Learning and Teaching the Basics  


Dribbling and Changing Directions

   Monte Nitzkowski

DRIBBLING: As in basketball, the Water Polo ball is advanced down the field of play by dribbling and passing. From the first day of practice, beginning players must be taught the basics of dribbling. It's really quite easy.

While swimming the front crawl stroke, the player moves the ball along, floating it between the recovering arms. To accomplish this successfully, the front crawl stroke must be slightly modified: The head is carried high so the eyes and mouth are above water. The back arches to compensate for a deeper flutter kick. By arching the back, the kick elevates to near-surface positioning. The ball rides between the arms on a wave created by the slightly raised position of the head and shoulders. The arms are used as a guide to help keep the ball in front of the body, but the arms should not be used to hit or slap the ball back and forth with each stroke. From time to time, the arms should simply nudge the ball to keep it tracking between the shoulders, in front of the dribbling player. (Illustrations #42, #43, #44.)

Illustration 42 – Dribbling Illustration 43 - Dribbling  

Illustration 44 - Dribbling
from the side.

Once the fundamentals are learned, coaches need to design their own dribbling drills, working to build speed and control into the exercise. As soon as players can dribble under control, they should be taught to change direction by cupping the ball between the hand (wrist) and forearm, picking it up, moving to left or right, then continuing the dribble. (Illustrations #45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50.)

Illustration 45 - Start of
ninety degree turn to left,
player with ball cupped
between hand and wrist.
Illustration 46 - Player half
way through ninety degree left
turn. Ball still cupped in
player's hand.

Illustration 47 - Left turn
completed and starting into
Illustration 48 - Player with
hand on top of ball preparing
to pick up ball and start
right turn.

Illustration 49 - Executing right
turn, ball still in hand.
Illustration 50 - Finishing right
turn and dribbling away.

Change of direction with the ball should be practiced with ninety and one-hundred-and-eighty degree turns. (Illustrations # 51, 52.)

Illustration 51 - Start of
180 degree turn with ball.
Illustration 52 - Executing
180 degree turn with ball
cupped between hand and

Once young players have learned to move and turn with the ball, they should be taught to push dribble, pushing the ball in front by using an extended arm stroke and pushing the ball with hand and fingers. The push dribble is not a game tactic, but it improves a player's hand coordination, helping to "soften" the hand touch and giving young players a better feel for the ball. (Illustration #53.)

Illustration #53 - Push dribble.

Next players should learn to "dribble-walk" the ball. This is accomplished by cupping the ball between wrist and forearm and swimming with the ball in the front crawl armstroke. The dominant side arm should be used to practice this drill. The ball will actually go under water with the pull of each stroke, but this is all right so long as the player is not being tackled in a game situation. The ball can be passed and shot from the walking position. (Illustration #54.)

Illustration 54 - Walking the ball -
notice ball being 'stroked through'

STOPPING AND  CHANGING DIRECTION: While playing the game of Water Polo, players constantly need to change direction. Young players should be taught to stop and change direction at an early stage of their Water Polo careers.

To come to an abrupt stop, simply lift the head, drop both arms approximately twelve inches below the surface of the water and push forward with open, slightly cupped hands. By lifting the head, the legs will immediately drop to a deeper position. At this point, to aid in the braking action, players should spread their legs in breaststroke fashion. (Illustration # 55.) To start forward again, have the player drop his/her head back into the water, give an explosive lunge kick, and return to front crawl swimming.

Illustration 55 - Applying the
brakes to complete a quick stop.

To turn ninety degrees to the left, the underwater pulling arm (in this case the left arm) should interrupt its pull approximately half-way through the normal pulling action and thrust to the right across and underneath the body. The elbow is further bent to aid with this explosive, thrusting motion. The right, or recovering arm, is thrown ninety degrees across the front of the body and toward the left side. The head turns in the same direction and follows the arm around in the turning motion. The legs gather behind the buttocks to allow for a quick and tighter turn; they then thrust downward to execute the lunge kick. (Illustrations #56, 57, 58.) This will increase acceleration as the player completes the turn. To turn to the right, simply reverse the action.

Ilustration 56 - Preparing to
start a 90 degree left turn.
Illustration 57 - 90 degree left
turn with right arm (recovery arm)
thrown across front of body.
Illustration 58 - Finishing off
the 90 degree turn.

To completely reverse direction (one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn), the player generally will start the turn on the side more comfortable to him/her. Even though young players will favor a side, they should practice to develop the one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn to each side. To execute this turn on the left side, shorten the arm recovery and pulling motion of the front crawl stroke, forcibly reverse the direction of the left or underwater pulling arm, and thrust it toward the front of the body in a scooping, underhand motion. Draw the legs up tight and under the body, swing the head and right arm over the water, to the left rear. This will change position of the upper body so it is facing in the opposite direction. The drawn up legs then execute the lunge kick and the player momentarily drops his/her head back into the water to aid with acceleration and a return to the front crawl stroke. (Illustrations #59, 60, 61.) To practice this turn to the right, simply reverse the actions.

Illustration 59 - Start of 180
degree turn to left side.
Illustration 60 - Head turned,
legs drawn up, right arm swings
while left arm scoops.
Illustration 61 - Finishing off
left 180 degree turn.

The one-hundred-and-eighty degree change of direction turn also can be executed directly from the stomach to the back. To complete this movement, scoop forward with the pulling arm, lift the head, draw the legs up behind the buttocks, reverse direction with the recovering arm stroke and change from the front crawl to the backstroke recovery motion. The head is forcibly thrust straight back, as in the backstroke wall start maneuver. As the legs emerge from underneath the body, they execute a lunge kick (elementary back inverted breaststroke-type kick) and resume the flutter kick. As the player comes off the reverse turn, he/she can stay on the back or roll to the stomach to continue in the opposite direction (Illustrations #62, #63, #64, #65.)

Illustration 62 - Start of 180
degree turn, stomach to back.
Illustration 63 - Reversing
direction, legs dropping while
arms scoop in breaking action.
Illustration 64 - Crossing to back,
180 degree turn stomach to back.
Illustration 65 - Finishing 180
degree stomach to back turn by
rolling back to stomach and starting'
front crawl stroke.