Frontcourt Offense: Part 3

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

The 2-M PLAYER Position

In my opinion, outstanding water polo teams are built around three key positions—the 2-M PLAYER, the GOALKEEPER, and the 2-M DEFENDERS. Of the three, the two most important positions to fill are the 2-M PLAYER and the Goalkeeper. Until recently, two-meter-defensive play was not considered a specialty position, but with the present number of two-meter-guard ejections, players with special skills need to man this important position. Still, the two meter and goal positions require players with the highest skills and much of the success of your program depends on their development.

  Selecting the 2-M PLAYER Position  

Generally the 2-M PLAYER .is one of the two best athletes available to the team.

The 2-M PLAYER needs to have adequate size. Successful national and collegiate level 2-M PLAYERS tend to range in size from 6-foot to 6-foot-8. High school athletes are normally 5-foot10 and taller. Size is important as a lot of contact takes place at the two-meter position, and small players have difficulty controlling the ball at two meters.

Along with size, great leg support is a requirement. Players at two meters are required to absorb many fouls, so leg support is mandatory if the player is to control the ball.

Good swimming ability is another must. The opposing team counterattack the 2-M PLAYER to the other end of the pool on each change of possession. The 2-M PLAYER must be able to move quickly from the vertical to the horizontal position and sprint 20-25 meters. Again, as the ball changes hands, the 2-M PLAYER must be able to sprint back to two meters and get in position to receive the ball.

Many top quality international teams have two prime
plus several alternate sets so the players can get some rest and stay at maximum strength for playing this position.
Strength is needed to hold position against the defender, and strength is needed to move the defender and free-up a possible inside shot.

Personality is most important when selecting individuals to play two meters. Even if an athlete is in the top two percent of all the above criteria for playing this position, the 2-M PLAYER will fail at the position if his or her personality is wrong for the position. The position of 2-M PLAYER cannot be played by a "hothead." The 2-M PLAYER must be stable, calm and a complete team player. Opponents foul him/her and attempt intimidation. Therefore, the 2-M PLAYER must be even-tempered, tough and nice. The 2-M PLAYER does not allow himself/herself to become angry and attempt to take revenge on the guard who fouls. As soon as that happens, the 2-M PLAYER is playing against the individual defender and ignoring the needs of offensive teammates. This can be destructive to the offense and cannot be allowed to happen. The 2-M PLAYER must have total personal control in order to take command of the teams' offense. In this position, players who are good but undisciplined athletes show facial expressions of frustration which can influence the referee in negative ways. Offensive fouls are bad wherever they occur, but two-meter-offensive fouls are particularly devastating.

A 2-M PLAYER who is a top athlete, well coordinated and with good size but lacking in emotional control should initially become a 2-M DEFENDER. At this position, all the skill and talents can be utilized, plus it is easier and safer to play more aggressively on defense. The very personality traits which create problems in offensive-two-meter play may prove advantageous on defense. The coach, captains and veteran players must continue to help players learn to control their emotions. Quick tempered players can continue to learn the two-meter position while playing two-meter defense. As personal growth and maturity occur, the personality is strengthened and a formerly troubled player may be able to switch back to offense and eventually, become an outstanding 2-M PLAYER.

  Role of the 2-M PLAYER  

The 2-M PLAYER controls the offense once the counterattack and transition to frontcourt offense has taken place. In that final few seconds after the counterattack, and as players move to frontcourt-offensive positions, the (2-M PLAYER) should move in front of the goal so offensive patterns can begin. Once in position, the 2-M PLAYER has complete control of the offense and serves as both a shooter and as a passing bridge to driving and releasing players. The 2-M PLAYER must know his/her team's offense and direct the offense from a position in front of the goal. The 2-M PLAYER must be able to "read" the opponent's defensive strategies as they pertain to both team and individual play. All this is imperative to success in the position and to success of the team as a whole.

Turnovers destroy offense - games cannot be won in any sport where there are constant turnovers. No player in water polo handles the ball more than the 2-M PLAYER. Therefore, the 2-M PLAYER is subject to more turnovers than any other player. Skills - both as an athlete and in "reading" - assure fewer turnovers and greater team success.

To briefly summarize the role of the 2-M PLAYER, he/she must be able to quickly get from the defensive to the offensive end of the pool; move to the correct position in front of the goal; get position on the defender and hold that position so that players returning the pass can find him/her quickly in order to make accurate and timely passes; absorb the foul; control the ball; and either pass or shoot. It is easy to see why this position must be fielded by one of the team's best athletes. The 2-M PLAYER is the "quarterback" of frontcourt offense.

Once the coach has selected the players who are capable of handling the two-meter position - 2-M PLAYERS - the coach must see that they are thoroughly trained in the subtleties of this demanding position. The athletes must become specialists at the "set" position.

  Getting To and Holding Position for the 2-M PLAYER  

Earlier in this chapter I said the 2-M PLAYER must be a good swimmer, able to move quickly from the defensive end of the pool and "set-up camp" in front of the opponent's goal. The 2-M PLAYER also must have the size and skill to establish and hold position until taking a shot, getting an ejection on the 2-M DEFENDER, or getting teammates the opportunity to move and shoot the ball. If the 2-M PLAYER cannot control some "front water," it is extremely difficult to get him/her the ball in order to run the offense. It is the responsibility of both the and the perimeter players to see that acceptable two-meter position is maintained and used to the advantage of the offense.

  Getting To Position for the 2-M PLAYER  

As the counterattack comes to an end and the team is in its final transition into frontcourt offense, it might be necessary for a player other than the prime 2-M PLAYER to move into the hole position and take a foul. If the prime 2-M PLAYER has to come from deep in the back tank, it is important to provide for the option of getting another player to move into the hole and for that player to take the first foul. This foul stops the clock and allows extra time for the prime 2-M PLAYER to move into position. Once the 2-M PLAYER arrives, the individual who has taken the first foul should move out and into his/her regular offensive position to allow the 2-M PLAYER to move into the proper position. The only exception to this would be if the prime 2-M PLAYER is overly tired, cannot be substituted at the moment, and is is need of a brief breather. In this case, once the first foul has been taken to allow the offense to move up, the secondary set (another player normally in the game and who has received some training at two meters) should move in and play the position for :35 seconds or until the prime 2-M PLAYER is ready to go.

As a coach, I watch for fatigue in the 2-M PLAYER and, at the first opportunity, substitute another prime set into the game. It is extremely important to the success of your team to keep the two-meter position as fresh as possible. This is why, as a coach, I always have trained two players as prime sets and two as secondary sets. Usually I chose defensive specialists to be the secondary sets. The reasons for this are simple. They have good size and leg strength. Plus, having played against the opponent's prime set., the 2-M DEFENDER has a feeling for the position.

  Holding Position for the 2-M PLAYER  

When moving into position in front of the goal, the 2-M PLAYER should not fight the 2-M DEFENDER for position. Struggling with the 2-M DEFENDER for initial position can easily result in an offensive foul and a loss of ball control. Generally, the 2-M DEFENDER wants "front water."

Let the 2-M DEFENDER have the front water. Then go to work to get the position needed to run the offense. The 2-M PLAYER does not have to have position completely in front of the defender. In fact, if the 2-M PLAYER is three-to-four meters out

from the face of the goal, being partially in front may be of greater advantage in out-positioning the defender. A key point needs to be made here: The 2-M PLAYER should be in constant physical contact with his/her defender in order to know the exact location of the defender at all times and to physically "play-off" the defender to get the offensive position desired. The 2-M PLAYER is not a Driver. Drivers move to get free of their defenders. The 2-M PLAYER
needs constant contact with the 2-M DEFENDER It is very difficult to play effectively against a 2-M DEFENDER  when not in contact with the 2-M DEFENDER.  Also, teammates need to know where the 2-M PLAYER as they pass him/her the ball. If the 2-M PLAYER is breaking back and fourth in front of the goal, the 2-M PLAYER is
not only difficult to find the pass, but is not on balance to shoot the ball properly or to make the next logical pass. The 2-M PLAYER directs the offense and plays an important role, but that position is not the entire offense. The 2-M PLAYER must work for good shots and ejections, but also must be ready to pass the ball to teammates free on a drive or releasing on the perimeter.

The basic position in front of the goal for the 2-M PLAYER is determined by the style or structure of the team's frontcourt offense. A Three - Three  puts the 2-M PLAYER center cage while an "umbrella" puts the 2-M PLAYER either left or right of center cage, depending on whether the team is "catering" to left-side or right-side drives and picks.

Based on the offensive structure, once two-meter positioning is established, the 2-M PLAYER runs the offense. To gain front-water position on the defender, I recommend what I call the counterrotation move. Simply press the upper torso into the fronting defender, drive him/her out from the face of the cage with leg drive. Then the 2-M PLAYER lets the perimeter players know (with a nod of the head), which side the 2-M PLAYER is rotating (which side the 2-M PLAYER wishes to receive the ball). Next, the 2-M PLAYER places a hand low on the defender's hip (left to rotate left, right to rotate right), swings the opposite free arm low to the water and rotates the body so that the 2-M PLAYER's back briefly faces the defender. When rotating to an advantage position - as far as needed to safely receive the ball—the (2-M PLAY- E releases the hand on the hip and drops the swing-side arm and elbow. The 2-M PLAYER trys to wedge this arm under the defender's arm and shoulder. This allows the 2-M PLAYER to improve and to hold the new position.

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.

Monte has written two excellent water polo books, United States Tactical Water Polo and Water Polo, Learning and Teaching the Basics. Starting March 15 , Water Polo Planet will feature a monthly water polo article by Monte Nitzkowski. His books can be found at his Water Polo Consulting Service web site. - Doc)