Frontcourt Offense: Part 4

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

  Shooting From Two Meters  

As soon as the 2-M PLAYER is in position to receive the ball from perimeter players, the 2-M PLAYER is ready to direct the offense and is now either a shooter or a passer. The 2-M PLAYER must make this determination each time the ball comes in to his/her position. Although it sounds deceptively easy, actually much experience in the position is required in order to make the right decisions. Proper drills and extensive practice time are the two key ingredients in the development of an outstanding 2-M PLAYER. A young, inexperienced 2-M PLAYER, knowing that he/she is one of the team's best athletes, with the the greatest team responsibilities, often attempts to carry the entire offense from the hole position and to shoot the ball too much. This can hurt a team. Good Drivers may become discouraged when they drive free and never receive the ball. If a Driver gets free to the inside and the 2-M PLAYER makes a bad judgment with a surprise type of shot, the entire team, and particularly the Driver who has made a good offensive move, can be embarrassed and demoralized by being made vulnerable to the counterattack. Consequently, knowing when to shoot the ball and when to pass the ball is important to the 2-M PLAYER.

Once the 2-M PLAYER has received the ball and has decided to shoot, he/she must be able to judge which is the right shot for the particular situation and moment. I teach only three types of shots to 2-M PLAYERS: the right and left sweep; the right and left backhand; and the turn shot. By turn shot I mean turning the defender to the left or right and shooting the ball while facing the goal. Of the three shots, two (the sweeps and backhands) are shot while the 2-M PLAYER's back is toward the goal. The "turn" shot is taken while facing the goal, after the defender has been out-positioned.

Over the years, I have found that approximately 65 percent of the goals from the 2-M PLAYER come from the turn shot, 25 percent from the sweep, and approximately 10 percent from backhands. Obviously, these percentages vary some from athlete to athlete and, also, percentages are affected by the level of competition.

Figure 15 Counterrotation Move for the 2-M PLAYER - The 2-M PLAYER (white hat) is against the fronting defender (dark hat). The goal is at the bottom of the frame. The 2-M PLAYER signals with his head the he is going to rotate to the left. The left hand is place low against the defenders right hip and pressure is applied

Figure 15

In Figure 16 while rotating, the 2-M PLAYER's left hand releases from the defender's hip and the right elbow is placed beneath the defender's right arm pit. The 2-M PLAYER's right arm is swung low to the water in the counterrotation move. The 2-M PLAYER rotates from the original position of facing the defender to a new position of having his back to the defender.

Figure 16

In Figure 17 the counterrotation movement is complete and the 2-M PLAYER is in position to receive the ball for a shot.

Figure 17

Figure 18 The 2-M PLAYER has out positioned the fronting defender and has the ball ready for a sweep shot or a turn shot.

Figure 18

Left and Right Hand Sweeps

Perfecting the sweep shot is a must for the 2-M PLAYER. The 2-M PLAYER must learn to sweep with both the left and right hand so the defense cannot effectively take away the shot by overplaying one side or the other. I teach the sweep in shallow water with the 2-M PLAYER standing on the bottom. Once the player masters the correct arm positioning and body rotation, the player moves to deep water in front of the goal to continue practicing. The dominant arm should be taught first, but always have the player begin practicing with the weak arm at an early stage. Once the player starts getting off the shot properly, I'll put a "light" defense behind him/her, making sure the defender keeps his/her face away from the sweep side. The defender should overplay one side, then the other, while the 2-M PLAYER practices the sweep shot against light defense. When the shot is perfected, the defense can toughen-up and force the 2-M PLAYER to find which arm or side he/she should use. Finally, when the 2-M PLAYER is well trained, I'll use the "animal drill" (discussed later in this chapter) to toughen and perfect the ability to use the sweep shot under all conditions.

Fundamentally, in shooting the sweep, I stress a straight-arm release. If the elbow is bent when sweeping, the ball carries high and comes within range for the defender to block. The shot should sweep low and with force. Rotation (in the direction of the shot) of the head, chin, shoulder and hips puts velocity into the shot. When releasing the ball from the rotation, the player's position should resemble that of a discus thrower.

Figure 19 Sweep Shot - with back to the goal, the 2-M PLAYER positions for a sweep shot.

Figure 19

In Figure 20 the right hand and arm sweep the ball while velocity is added with head, shoulder and hip rotation.

Figure 20

In Figure 21 the ball is released with a straight arm. There is no elbow bend in the sweep shot.

Figure 21

Backhand Shots

The backhand shot is relatively easy to learn and can be used to counter the defender when the defender is overplaying the sweep. It's a spectacular shot and the fans love it. But, unfortunately, some players go for the backhand when another shot is needed, simply because the backhand looks good. This shot has its purpose, but should be used only when required. To be especially effective, players should learn to shoot the backhand with both the right and left hand.

Physically, the backhand is easier to teach than the other hole shots, and it takes less time to perfect. It is definitely a "muscle" shot and should be used when defenders are overplaying a side. The decision for the 2-M PLAYER will be whether to take the backhand, try an offhand sweep, or try to turn the defender and go for the "turn shot."

For righthanders, the backhand shot is most often used when the defender is over-playing the left shoulder, leaving a left hand sweep or right hand backhand as the best shooting options. Most righthanders will prefer the backhand in this situation.

The backhand can be taken with the arm either bent or straight. Players working for power tend to cup the ball between palm and wrist, bend the elbow and, using the defender for leverage, muscle the ball to the goal. This type of backhand shortens the range between defender and shooting arm but still provides enough distance to get off the shot. The ball travels with great velocity and brings an "ooh!" from the crowd.

The other type of backhand is thrown from a straight-arm position. The ball is wrist shot (not cupped between wrist and palm), sacrificing power for quickness and surprise. Both shots can be effective, but each must be used at the proper moment.

Backhands and sweeps come at the goal with a lot of velocity but are hard to direct. However, as experience is gained, the 2-M PLAYER learns to get the ball low and to the corners with the sweeps, and to time the release of the backhand to control ball direction.

Figure 22 Backhand Shot - the correct positioning for the power backhand shot is shown.

Figure 22

Figure 23 Backhand Shot - the proper positioning for a quick release, wrist backhand shot.

Figure 23

  Turn-Around Shots  

All 2-M PLAYERS must learn to shoot turn-arounds. This shot is used when the defender is overplaying a shoulder. If the ball is passed in properly from the perimeter (pass placed so the 2-M PLAYER can turn the defender), the turn-around can be a high-percentage shot—much higher percentage than sweeps and backhands. The key is proper ball placement with the in-bound pass. In my opinion, the in-bound pass to the 2-M PLAYER is one of the most important passes in water polo. Too often, young players put the ball safely to the 2-M PLAYER, but not in a place to outposition the defenders. When the ball is properly placed, the 2-M PLAYER is in position to turn his/her defender and set up a shot, ejection, or possible four-meter call. It creates what I term high percentage frontcourt offensive water polo.

Figure 24 Turn Shot - The 2-M PLAYER (white hat) receives the ball in position to turn his defender. The goal is at the bottom of the frame.

Figure 24

In Figure 25 the 2-M PLAYER puts his non shooting arm under the arm pit of the defender and rotates to the inside, turning the defender and facing the goal.

Figure 25

In Figure 26 having turned his defender, the 2-M PLAYER lifts the ball and executes a power wrist shot.

Figure 26

  Other Two-Meter Shots  

Although I don't personally recommend them, there are several other shots which can be taken from two meters. The most-often used probably would be the layout shot, where the 2-M PLAYER lays outs, away from the goal and on his/her back. This move generally puts some distance between the 2-M PLAYER and the defender. The ball is released by the shooter when on the back in the layout position.

For three reasons, I don't recommend spending a lot of time teaching the layout. Frequently the 2-M PLAYER gets called for "pushing off" when laying out. Sometimes, the more effective the layout, the quicker the offensive foul is called. This is particularly true at the international level of play. With the 2-M PLAYER moving back, away from the goal, a "dropping" defense makes the layout shot doubly difficult to achieve. It's difficult to get a lot of velocity on a ball shot from the back and, because of the position of release, the ball tends to carry high.

Figure 27 Layout Shot—the body positioning for a layout shot is shown.

Figure 27

Figure 28 The player making the layout shot is often called for a push-off foul. The non-shooting hand can easily come into contact with the defender when the player releases for the shot.

Figure 28

Another shot taken from the hole is what I call the over-the shoulder wrist shot. Rather than sweeping or backhanding the ball, the 2-M PLAYER trys for the surprise, quick shot over the shoulder on the side away from the defender. Although a "cute" shot, it allows for little velocity, or control of the ball's direction. The shot relies entirely on quickness and surprise. The problem is, the shooter's own team may be more surprised than the defense and be outpositioned by the counter attack.

My motto is: "keep shooting simple at two meters." Rely on selection of the correct shot based on positioning, quickness, and strength. Remember, the 2-M PLAYER is there for other reasons as well. Water polo is a game of six field players and if the 2-M PLAYER is to orchestrate the offense he/she must be playing the "total" game at all times. Only then does a team have consistent success.

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)