Learning and Teaching the Basics  


Shooting: Part 3

   Monte Nitzkowski


There are a number of names used to describe this type of shooting, Drive Shooting being the most common (and correct) term. Horizontal Shooting and Off-The-Water Shooting are other terms often used.

Drive shooting is an important part of the game and young players need to master Drive Shooting techniques. Ninety-five percent of drive shots come from a pass from the two-meter position to a driving player. For drive shooting to be effective, a special passing relationship must be developed between the Two-Meter player and the Driver.

Over the course of a game, a number of passes will be made by the Two-Meter player to the Driver. The location of the pass is dependent on the position and the angle of the drive and the positioning of the defensive players. It is critical for teams to develop a disciplined driving philosophy. Otherwise, offensive turnovers will be numerous and scoring opportunities lost. In our sport, most turnovers come from the Two-Meter player's pass to either a Driver or releasing perimeter player.


The Driver, once inside the defender, oftentimes will get the pass from the Two-Meter player. At this point, the Driver must be well versed in what type of shot should be taken.

Over the years, coaches have worked with four basic drive shots (or what I might call "off the water shots"). (Basically, any shot taken from the horizontal position can be termed a drive shot. About fifty percent of the shots taken from the drive will be "wet," or "off-the- water shots," while the other fifty percent will be "dry" in nature.) The four drive shots which have received most attention are the rear back, the "T" shot (also known as the scoop and bat), the push or screw shot and the pop shot. Each has its place but, in my opinion, they are limited in effectiveness and have been overrated as the answer to drive shooting. Let's first take a look at each of these four drive shots then, later, discuss what I feel to be a superior array of drive shots.

THE REAR BACK: This is the most taught and used drive shot in American Water Polo. It definitely has a place in drive shooting and, again in my opinion, is the most valuable of the four commonly taught drive shots. The idea of the rear back is to drive hard, get the defender moving hard in an effort to guard the drive, then rear up and back away from the defender and take the ball dry from the Two-Meter player. (Illustrations #96, 97, 98.)

Illustration 96 - Start of drive preceding rear
back shot.
Illustration 97 - Driver rearing up and ready
to receive pass from two meter player.

Illustration 98 - Player reared up with ball
and ready for a quick release shot

When received, the ball should be shot immediately, beating both the defender and the goalie with quickness. Seldom should faking take place with the rear back. Quickness is the answer with this shot.

The rear back is an exciting move and can create an excellent shot. But when executing a rear back, the player has not gotten inside the defender on the drive. If a team runs only rear backs on their drives, it's an admission that the Drivers are not capable of getting inside water on their defenders. Each drive should start with the idea of beating the defense to the inside; the rear back should be used only when this, in fact, does not happen. Once inside, the Driver must use something other than a rear back. Seldom will European players be seen executing the rear back. Their intention is to create inside water and, if that is impossible, to move through and clear the two meter area for the next Driver or the two-meter shot. I've seen American Drivers get inside water then rear back into the defenders they have beaten. The players simply did not know, under the circumstances, what other type of shot to take. The rear back is an excellent drive shot, but should be taken only when the situation requires its use.

THE 'T' SHOT: Another popular and commonly taught drive shot, is the "T" shot. When successful, it can look spectacular. While the Driver is swimming, the ball is "Teed" (like a golf ball) on one palm and batted or pushed off the "T" with the opposite side hand. (Illustrations #99, 100, 101.)

Illustration 99 - 'T' shot with ball teed on
players' hand.
Illustration 100 - 'T' shot — finger tips
meeting ball.

Illustration 101 - 'T' shot with ball in flight.

This is done in full stroke and the shot, properly taken, can be difficult for the goalie to see. It's an easy shot to learn but difficult to perfect. With the Bronze Medal 1972 United States Olympic Water Polo Team, there was only one player I felt comfortable letting take this shot (Russ Webb). With the 1980 and Silver Medal 1984 Olympic Teams, only Joe Vargas used it to any great extent.

The problem with the "T" shot is finding the occasion for its effective use. At the end of a counterattack, in one on no one situations, the angle of approach to the goal may be such that the "T" shot can be used, but accuracy cannot be guaranteed. If you are one on no one with the breakaway in a counterattack, percentages will tell you to pick up the ball, come to the vertical or semi-vertical, and move the goalie before taking the shot. If there is time, a player always should come to the vertical and put away the ball. Otherwise, the player should stay horizontal, move the goalie, and wrist shoot the ball from in front of the body.

The three best driving locations are the eleven, twelve and one o'clock positions. If the defense is playing well (most teams will be playing proper position defense on Drivers), scoring angles to the goal will be greatly reduced. (See Diagram #7.)

Diagram 7

With a cross drive from the one o'clock or eleven o'clock positions, the angle to the goal makes the "T" an impractical shot. In fact, when the defense is playing well in the half court, there are few places where the "T" shot will be effective. Remember, as they approach the goal, Drivers must contend with the angle the defense has given. In addition, they must deal with a defender on or near their back or side; the defender on the Two-Meter specialist who may switch; and the Goalkeeper. Since the "T" shot requires time and space to set up, its effectiveness is extremely limited. Although I teach the shot, little time is spent with it during shooting drills.

THE PUSH OR SCREW SHOT: This shot has many of the same limitations as the "T" shot. Pushing the ball while swimming or driving is a great way to make a pass and it can be used to shoot as well. The problem here is that when the defense is beaten, bringing the ball back to the shoulder (the position from where this shot is started) may be a big mistake. Once inside on the defender, the Driver probably will want to keep the ball as far away from the defender as possible, particularly if the defender is larger than the Driver. The push shot brings the ball back toward the defender. Also, in narrow spaces it may be a difficult shot to place in different parts of the goal, away from the Goalkeeper. As with the "T" shot, players should have an understanding of the push shot. When practicing pushing the ball, I prefer to work on it extensively during passing drills but only a limited time during shooting drills. (Illustrations #102, 103, 104.)

Illustration 102 - Start of push shot

Illustration 103 - Ball drawn back,
ready to take push shot.

Illustration 104 - Ball being shot from push
shot position.

THE POP SHOT: This shot is used commonly and with some success when the Driver is quite close to the goal. With the pop shot, the Driver lifts the ball into the air with one hand, then reaches with the other hand and tries to direct (steer) the ball around the Goalkeeper and into the goal. (Illustrations # 105,
106, 107.) (I usually describe it as "When all else fails, there is always the pop shot.") The problem with the pop shot is, as soon as the ball is popped into the air, it's anyone's ball. The tall mobile Goalkeeper oftentimes can reach up and steal the ball. Again, as with the other commonly taught drive shots, players should know the shot, but not be encouraged to use it past a few limited circumstances or situations.

Illustration 105 - Ball being positioned for
pop shot.
Illustration 106 - Ball in air with player
ready to take pop shot.

Illustration 107 - Ball being caught and shot
from pop shot positioning.

The method of off-the-water (drive) shooting taught to my teams is quite different. In the early 1980's, I searched for a method which would improve our driving game, allow for greater ball control and lead to high percentage drive shots. Ball control is the key to successful front court offense but we found that our Two-Meter specialists were getting too many turnovers, usually not their faults. Drives were starting too late; perimeter releases were slow and incorrect; Drivers were driving with no discipline in their patterns. I developed a system of Two-Meter player and Driver "readouts" which greatly simplified the life of the Two-Meter specialist. First, this player (Two-Meter specialist) was trained to get to the ball and get it up and ready to play within one-and-a-half seconds. With this accomplished, Drivers could time their drives based on distance away from the face of the goal.

Once the timing between the Two-Meter player and the Driver had been disciplined into a consistent pattern, we learned to "read" the position of the defender on the Driver—the location of the defender trying to guard the Driver. This had to be understood by both the Two-Meter player and the Driver. With the timing of the drive, and knowing the exact position of the defender guarding the Driver, all Drivers reacted to what was being given by the defense. As a result, the Two-Meter player always knew where the Driver was going. Once this was established, if the pass were to be made to a Driver (providing the Driver was up on the defender and no other outside defenders were dropping back to help), the Two-Meter player would locate the ball to this Driver. I use the word "locate" because this is exactly what we did. Each pass to the Driver was placed or located in a position which was determined by the angle of the drive, the side on which the drive was taking place, and the position of the defender attempting to guard the Driver. Although it sounds complex, the system is really quite simple and quickly learned by both Driver and Two-Meter specialist. Once this is mastered, turnovers are greatly reduced and percentage drive shots become available.

To further explain, let's start with the Two-Meter player's pass to the Driver. On all drives moving to the Two-Meter player's left, the ball will be placed wet (on the water) to righthanders and dry to lefthanders. The procedure is reversed with drives going to the right (the ball will be dry to righthanders and wet to lefthanders). Immediately, recognition between the Two-Meter player and the Driver has been simplified.