Learning and Teaching the Basics  


Passing the Ball: Part 2

   Monte Nitzkowski


There are a number of basic structures which can be used for passing drills. To meet the needs of the moment, coaches should vary structures as well as types of passes. Players should spend some time each day practicing their passing skills. With younger players, a great deal of time should be spent on passing. No matter what the age and experience level of the team, once players have warmed up and conditioned, they should begin to pass. (Only after shoulders are sufficiently warmed should shooting drills begin.) Passing drills should be designed to teach both vertical and horizontal passing.

Drill Structures:


TWO-ON-TWO STRAIGHT-LINE STRUCTURE: The most basic of all passing structures, Two on Two Straight Line Passing is a must. To start, players should face each other a goal width apart. As a warm-up, begin simple, dominant arm dry passing. See Diagram #1. (Illustration #74.)

Diagram 1 Illustration 74 - Goal width
apart, two line right hand
passing drill

Water Polo programs should have enough balls to provide one ball for each two passers. Two-on-Two-Straight-Line Passing allows the coach to monitor each pair carefully and make necessary individual corrections. Virtually every imaginable vertical passing drill can be worked into this structure dominant side, dry passing; off-hand passing; right-to-left, left-to-right passing; turn shoulder to the inside, catch and spin; (Illustration # 75.) stroke away, pass wet or dry, etc. (Illustrations *76A, 76B.) As arms loosen, the distance between partners can be increased to allow for more difficult passing sequences. If the Two-on-Two-Straight-Line Passing Drill is used as a prelude to vertical shooting drills, players can finish their warmup by faking, then shooting the ball hard into the water in front of the partner. The partner simply helps block the ball, picks it up, fakes and shoots back toward the other partner.

Illustration 75 - Right
shoulder turned in, catch
and 360 degree spin.
Illustration 76A - Two lines, stroke away,
roll to back and pass wet to partner.
Illustration 76B - Stroke
away passing drill.

TRIANGLE STRUCTURE:  The Triangle Structure for passing is extremely useful both for the number and types of passes which can be created and for its practicality. Triangle passing drills are a great way to go. To accommodate teams with large numbers, many triangles can be fit into limited water space. See Diagram #2 (Illustration #77.)

Diagram 2 Illustration 77 – Triangle passing drill.

CIRCLE STRUCTURES: Personally, I spend most of my passing practice time in either Two-on-Two-Straight-Line or Triangle Passing Structures. On occasion, and to break the monotony, coaches should insert Circle Passing Structures. I use Circle Patterns to add fun and competition to passing practice. Circle patterns can be run with or without a player in the middle of the circle.

Illustration 78 Illustration 79
Illustration 78 - Circle Passing.   Illustration 79 - Circle passing drill, player
in middle of circle.

Examples of several competitive passing drills which can add fun and excitement to practice are: First Team to Reach 100 Passes (circles compete against each other to see which group can make 100 "clean" passes first); The Last Team to Drop the Ball—This is a variation where the team which keeps the ball "dry" for the longest period of time (not letting it touch the water) is the winner. Both of these drills fit well into circle patterns and can be a lot of fun. Losing
teams can swim extra laps or "pull" the goals at the end of practice. See Diagram #3. (Illustration # 78, 79.)

Diagram 3 - Circle pattern. Circle pattern
with player in the midle die to direct passing

Before concluding the discussion on vertical passing, let's look at a number of fundamental passing skills which young players need to develop. Although any of the vertical passing structures can be used in this learning sequence, for purposes of discussion let's use the Triangle Structure to demonstrate sequential passing skill development. The Triangle Structure puts three to a ball and allows for quick and repetitive action. Players in a triangle should start two to four meters apart.

WARMUP: All players should get their shoulders and arms warmed up with simple, short dry passes. As most players are righthanded, start clockwise, using the dominant side arm to receive and pass the ball.

LEGS: Follow the same passing direction as in (1.) but concentrate on the legs, kicking up high to receive and pass the ball.

OFF HAND PASSING: Practice passing lefthanded (counter clockwise) around the triangle. With young players, every effort should be made to develop passing skills with both arms.

CATCH AND SPIN: Back to the right hand, and staying counter clockwise, turn the right shoulder toward the passer, catch, spin and pass to the next player.

WET PASS: In either direction, pass wet, forcing players to pick up the ball from underneath, rebalance the body and pass. This also can be accomplished by passing dry, dropping the ball, then picking it up from underneath and passing.

CHEST FAKE: Clockwise and righthanded, fake, chest lift, lock aim then wrist pass the ball.

FADE AND PASS: Fade left or right while faking, then make the pass.

TIP PASS: Tighten triangle then reach and tip (hot potato) ball around the triangle. Tip drills are good to soften hands for receiving the ball.

CATCH, STROKE AWAY, LAYOUT THEN PASS: Try this drill with both right and left hands and in each direction.

MOVING TRIANGLE: Triangle pass but with players all moving in a given direction around the triangle. Do this first to the right, then to the left.

BACKHAND PASSING: Counter clockwise, backhand pass with right shoulder turned toward passer to receive and pass the ball.

PUSH PASS: Clockwise, push pass dry, catch and drop ball to water's surface, then make the next push pass. This should be practiced in both directions around the triangle, working the right hand push pass first, followed by
the left hand push pass.

RANDOM PASS: Pass goes anywhere in the triangle.

CATCH LEFT, PASS RIGHT: Catch the pass with the left hand, swing ball over to the right hand and make next pass. This drill should start counter clockwise,
then reverse to clockwise, concentrating on passing with the left hand.

Create your own drills. Remember, drills need to be designed to teach players to practice passing from a number of different body positions and with both hands.


There are many different passing-swimming drills and
structures which coaches can initiate. The coach is limited
only by the imagination. Let me list a few which might be

RECTANGLE PASSING  STRUCTURE: With rectangle passing, set up four players, two to a side. See Diagram #4.

Diagram 4

The rectangle structure is ideal for passing while dribbling and swimming. countless passing sequences can be used. Examples: Layout away and wet pass;
dry timing passes; hook and/or square-out passing, etc.

FISH POND PASSING: Fish Pond Passing is another fun drill. Two to a ball, players spread out throughout the pool. The first drill calls for one of the partners to pass, then immediately break and prepare to receive the ensuing pass from the partner. The pass is taken wet and while in the swimming mode. The player receiving the ball balances his/her body, then makes a pass to the breaking partner. All passes in the first drill must be thrown wet. Partners can play four to six meters apart, thereby forcing short passes or they
can spread out to get greater range on each pass. The Fish Pond Wet Drill should be run for four or five minutes then switched to the Fish Pond Dry Drill. With the Fish Pond Dry Drill, after throwing the pass, the player should break following the pass, then release and take the return pass dry. The
Fish Pond Drill teaches a number of important techniques such as wet and dry passing, body balance to pass and pass-and-break philosophy. (In Water Polo, a great way to get free of a defender in the pass-and-beak move.) See Diagram #5.

Diagram 5 - Partners working in the Fish Pond Drill.

SIX-ON-THE-LINE PASSING DRILL: More advanced, this drill also can be fun and challenging. Line six players across the four-meter line at one end of the pool, Goalkeepers in both goals, each with an extra ball. On the coach's whistle, all six players start to drive down the pool. After several strokes, the player on the far left squares or hooks and takes the pass from the Goalkeeper. The player to the far right times his/her release to take the ball dry from the player receiving the Goalkeeper's pass. The second player in from the left side makes the next square and times the release to take the ball dry. After passing, each player making the pass MUST break at full speed to get back into line. The drill continues down the pool with a number of diagonal, dry passes until the ball is caught and shot at the opposite end goal. With this shot, the defending goalie grabs whichever ball is most convenient and passes to the releasing player to his/her far left as the drill continues back in the same manner toward the end from which it started. With the shot, players must immediately break in the opposite direction and the    drill continues until the ball is caught dry and shot at the end where the players started their original drive. Six new players now line up and the drill begins again. See Diagram #6.

Diagram 6

There are several variations to this drill. (1) Random Squares—Instead of diagonal, cross-pool releasing, any player can release for the ball. This forces creative, shorter and quicker passes. It can be a challenge. (2) When the ball touches the water, the drill continues. In this sequence, all
passes must be caught dry as the team goes up and back. Any pass which touches the water negates that directional drive

Players must continue the drill until they successfully get up and back with all dry passes. (3) Miss the shot and the drill continues until a goal is scored at each end. This may force a great number of trips up and down the pool. Remember, regardless of the variation, as soon as the ball is passed each player must break quickly back into line. This is important for proper operation of the drill.

In addition to passing drills for improvement of individual passing fundamentals, tactical passing drills are critical to team success. If the offensive game is to be developed properly, coaches must incorporate counterattack, frontcourt and six-on-five tactical passing drills into their practice schedules.

Tactical passing drills are presented in great number and detail in my recently published book, United States Tactical Water Polo.

To maintain player interest, fundamental skills passing drills constantly need to be changed. Coaches must be creative, inventing different drills to meet their practice needs.