Six on Five Offense: Part 5

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

Six-on-Five Offensive Plays

Plays should be a part of the team's Six-on-Five thinking, but players first need to learn the basics of the Four-Two and Three-Three player advantage systems. Players must become fundamentally sound. Players should be able to throw good passes, read defenses, understand passing priorities within the structure, and master quick release shooting. In the final analysis, throwing the type of pass which allows the receiving player to "quick release" shoot is the most important factor in any successful six-on-five structure.

Plays can be installed after the above basics are mastered and players have an understanding of both the Four-Two and Three-Three structures of extra-player offense. Before looking at plays, it's important to realize there is a difference between running pre-designed plays and simply concentrating on two or three passing patterns to shots. Many teams, limited in experienced players, run simple passing patterns to free-up their one or two best shooters. There is nothing wrong with this. The coach must use available players to best advantage, even if it means using patterns which easily can be defended. But there is a major difference between passing patterns and actual plays. Plays generally involve the movement of players, positioning passes in relationship to this movement and, once started, tend to continue through to a hoped-for shooting situation.

When preparing for actual games, the Six-on-Five Offense should be based on scouting reports of the other team's defensive alignments and tendencies. Passing patterns can be adapted to scouting reports, and they certainly can allow for flexibility and the use of the team's best talent in the Six-on-Five Offense. Plays, although they may be designed to take advantage of the best talent, tend to be "set in concrete." Once in motion, no matter what the defense does, a play generally continues to move along pre-set lines. At times, a play can get an easy goal. At other times, plays can be disastrous.

Understanding all this, the first question might be, "Should my team have six-on-five plays?"

The answer to this is a definite yes!

"If so, when should they be employed?"

Plays can be used early in the shot clock when scouting shows that the plays should be effective.

"What plays should I employ?
"Which are the best plays for my team to use?"

Before diagraming a few plays, let me say that I believe each coach should work up his/her own plays based upon the team's capabilities. In the past, I've seen hundreds of plays, with varying degrees of effectiveness. I would not be so presumptuous as to say the few I show here are any better than those another coach might design. Coaches need to experiment, using creativity as they try to beat the opponent's defense.

The :20-second-ejection rule definitely has impacted Six-on-Five Offense. Twenty seconds quickly disappears. With the previous :35-second ejection, teams could set up in a Four-Two or Three-Three, run a priority offense then, if nothing else were working, go to a play in the final :10 - :12-seconds. With the :20-second rule it is still possible to do both, but time is extremely limited. Most teams stay with priorities the entire :20 seconds, or go immediately to a pre-designed play.

I believe priority offense (reading the defense and attacking with the pass accordingly) should be the basis of any six-on-five attack. However, if a team has shown it can score one goal after another from a certain play, that play should be used on every ejection until the defense shuts it down. No matter what the basic offensive philosophy, the coach should always use whatever works best. Getting the ball into the goal is what it's all about. However, good teams which scout and play good team defense, quickly pick up on the opponent's pre-designed plays. Therefore, to score consistently against a well-prepared defense, the effective Six-on-Five team must have a fundamentally sound priority system, plus a few good plays.

With all this in mind, let's look at a few plays which have proved useful over the years. Certainly, whatever plays a coach chooses to run must be based on the talent in the water. The wise coach uses patterns which complement the individual skills of the team. Most plays I use in the Four-Two structure are "quarterbacked" by the player in the 6 position. This player must be able to read the defense and to pass well. If the team is in a Three-Three structure. the quarterback is at the point position. Successful Six-on-Five Offense requires in-water leadership and this leadership, depending on which offensive structure is being used, must come from either the 6 position or the point position.

Figure 20   Four-Two Structure

Figure 21   Three-Three Structure

Illustrations in Figure 20 and Figure 21 show the numbering and naming system used to identify the positions of the various players in the Four-Two and Three–Three structures of Six-on-Five Offense.

Six-on-Five Plays

The Silent Rotation

This is a power play used in the Four–Two structure. Under the :20-second ejection rule, it is probably the only play diagramed in this chapter which can be run in conjunction with the priority offense system. As it sets up quickly, both priority attack and the Silent Rotation play can be run within :20 seconds.

I use the name Silent Rotation to describe this play as it doesn't need to be "called out" by a player in the water. Simply, it is started by the 6 player when he/she decides to rotate with the ball in, and toward the goal line. See Figure 22. This rotation can start at any time during the :20-second ejection period.

When the 6 player starts the rotation, the other players should rotate automatically to their new positions. Oftentimes, we run the Silent Rotation when the ball has been overpassed from player 1 or 4 to the 6 player. When player 6 has to chase a wide pass, the Silent Rotation should start immediately as there is little time left on the ejection for running anything else. Also, the Silent Rotation can be used when there are fewer than :08-seconds left on the "kickout." The player doesn't have to shoot the ball, but the Silent Rotation, besides putting player 1 in good shooting position, places him/her a greater distance away from the returning defender and in good position to cover the counterattack in case a shot is taken. If player 1 receives the ball, the type of power shot created, while giving an excellent opportunity to score, also provides the possibility of retaining ball control from a Goalie-deflected shot. When the shot does come, it should be taken by player 1 or player 4 and, most often, shot hard and high.

Figure 22

As aforementioned, the Silent Rotation can be used anytime during the :20- second ejection, but it is particularly effective in creating the last-second shot. Properly run, it creates a three-on-two situation (three offensive players on two defenders) on the righthander's side.

In Figure 22, player 6 takes the ball inside to the goal line and player 1 rotates out to the "pocket" for the pass from player 6. If the defense "stays home" (defenders stay on player 2 and player 4, player 1 is free for the power shot. In the Silent Rotation Play, player 4 always rotates to the point and player 5 moves to the right.

Figure 23

Most often the player shoots with the right hand with the pass from 6.

If the inside defender moves out on player 1 player 6 can pass inside to player 2. See Figure 23.

Figure 24

If the defender on player 4 stays in to guard player 1 when he/she is in the pocket, player 6, should pass to player 4, who has rotated to the point. Player 4 can shoot or attack in on the defender. If the guard decides to leave player 1 and again attack out on player 4, 4 should pass to player 1. If the inside guard then attacks out on player 1, 1 will pass inside to player2, who should “layout” toward the original position of player 1. When laying out, player 2 must be careful not to get inside the 2-meter line. See Figure 24

(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)