Six on Five Offense: Part 2

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

The Four-Two Offense Continued ...

Shots From Positions in Four-Two Offense

Each position, from player 1 through player 6, has certain shots which must be individually mastered. six–on–five shooting must be totally disciplined. Let's take a look at the individual shots each position must learn. In most cases, the shot should be taken quickly after receiving the ball. Unless running a specific play or time has run out, faking is a detriment to the six–on–five shooter. Faking allows the defense, including the Goalie, the opportunity to improve positioning and to get their hands back into the air. (Review game videotapes to see the high number of blocks against shots taken from a fake.) All post shots should be taken quickly and most outside shots (player 1, player 4, player 5 and player 6) should come from the quick release. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but the quick release for six–on–five shooting always should be emphasized.

Shots For The 1 Position

The player in the 1 position must be one of the team's top athletes. In my opinion, the 1 position is second only to the 6 position in importance to the success of the Four–Two Offense. This player must possess a good right arm, with quick release abilities. He/she needs to have a "stable hand." In other words, he/she must be able to think! Another important attribute of the 1 shooter must be the ability to fake, not so much to take the shot, but to create the illusion that a shot is about to be taken. Once the Goalkeeper is "locked" to the ball, a pass should be thrown to the next logical position.

The 1 position should be trained in three prime shots: the alley shot, the cross-cage from the pocket, and the near-side-wraparound shot.

The Alley Shot

The alley shot is taken when the 1 position is on the front line with player 2 and player 3. Player 1 is in and player 6 is out. When 1 is on the line and receives the ball, he/she most often has the alley (low near-side shot beating the defender and the Goalie with the strong side shot). There never should be a fake with the alley shot—catch and shoot! This shot is seldom taken cross-cage. There are exceptions to all rules of shooting. The idea is to score, and the offensive player should be always monitoring the position of the Goalie. Whenever the Goalie is out of position or distracted, the good shooter should have the "green light" to shoot. I've had players make a living off sleeping goalies. However, these players were exceptional, bright shooters, and still disciplined to the team system of play.

Cross-Cage from the Pocket

The second shot to be trained with the 1 position is the cross-cage from the pocket. When the 1 position is outside and rotates slightly to center water, the 1 player is in what is called the "pocket." From this position, he/she most often has the quick-release, cross-cage shot.

Near-Side, Step Out Wrap Around

If the cross-cage from the pocket is not there, a near-side, step out wrap around may be open. What happens here is, if the cross-cage shot is taken away by the Goalie, and the defender between 1 and 2 has the alley covered, the 1 position player can step out over his/her right leg (providing additional distance from the defender) and wrap the ball around the defender between 1 and 2 and into the goal. Incidentally, faking can be allowed before the cross-cage shot from the pocket if needed. The near side wrap around also calls for some faking before the shot is released. These are the only shots where faking should be allowed before the shot unless running a specific play or time is running out on the shot or game clock.

The alley, pocket, cross-cage and near side wrap around are the only shots I allow the 1 position to take—remembering that any shooting rule can be broken if the Goalie is out of position. In my system, where player shooting discipline is of key importance, the person breaking a shooting rule had better score the ball!

Shots For The 2 Position

Teams play both right and lefthanders at the 2 position, although most teams have fewer lefthanders than righthanders. Therefore, lefthanders are played primarily at the 6 position and secondarily at the 5 and 2 positions. In all cases, post players need quick hands, good legs, and height where possible. All post shots are quick release and the pass to the post should arrive high. Post players also must be effective in shooting the rebound.

The righthanded 2 player should be able to shoot the inside pass from 6 and 5 players and the cross-cage backhand from the 1 pass. The lefthanded 2 player should be able to shoot the above shots plus the outside release, near side triangle shot. What happens with a near side triangle is the 1 position passes to the lefthanded 2 player as he/she releases out and away from the cage. With the lefthander, most near side triangle shots are taken to the strong, or near side of the goal.

Shots For The 3 Position

The player in the 3 spot most often is righthanded. His/her main shots are the inside backhand from the 1 pass or 4 pass and the near side triangle, rear release shot from the pass. The near side triangle shot from the 3 position generally is most effective when taken cross-cage.

On rare occasions, both the 2 and 3 players may get a pass over the top from the 4 or 5 positions. For this to be effective, the 2 and 3 players must rotate the shooting shoulder to the outside so that they both are in position to catch and shoot the ball.

All those playing in the 2 and 3 positions should train their different shots, practicing with the players who will be feeding them the ball.

Shots From The 4 Position

The 4 player always should be righthanded and should be a good shooter. Most of his/her shots come from the 6 pass and should be quick shots (no faking). The 4 shooter must possess good legs and a strong, quick arm.

Shots From The 5 Position

Whenever possible, the 5 player should be lefthanded. If none are available, a quick releasing righthander should be employed. Like the 4 position, this player must have good legs and a quick release shot. Most of his/her shots come from a pass from 1 or from 6 with the 5 player "sliding" to his/her left for the shot.

To have the greatest scoring opportunity, all shots coming from the 4 and 5 positions should be quick release shots. Most blocked attempts in the Four–Two structure come from 4 and 5 shooting the ball following a fake. Conversely, most scores from position 4 and position 5 come from a quick release shot after
a pass from either player 1 or player 6.

Shots From The 6 Position

In my system, the 6 position quarterbacks the six–on–five. Player 6 should be a good thinker and a good passer. This position contains more options than the other five positions. Naturally, a lefthander is preferable, although a quick release shooting righthander can be effective in this position. The shots are essentially the same as in the 1 position, with the alley shot far and away the most important to the 6 player. When 6 is out, the cross-cage opens and is another important shot to be mastered by the 6 position. The near-side-wrap-around is far more difficult for the lefthander, so does not have the same importance as it does with the 1 player. Goalies have a tendency to overplay their left side when a lefthander is in the 6 position, which makes the wrap-around a rare occasion shot for the lefthanded 6 player. The 6 position is a passing position first and a shooting position second. When shots come from the 6 spot (and they should come often), the alley shot gets the most scores, followed by the cross cage when 6 is in the pocket position.

All the players in all of the positions in the Four–Two Offense must spend time working on their shots. Before and after practice, players should get together with the playing positions which pass to them and practice their shots.

Drill Description #76

The Type of Shots Drill

The Type of Shots Drill is more of a learning exercise than a simple drill. The players start in their normal Four-Two positions, get passes from their logical teammates, and make shots on goal with the proper type of shooting mechanics.

Figure 5

Learning To Read The Defense—Priority Passing in the Four–Two Offense

Learning to read the defense with priority passing brings together all aspects of the Four–Two Offense and must be practiced until all the players are totally disciplined to the priority pass concept. An accomplished squad has a "computer-like," read-out principle, where players are programmed to follow certain steps rather than being controlled by individual impulses. I program the players' minds so that a disciplined thought pattern is followed by each individual during the course of the :20-second ejection period. This system has proved very successful with my teams.

By using this approach, players are controlled by the system rather than by their individual choice. "System first, arm second!" is my battle cry when coaching the Four–Two Offense. It has been my observation that with Six–on–Five Offense, very few players are able to consistently find the free player. Unless having played together for ten or more years, even great players oftentimes miss the obvious. When it comes to seeing the place that the next pass should go to, the Four–Two Priority Pass Read Out System makes average players good and good players great at finding the freest player for a possible shot.

Each time they receive the ball, the outside players (numbers 1, 4, 5, and 6) have one of two decisions to make-"Should I shoot the ball, or should I pass?"

Remember the roles of the outside players in the Four–Two differ from those players in the post position. Outside players are primarily passers first, shooters second, while the post players (2 and 3) are shooters. The posts generally receive and shoot the ball, rarely making a pass.

If not taking a shot immediately after receiving the ball, each of the outside players next must look for a priority pass. They must learn what these priority passes are and where they should be thrown. As the defense shifts, these are the positions which open up for a pass from the 1 position.

The priorities for the 1 position are:

1 => 3 inside,
1 => 6 inside or pocket,
1 => 5 and
1 => 2.

The priorities for the U position are:

6 => 2 inside,
6 => 1 inside or pocket,
6 => 3 for the near side triangle and
6 => 4.

The 4 position has:

4 => 3 inside,
4 => 6 and
4 => 2 over the top.

Number U position has:
5 => 2,
5 => 1 and
5 => 3 over the top.

Figure 6

Logic Sequence for Outside Player

Each outside player must learn his/her priorities and then, upon receiving the pass, must think in the following sequence:

"Do I have the shot?"

   If: Yes, then take it, generally from the quick release mode.
   If: No, then: "Do I have a priority pass open?"

      If: Yes, then make the priority pass to the open player.
      If: No, then attack in toward the defender in front.

When the defense (including the Goalkeeper) is committed to the attack, pass the ball to a logical outside position and start the sequence over.
Once this system is learned, disciplined and indelibly set into the minds of the players, the shot or priority pass decision becomes automatic and decisions should take only about one-thousandth-of-a-second (:00.001) to make. This training enables the player to recognize instantly either the shot or free player.

Remember, if the player receiving the ball has neither the shot nor a priority pass, he/she must immediately start. faking a shot and penetrating in toward the goal and his/her defensive opponent. This faking and penetrating should be followed with a chest fake (lift of the upper body in a shooting motion ) to convince the Goalie that a shot actually is coming. At this point, with the defense "tied-down," the attacking player passes the ball to a fellow outside player and the sequence starts again.

Shoot, Priority Pass, Attack In And Chest Fake

If players follow this discipline, a good shot from the priority pass system should eventually open. With only :20 seconds of shot-clock time before the ejected opponent returns to the field of play, it is imperative the attack be immediate and persistent.

If time starts to run out on the :20-second ejection, players must make a decision as to whether to shoot or simply control the ball and continue to attack offensively six–on–six. Remember, ball control is one of the single most important elements of a successful offense. When a score is not going to take place, the team is further ahead by controlling the ball for :35 seconds rather than giving it up on a low percentage shot at :20 seconds. Besides, during those final :15 seconds, there is always the possibility of

Learning another ejection. Keeping the percentages on your side in every area of the game is the key to winning water polo.

The scoring percentages in the Six–on–Five Offense can be raised above the 50th percentile when the team has learned the proper elements of the Four–Two attack. The Hot Potato Drill teaches a team how to pass. This is the critical base for a successful Four–Two Offense. The Type Of Shot Drills teach players when, as well as what, to shoot. Players must become skilled with the shots to be taken from their positions. Finally, The Priority Pass Concept teaches and disciplines players to find the "split in the seam"—the open player while he/she still remains free.

When these three drills have been mastered, a team has far greater success with its Four–Two offense. Remember the following sequence upon receiving the pass. Shoot if you have the shot; if not, instantly look for the priority pass and, if no one is free, attack in, chest fake to commit the Goalkeeper and field defenders; then pass to another outside position.

Drill Description #77

The Priority Passing Drill

Figure 7

The principles of the priority passing concept need to be applied to many different drills. The respective outcomes are too numerous to illustrate.

(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)