Learning and Teaching the Basics  


Shooting: Part 2

   Monte Nitzkowski


Most shots taken by the Two-Meter Player are from the vertical or semi-vertical position. The only exception to this is the Layout Shot which is taken while the Two-Meter Player is releasing on the back.

Once the Two-Meter Player has received the ball and decided to shoot, he/she must be able to judge which is the best shot to take. Most often this will be determined by the position of the Two-Meter Guard and the type of individual and team defense being used by the opponents. I recommend that three basic shots be learned by Two-Meter players. Each of these shots is taken from the vertical position.

LEFT AND RIGHT HAND SWEEPS: Perfecting the sweep shot is a must for all Two-Meter players. They must learn to sweep with both the left and right hands so the defense cannot effectively take away the shot by overplaying one side or the other. The sweep should be taught in shallow water with the Two-Meter player standing on the bottom. (Illustration #82.)

Illustration 82 - Standing on
bottom while practicing hole
forward right hand sweep shot.

Once the correct arm positioning and body rotation have been mastered, the player will move to deep water in front of the goal to continue practicing. The dominant arm side should be taught first, but always have the player begin practicing with the weak arm at an early stage. Once the player starts getting off the shot properly, place a "light" defense behind him/her, making sure the defender keeps his/her face away from the sweep side. The defender should overplay one side, then the other, while the Two-Meter player practices the sweep shot against light defense. When the shot is perfected, the defense can toughen up and force the Two-Meter player to find which arm or side should be used.

Fundamentally, in shooting the sweep, I stress a straight arm release (if the elbow is bent when sweeping, the ball will carry high and will come within range for the defender to block). The shot should sweep low and with force. Rotation (in the direction of the shot) of the head, chin, shoulder and hip will put velocity into the shot. When releasing the ball from the rotation, the player's position should resemble that of a discus thrower. (Illustrations #83, 84, 85 and 86.)

Illustration 83 - Sweeping ball right handed,
shoulder and head rotated, arm straight.
Illustration 84 - Right hand sweep, ball released.
Illustration 85 - Standing on bottom practicing
left hand sweep.
Illustration 86 - Left hand sweep, ball ready
to release.

BACKHAND SHOTS: The backhand shot is relatively easy to learn and can be used to counter the defender when he/she is overplaying the sweep. It's a spectacular shot and the fans love it. But, unfortunately, some players will go for the backhand when another shot is needed, simply because the backhand looks good. This shot has its purpose, but should be used only when required. To be especially effective, players should learn to shoot the backhand with both right and left hands.

Physically, the backhand is easier to teach than the other hole shots, and it takes less time to perfect. It is definitely a "muscle" shot and, as aforementioned, should be used when defenders are overplaying a side. (The decision for the Two-Meter player will be whether to take the backhand, try an offhand sweep, or try to turn the defender and go for the "turn shot.")

For righthanders, the backhand shot is most often used when the defender is over-playing the left shoulder, leaving a left-hand sweep or right-hand backhand as the best shooting options. Most righthanders will prefer the backhand in this situation.

The backhand can be taken with the arm either bent or straight. Players working for power tend to cup the ball between palm and wrist, bend the elbow and, using the defender for leverage, muscle the ball to the goal. (Illustrations #87, 88.)

Illustration 87 - Power backhand shooting
Illustration 88 - Power backhand.

This type of backhand shortens the range between defender and shooting arm but still provides enough distance to get off the shot. Definitely the ball will travel with great velocity and generally will bring an "ooh" from the crowd. The other type of backhand is thrown from a straight-arm position. The ball is wrist shot (not cupped between wrist and palm), sacrificing power for quickness and surprise. (Illustration #89.) Both shots can be effective, but each must be used at the proper moment.

Backhands and sweeps come at the goal with a lot of velocity but are hard to direct. However, as Two-Meter players gain in experience, they will learn to get the ball low and to the corners with their sweeps, and to time the release of the backhand to get better ball direction.

Illustration 89 - Straight arm backhand.

TURN-AROUND SHOTS:  All Two-Meter players must learn to shoot turn-arounds. This shot is used when the defender is overplaying a shoulder. If the ball is passed in properly from the perimeter (pass placed so the Two-Meter player can turn the defender), the turn-around can be a high percentage shot—much higher percentage than sweeps and backhands. (Illustrations # 90, 91, 92, 93.)

Illustration 90 - Start of turn shot to left.
Player passing ball to two meter player for start
of turn.
Illustration 91 - Turn shot to left, ball at two
Illustration 92 - Ball up, defender turned,
two meter player ready for wrist shot.
Illustration 93 - Completion of turn shot
to left with ball being wrist shot.

The key is proper ball placement with the inbound pass. In my opinion, the in-bound pass to the Two-Meter player is one of the most important passes in Water Polo. Too often, young players will put the ball safely to the Two-Meter pplayer, but not in a place to out position the defender. When the ball is properly placed, many times the Two-Meter player will be in position to turn the defender and set up a shot, ejection, or possible four-meter call. It creates what I term high percentage front court offensive Water Polo. As the Two-Meter player turns toward the goal, he/she lifts the ball from underneath, holds it in palm of hand, reads the Goalkeeper's posi tion then power wrist shoots the ball into the goal. The perimeter pass to the Two-Meter player helps out position the defender. The Two-Meter player simply uses leg and body strength and size to finish the turn and shoot. No "hooking" the defender with leg or arm is required. Young players tend to want to hook the defender. Not only is this not necessary, but hooking most often leads to an offensive foul, taking away a great scoring opportunity.

OTHER TWO-METER SHOTS: Although I don't personally recommend them, there are several other shots which can be taken from two meters. The most often used probably would be the "layout shot," where the Two-Meter player lays out, away from the goal and on his/her back. This move generally will put some distance between the Two-Meter player and the defender. The ball is released by the shooter when he/she is on the back in the layout position. (Illustrations #94, 95.)

Illustration 94 - Layout shot. Illustration 95 - Layout shot with defender.

For three reasons, I don't recommend spending a lot of time teaching the layout: Frequently the Two-Meter player gets called for "pushing off' when laying out (sometimes, the more effective the layout, the quicker the offensive foul is called, which is particularly true at the international level of play); with the Two- Meter player moving back, away from the goal, a "dropping defense" makes the layout shot doubly difficult to achieve; it's difficult to get a lot of velocity on a ball shot from the back and, because of the position of release, the ball will tend to carry high.

Another shot taken from the hole is what I call the overthe-shoulder wrist shot. Rather than sweeping or backhanding the ball, the Two-Meter player will try for the surprise, quick shot over the shoulder on the side away from the defender. Although a "cute" shot, it allows for little velocity or control of the ball's direction. The shot relies entirely on quickness and surprise; the problem is, your own team may be more surprised than the defense and be out positioned by the counterattack!

My motto is: Keep shooting simple at two meters. Rely on selection of the correct shot based on positioning, quickness and strength. Remember, the Two- Meter player is there for other reasons as well. Water Polo is a game of six field players and if the Two-Meter player is to orchestrate the offense, he/she must be playing the "total" game at all times. Only then will a team have consistent success.