Learning and Teaching the Basics  


Taking a Young Inexperienced
Water Polo Team to Competitive Level

   Monte Nitzkowski

I'm often asked, "Coach, what's the quickest way to become competitive in this sport? We have a new program with young players, and we're getting clobbered."

There are four basic axioms which must be followed if you wish to make young teams quickly competitive:

CONDITIONING: Get your players into top physical condition. This is the easiest of the four axioms to achieve. Most of the athletes probably have a swimming background and are already in pretty good shape. Hit them hard with a conditioning program which features considerable basic swim training, a lot of ball conditioning and conditioning for quickness. You might not get them in better shape than your opponents, but "equal shape" is good enough.

BALLHANDLING: Spend a lot of time on ballhandling. All players need to continue to develop their ballhandling skills—for young players it's a must. Passing is the name of the game. If a player can't pick up the ball and pass it accurately, his/her team will be in constant trouble. Ball control is essential and without it, success is impossible to achieve.

Along with basic ballhandling skills, at the earliest stage of development, young players must be taught how to draw a foul. Most often, opponents will press against inexperienced teams. If players can't draw a foul and pass from the free throw, they will find it extremely difficult to move the ball into scoring position.

DEFENSE: Young teams can learn to play good defense years ahead of becoming experts on offense. Most coaches spend way too much time working on offense with a young team. Use that time to learn to play outstanding individual and team defense. This means players must learn to defend one on one against Drivers and Two-Meter players. Also, they must learn team defensive tactics such as stairstepping, sloughing, foul and dropping, gapping and time switching. Finally, they must learn to play within the defensive scheme (press-dropback) employed by their coach. This plan usually will be developed from scouting reports, the tendencies of the opponents, and his/her own team's defensive abilities. Being able to play good defense is essential for the young team.

When working on defense, coaches must teach their teams to play counterattack defense. Experienced teams love to take advantage of young teams by pressing and then counterattacking the turnover. If young teams are going to stay in the game, they must learn the principles of counterattack defense.

OFFENSE: Ball control is the answer here!! Youngteams cannot afford to get fancy on offense and they should never take low percentage shots. Deny the ball to your opponents. Beginning teams constantly turnover the ball. To counter this tendency, every effort should be made to control the ball for the entire thirty-five seconds. Put the percentages on your side. Good things happen when your team controls the ball. Even if percentage shots are not earned within the thirty-five second period, ejections might be awarded. Again, ball control is everything. When a team keeps the game close against superior opponents, anything can happen in the last several minutes. Look at it this way, the best of teams in the NFL and NBA cannot defeat the worst of teams if they keep turning over the ball. For young teams, there is a strong lesson to be learned here: CONTROL THE BALL!

Conditioning, ball handling and great individual and team defense will help young teams to become quickly competitive. And when it comes to the offense, BALL CONTROL is everything. Remember, feeding the other team's offense with constant turnovers is a sure way to a losing season. Conversely, ball control, coupled with conditioning, ball handling and defensive skills go a long way toward making for a successful season.