Special Situations: Part 3

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

Play Four

All teams should have some kind of play for occasional use when only :05—:09 seconds remain on the shot or game clock. Play Four is designed for special use off the restart, but it can be used under any circumstances when a last second shot is desired.

With less than :10-seconds on the game clock, it is very difficult to get off any type of percentage shot from the restart position. Play Four is designed to provide this opportunity.

Play Four sounds difficult to execute, but actually it is easier to run than Play Three. The keys are: The perimeter players must move into their defenders so the Goalkeeper has a pass to a high-percentage, fouling situation; The player receiving the ball must immediately turn and draw the foul and "fire" (shoot) the ball toward the goal with the foul call; Players in front of the goal should simply try to deflect or take speed off the flight of the ball. Play Four, after much practice, does score goals in tight situations. It should be rehearsed and used.

Figure 15 Figure 16

Figure 15 shows players 3 and 4 "crashing" toward the two-to- five-meter area, near center goal. Player 5 is making the first pass to the Goalkeeper who has moved up toward the ten-meter area. Player 6 is dropping back to help "screen" for the Goalkeeper, provide a safety valve pass and, in case an error is made, to play "deep" defense.

Figure 16 shows the Goalkeeper with the ball, players 3 and 4 moved up to the two-to-five meter line, and players 1, 2 and 5 all moving quickly and directly into their nearest defenders. Player 6 has moved back toward the Goalkeeper and is serving in a screening or "check-off' passing role. The Goalkeeper looks to find the player (3, 2, or 5) who has been picked up the quickest and tightest by the defense.

Figure 17 Figure 18

Figure 17 shows the Goalkeeper choosing player 2 for the pass. Player 2 has moved into the defender and is being tightly guarded. Player 2 turns his/her back to the defender (hole-forward positioning) and, when he/she receives the goalkeeper's pass, turns with the ball, drops a shoulder, releases but protects the ball, and hopefully draws the foul. This move must be practiced. It is imperative that the player receiving the Goalie pass immediately draw the foul.

Figure 18 shows the final movements in Play Four. Immediately upon drawing the foul, player 2 whirls and shoots the ball (off the foul), high and as hard as he/she can throw it. This player does not take time to aim the ball to 3 or 4 player, but simply whirls and releases it in their direction instantly with the foul call. Whichever player 3 or 4 can get up a hand will try to deflect the ball into the goal? Players need to be trained in deflection shooting. Players 3 and 4 must have good hands and must understand that their job is either to change the flight direction of the ball or to take some speed off the shot so the ball will catch the Goalkeeper starting to sink. The player not deflecting the ball should be prepared to rebound if the ball comes back into the field of play.

Other Situations

There are other special situations which might occur over the course of a game and, therefore, should be given occasional practice time.

Too often coaches set up the :35-second shot clock only for game days. Players practice an entire week without seeing or thinking about the all-important shot and game clocks. Coaches should not allow this to happen. Shot and game clocks should be set up for every practice and operated by a manager or by a player who is "sitting out" that particular day. Then and only then do players learn to know and react to the clocks. When coaches don't use clocks during practice scrimmages, both offensive and defensive players fail to recognize and properly react to game situations. Providing for clocks during practice sessions is a "special situation" in itself and must be attended to by the coach.

Special situations should give coaches plenty of food for thought. Other things to consider under this category would be time-outs, substitutions, etc. Each coach needs to design plays and patterns which will best meet the special situation needs of their particular team.

Protecting a 2-Point Lead   

Protecting a 2-point lead during the last 2:00-minutes of a game is of major importance. Players must learn to protect a lead, and they must learn to be totally focused during those last 2:00-minutes. Without practice, young players oftentimes turnover the ball with poor passes or ill-timed shots.

The key in the last 2:00-minutes is to control the ball for the duration of the :35-second-shot clock without any turnovers—and to control without being called for a "stall." Players must learn to advance the ball, overspread the offense, make 100% "sure" passes and safely play the ball into the hole when that pass should take place. Driving should be limited to one player at a time, with the idea of creating some offensive motion but not necessarily getting free for a shot. The team must appear to be running its offense. If it appears that no attempt is being made to score, international referees are quick to call the stall, particularly when the team has the lead. In these moments, teams must be trained to disguise their intentions.

There are several ways to practice for this type of situation. Set the game clock at 2:00-minutes and give the ball to the offense. Have them spread and control and practice, making it look as though they are trying to advance the ball and score. Dump the ball in the corner at the end of the :35-second shot clock and already be balanced to the defense. Sounds easy, but it isn't. Practice time for the 2:00-minute offensive drill must be provided if the team is to be successful during this critical part of the game.

A good way to practice ball control is to play a 5:00-minute quarter but don't use the :35-second clock. Give the ball to the offense and let them keep it as long as they can. Sometimes it is shocking to learn how quickly players turn over the ball to the opponent. In this drill, as soon as the ball is taken by the defense, give it back to the offense and let them continue to play "keep away" for the remainder of the 5:00-minutes. Keep a record as to how many turnovers take place during the 5:00-minute period. This will teach players gradually to learn better ball control.

Another way to teach the importance of ball control is to remove both goalkeepers and scrimmage, requiring that all shots must be taken from a dry pass. The players enjoy this drill, and it forces them to learn to release from their defenders in order to receive the dry pass and shoot. Getting free to accept any type of safe pass is an important ingredient of any ball control situation. When a player does receive a dry pass and decides to shoot at the unguarded goal, it is surprising how many shots are missed, even without a Goalkeeper in the cage. The lesson here is that, while protecting the ball, only the highest percentage shots should be taken. Any missed shot can result in a turnover, the very thing the team is trying to avoid while leading the game during those last two critical minutes of play. Although this drill does not need a lot of practice time, it is fun for the players and is a good way to end a long practice session. With only dry passes being allowed for a shot to be taken, and with no Goalkeeper in the cage, teams are forced to practice precision passing, proper "releasing" from the defender and accurate shooting.

   Playing Catch-up   

On the other side of the ledger, teams must practice how to "come from behind" in the last 2:00-minutes. How to foul and steal the ball, when to take chances with the steal, when and where to foul to stop the clock—all are important lessons to learn when trying to catch the opponent. To work on this facet of the game, the coach should set the game clock at 2:00-minutes, give the ball to the offense, and have the defense attempt to take the ball away from the offense. Fouling to steal the ball, fouling to stop the clock, "cherry picking" all should be incorporated into this drill.

(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)