, so defender  A  and defender  C  don't have to cover a lot of water. As a result, they can stay in the vertical, pinch in, physically block the corners of the goal, and get their inside arm up - if not both arms up. Defender  A  and defender  C  force the ball to center cage. With the extra offensive player outside in the Three - Three Offense, the ball stays outside 95% of the time. In other words, the ball goes inside only if one of these man-on-man defenders makes a major mistake. See Figures 25 and 26.

Figure 25: Inside positioning for defender  A  and defender  C  when ball is at 11-o'clock.

Figure 26: Inside positioning for defender  A  and defender  C  when ball is at 1-o'clock.

When the point 12-O'CLOCK DRIVER has the ball, both defender  A  and defender  C  should have their inside arms up. See Figure 27

Figure 27 Defender  A  and defender  C  positions with ball at the point.

The Three - Three is a simple, power shooting offense. There is not a lot of trickery involved. It's pretty obvious what the offense is going to do. With good scouting, the coach can pick up shooting patterns. Scouting should reveal if the opponents look for one-or-two players to take the shots. When abilities and tendencies are scouted and players “get on the eyes.” Three – Three defensive positioning is not to difficult for the coach to plan.

For defender  B , generally, I like the positioning of the  B  defender to the defensive right of the 2-M PLAYER. See Figure 28.

Figure 28: Most common location for be defender.

The reasons for putting the  B  defender on this side most of the time are as follows:

Defender  D  and defender  E  have their work cut out for them. They must be two of the quickest players. Usually smaller players change directions more quickly than bigger players. Defender  D  and defender  E  have to cover a lot of water. The best position for defender  D  and defender  E  is to gap the 11-O’CLOCK , 12-O’CLOCK , and 1-O’CLOCK . See Figure 29.

Figure 29: Positioning for defender  D  and defender  E  .

Scouting is the key to all five-player defense - my continuing motto! Defenders  D  and  E  should overplay the better shooters and give the shot to the poorest outside shooter. For example, if the player positioned at 11-O'CLOCK is the weakest, play to stop the 12-O'CLOCK, and 1-O'CLOCK PLAYER from taking the shot and move defender  A  and defender  C  farther to the inside to help take away the shooting lanes.

If all three outside players are excellent shooters, defender  D  and defender  E  should do a lot of stunting to keep any likely shooter off balance. Defender  D  should work to "blind side" the shooting 12-O'CLOCK PLAYER as this shooter most often will be righthanded and will be looking away from the attacking defender  D .

To make the "blind side" attack most effective, allow the 12-O'CLOCK PLAYER to start penetrating with the ball, have defender  E  briefly fake rushing toward the 12-O'CLOCK PLAYER then dropback to the gap between the 12-O'CLOCK PLAYER and 11-O'CLOCK PLAYER. The 12-O'CLOCK PLAYER needs to be briefly distracted by the fake attack, allowing the defender  D  to attack from the "blind side."

In summary, five-player defense requires a high degree of team coordination and excellent communication. All defenders within a defensive game plan must be working as a unit and each player must be giving a best effort is a score is to be prevented.


(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.