Learning and Teaching the Basics  


Player Positions

   Monte Nitzkowski

Like all team sports, Water Polo has certain playing positions for which individuals must be trained. By title, these positions are: Goalkeeper; Defensive Specialist; Driver; and Two-Meter Specialist. Goalkeeper techniques and skills differ greatly from those required for field position players. Therefore, Goalkeeper's responsibilities, techniques, skills and training will be considered in a separate chapter.

No matter what a player's position specialty, there are certain general fundamentals, skills and techniques in which all field players must be trained.

Briefly, field players must be strong swimmers (well versed in the front crawl and backstroke), have good leg support (eggbeater and flutter kicks) and be able to pass and shoot the ball. No matter what the individual specialty may be, all field players will have numerous opportunities to pass and shoot the ball.


Generally, these are players who have primary responsibility for defending against the opponent's Two-Meter specialist. Where possible, Defensive specialists should be tall players with good leg support, long arms, individual toughness and good swimming ability. They must be able to counterattack, taking the opponent's Two-Meter specialist down the tank with each offensive turnover.

Defensively, they must be taught how to defend against the opponent's Two- Meter player. They must learn to defend both from in front and behind this player. When defending from behind, Defensive specialists must keep their hips up and, where possible, play slightly off the Two-Meter player's body, closing quickly when the ball arrives at the two-meter position. They must learn to play behind and to the side (not directly behind) the Two-Meter player and, as best as possible, take away the shooting side. (Illustration #129.)

Illustration 129 - Defending two meter player
from behind and slightly to side position.

When the ball reaches the Two-meter position and is controlled by the Two-Meter specialist, Defensive specialists generally need to foul, taking care to play the ball (not the Two-Meter player) and being careful not to sink or pull back on this player. Defensive specialists must be mobile and, depending on the location of the ball and the Two- Meter player's position, take away one side or the other. They must be able to move quickly from one side to the other. As much as possible, they should avoid playing directly behind the Two-Meter player. When defending directly behind, it is difficult to reach the ball and the Two-Meter player is given greater shooting opportunities. Also, from this position, it is difficult to reach the ball without first making major contact with the Two-Meter player's body. When caught behind and wanting to move to a front or side position, the Defensive Specialist should commit a safe and early foul and attempt to refront as the ball is being passed by the Two-Meter player.

Knowledge of the opponent, attainable only through scouting, is of utmost importance to the Defensive specialist. In order to defend successfully against the Two-Meter player, the defender must learn as much as possible about that player's skills (preferred types of shots, ability to turn defenders to either side, speed in picking up the ball, ability to hold position, etc.). SCOUTING IS CRITICAL!

When guarding the Two-Meter player from in front, most defenders prefer to face-guard (face toward the Two-Meter player). (Illustration #130.)

Illustration 130 - Fronting the two meter
player from a face to face position.

When taking this position, Two-Meter defenders should constantly turn their head outward in order to monitor the position of the ball on the perimeter and anticipate the incoming pass. As much as possible, the Defender should front in an effort to prevent the incoming pass reaching the Two-Meter player. Some Defensive specialist with great leg support will front the Two-Meter player while facing to the outside. (Illustration #131.)

Illustration 131 - Fronting the Two-Meter
player from a "facing out" position — back
pressed into Two-Meter player.

To do so, the defender will pressure back into the offensive player, keeping complete physical contact with the back against the Two-Meter player while monitoring the ball on the perimeter. When a pass is made to try to out position the defender, he/she should turn toward the Two-Meter player and move quickly to a non-ejection position.

A Defensive specialist who chooses to defend from in front should do so only out to the four-meter line. At that point, a side position should be taken. If a Defensive specialist attempts to front outside the four-meter line, there is danger of being outpositioned and a proper placement pass to the Two-Meter player will put this defender in position to be ejected or commit a penalty-throw foul.

Coaches must spend time with their Defensive specialist, teaching them how to foul effectively without being ejected, how to position against certain Two-Meter players and how to reposition when necessary. Special drills for defending against the Two-Meter player need to be developed and taught. Proper preparation of Defensive specialists will reduce both the number of goals scored from two meters and the number of ejections. Preparing the team to limit the opponent's two-meter game is an important consideration and will go a long way toward creating a winning program.
Offensively, Defensive specialists should be good vertical shooters. Most of their shooting opportunities will occur on the perimeter. They must be adept at faking, cross passing and "quick release" shooting. They need to know how to shoot from the drive, but most often these shots will be taken by the smaller and quicker Driver specialists.


Playing this position requires individuals with good hands, quick-start ability and great amounts of tenacity. Along with the Two-Meter specialist, Drivers will be leading the offense. Generally, they are smaller in stature than Defensive and Two-Meter specialists, making for explosive starts and quickness in changing directions. They must love to play offense and never want to quit in there effort to get free, receive the ball and score a goal.

Drivers need to know all the drive shots (See Chapter Seven) and practice them daily. Many of their shots will come from a position close to the goal and "inside" their defender (between the defender and the goal). Drivers must be adept at off-water, wrist shooting. Also, they should be good vertical, semi-vertical, perimeter and counterattack shooters.

In addition to working on all their shots, Drivers need constant practice in quick-start and change-of-direction movements. Their job is to get free of defenders, receive the ball and take the shot. To do so, they must be constantly alert and focused. They need to practice all methods of getting free of defenders. These should include rear back, pass and go, stop and go and change of direction maneuvers.

Defensively, Drivers should try to matchup with their opponent's Drivers. They also can defend against Defensive specialists but should take special care not to have to guard the opponent's Two-Meter player. When occasionally caught in the position of guarding a Two-Meter specialist, Drivers should be taught to foul early and call for a first-foul switch. There can be exceptions to any rule, but generally it is a good idea to keep Drivers away from guarding Two-Meter players.

When guarding their counterparts, Drivers should use their swimming and change-of-direction abilities to maneuver with the opponent. While swimming, they should attempt to keep the body to the inside, between the driving opponent and the goal. They should expect "stairstep" help from fellow defenders when their opponent Driver is moving between seven and four meters. Defensively, they should use their arms to position their bodies, and refrain from hand checking and guarding with the arms until the opponent stops and comes to the vertical or semi-vertical position.

When talking defense, as a general rule of thumb (because of their size and quickness), Drivers tend to do a good job against swimming, driving opponents. They are at their defensive best in this type of situation. Conversely, because of size, they can get into trouble when trying to defend the big, vertical opponent, particularly the Two-Meter specialist.


Once the counterattack ends and the offense moves into position to begin their attack on the opponent's goal, the Two-Meter specialist becomes the key offensive player. He/she will move in front of the opponent's goal, between goal posts, at two to three meters out from the face of the cage. From here they will be stationed to direct the offense.

The Two-Meter position must be fielded by one or two of a team's best athletes. Where possible, they need good size, great leg support, good swimming ability and brains. They need to be stable individuals who will not "lose their cool" when being fouled. Their first order of business is the ability to reach the two-meter position. Then they must be able to gain position on their Defender, hold position as long as possible, recognize if a two-meter shot is available, absorb fouls and get the ball up and ready to pass to either a Driver or a releasing perimeter player. It's easy to see why this player must be one of your team's best and smartest athletes.

Two-Meter specialists must be able to shoot sweep shots, backhands and turn shots. (See Chapter Seven—Two-Meter Shots.)

Two-Meter specialists must be good wrist passers, with the ability to get the ball up quickly and make the correct pass. They are the "quarterbacks" of your offense.

Defensively, Two-Meter players generally matchup well against the opponent's Defensive specialists. Also, because of strength and overall physical ability, they generally can do a good job defending the opponent's Two-Meter specialist. The problem with this matchup is that Two-Meter defenders tend to be ejected more often than other field players. Coaches will need to think twice before asking the Two-Meter specialist to guard their counterparts. In the later stages of the game, when time is running out, this may be a defensive match-up worth considering.

Two-Meter specialists should receive extensive training in defending against Drivers. This matchup will occur often and the Two-Meter specialist must learn intelligent defense against Drivers. They should use a swimming, body positioning defense (the same as described for Drivers) when guarding Driving specialists.

Two-Meter specialists are so important to the team's offensive strategy, that they must be protected as much as possible from needless ejection fouls. Also, as their position is difficult to play effectively for the entire game, it's important to train several players for this position so each can have an occasional rest. With rest, they will stay strong and do a much better job of running the offense.