Six on Five Offense: Part 4

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

Three-Three Offense Continued ...

Playing The Three-Three Back Line

The back line must be in a "flat triangle" to maintain maximum passing lanes. When the POINT PLAYER penetrates but does not shoot, he/she must immediately reposition to recreate the triangle.

The Point

This player is the quarterback and, as aforementioned, must be an outstanding player and must have good vision, great legs and be an outstanding perimeter shooter. He/she needs to possess the "good wrists" which allow for quickness in shooting. He/she shoots with power, but quickness must be incorporated for maximum effectiveness. The POINT PLAYER controls the ball and should start most offensive series. Let's look at three separate diagrams to see the shooting or passing possibilities for the POINT PLAYER. Remember, the Three-Three is a power, lane shooting offense and 90% of the shots will come from the outside.

Figure 12

In Figure 12, the defense presses out on 4 and 5, creating the "wedge," and allowing the POINT PLAYER to penetrate for the shot. When shooting while penetrating the wedge, the POINT PLAYER should be prepared to go with power to either the right or left side of the goal.  Remember, if the defense suddenly shifts and the POINT PLAYER passes instead of shooting, the POINT PLAYER must immediately reposition to the point of the triangle.

Figure 13

In Figure 13, the POINT PLAYER starts to penetrate and the defensive player between the POINT PLAYER and  5 gives the impression he/she is going to pick up the POINT PLAYER. In this case, the POINT PLAYER must penetrate the ball hard and force this defender to commit. If the defense "tackles" the POINT PLAYER, the POINT PLAYER should pass the ball to the position. If the defender "stunts," then drops off the POINT PLAYER, the POINT PLAYER should take the ball up the "wedge" for the shot. Stunting means creating the impression that the player's intentions are something different from what they really are.


The opposite of Figure 13, in Figure 14 the POINT PLAYER now attacks the defender between his/her position and the 4 player. The same rules apply here. Whether to the left or right, it's important to go after the defender who starts to attack out. It also is important to remember the POINT PLAYER may have to execute these maneuvers several times within the :20-second ejection before the best shot opens. When the shot comes, the shot is most often from power. The Three-Three against the 3-2 zone is a power shooting, down-the-lane offense.

There is a big difference between the Three-Three Offense against six-on-six defense and the Three-Three Offense against the 3-2 zone, which has been created as the result of an ejection. The Three-Three against a six-person, even up, dropback defense features similar penetration and ball attacking against the perimeter defensive players, but once the defense commits to the ball, the six-on-six Three-Three passes to the hole or cross passes the ball outside for a quick release shot against the dropping defender. With the Three—Three attack against the 3-2 zone the ball rarely is passed to the Hole (only when left unattended by a major defensive error) and there are not many cross passes as, once you free-up players 4, 5 or the POINT PLAYER, they usually have the best lanes for penetrating and taking the shot. Most often, when the penetrating player is attacked, the attack is by a defender from the inside line. Therefore, if a pass rather than a shot takes place, this pass generally goes to a fellow player inside.

4 And 5 Positions.

The same rules of attacking apply to both of these positions. Looking at Figure 15 and Figure 16, see the ball starting with the penetration of the POINT PLAYER. Once the defense commits to the POINT PLAYER, either 4 or 5 is free to receive the ball but neither should move into the slot prematurely. They should time their moves to that of the defensive player. As the defensive player makes the commitment to the POINT PLAYER, who has the ball, the 4 or 5 player should move to the slot. This move into the slot also is important. One or two short strokes should be taken at an angle in and toward the center of the goal, not toward the posts of the goal. After the two short strokes, the player should immediately come to the vertical, with the shooting arm up and ready for the ball. The rights and wrongs of this move are shown in Figure 17 and Figure 18.

Figure 15

Figure 16

Figure 17

Right! This is the way to do it

Figure 18

Wrong! Player 4 has gone too deep to safely receive the point pass.

As stated earlier, the timing of the move is critical. Depending on the situation at the moment, either player 4 or player 5 must be ready and in the correct shooting position as the POINT PLAYER is being "tackled." Once the ball is received, the player should have a power shooting lane to the goal. This does not mean the shot is taken immediately. Penetration toward the center of the goal should be continued, with the shot occurring when optimum position has been reached. If the inside defense commits out, the ball should be passed to the inside offensive player on the ball-holder's side. See Figure 19.

Figure 19

Finally, it is important to remember the 4 or 5 position should not go too deep to receive the pass from the point. Young players tend to get excited—"I'm free !"—and move in on top of the Hole position. Oftentimes they add insult to injury by turning their backs on the goal and calling to the POINT PLAYER to pass them the ball. When this happens, they are easily blindsided by the defense. One defender can cover two offensive players. And, even when free, the inexperienced player must turn around to shoot the ball. This allows the defense more time to recover. Nothing can ruin the Three–Three Offense against the 3-2 zone faster than the 4 or 5 player moving in too far. These players must be trained to simply move to the slot and stay on balance to the goal. By so doing, they have good shooting position plus visual contact with the defensive and offensive players in front of them. If the defense commits out, they are then in a position to see it immediately and can easily make the next pass.

(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)