Situation Fundamentals – Part 1

Robert Gaughran
California All Sports Clinic

During the past decade. there has been tremendous improvement in the caliber of play on all levels of water polo. This is due to the fact that the coaches have been doing a good job of instructing the fundamentals of ball handling, shooting, guarding, and swimming. There has also been a great increase in the number of boys and girls playing the sport. Age group swimming has lured many good athletes away from other sports, and water polo has reaped the benefits as the second sport for these athletes.

With the above mentioned reasons, there are still those coaches who find it diffi­cult to win consistently against comparable competition. One of the main reasons for this may be the lack of instruction to the players of "situation fundamentals." The "situation fundamental" is a reaction to certain situations that arise during the play­ing of a game of water polo. Players who are schooled in the fundamentals often be­come confident players who are able to diagnose many situations around them. These players are rarely "stung" because they are unaware of what is happening.

Some of the "situation fundamentals" which I feel are among the most important to the success of any water polo team are as follows:

1. Defense: A person in a forward position must assume an immediate defensive position on his/her opponent when the person’s team loses the ball

2. Defense: Play in front of center forward or opponent or opponent playing this position.

3. Defense: Keep constant pressure on your opponent.

4. Offense: When breaking attempt to break on the "ball side” of your opponent.

5. Offense: Center forward – stay in front of your defender.

6. Offense: Strive for quick goal on close-in free throws.

7. Offense and Defense: Keep your head up and your eye on the ball at all times.

I will now try to define these fundamental moves to the best of my ability.

1. Forwards Must Assume An Immediate Defensive Position

In water polo, no matter on what level we talk, the goal is usually scored by a free person who gets the fast break or jump on the defender reacting immediately to the ball changing hands.

This situation is most often created when the offensive team is unexpectedly placed on defense by:

a. an intercepted pass,

b. a missed shot, or

c. a free throw awarded to the opposition.

The free man situation is achieved by the man in the offensive guard position (made offensive by a, b, and c) immediately reacting to the situation and breaking uncovered down the pool.

This type of free person situation can best be avoided by the forwards on the defensive team immediately assuming a defensive position. The defensive position which is most desirable is accomplished by the forward immediately blocking his/her person from swim­ming down the pool. By placing the person’s body between his/her opponent and the opponents goal or by cutting the opponents path to the goal. Do this and you can accomplish the following four things:

a. Discourage your opponent from breaking down the pool by blocking the opponents path to his/her goal.

b. Effectively hinder your opponent’s value as a passer by applying pressure from the direction the opponent is attempting to throw, and thus, causing the passer to have his/her back to the potential receivers.

c. Make it much easier to cover your opponent when the opponent decides to go to his/her offense end of the tank.

d. By applying pressure to the opponent from this defensive position, it better enables teammates, who are (we hope) swimming either to the side or in front of their person to intercept down pool passes

2. Play In Front Of Center Forward Or Opponent PlayingG This Position

When competing against a team that incorporates the center forward style of play, it is essential for the defender to play in front of the center forward so all passes to the center forward can be contested by the defender.

If forced to assume a rear defending position then even the greatest center forward defender in the game can not stop a good center forward every time he/she attempts a shot. Furthermore, the person who defends the center forward from behind often times will be forced to foul in order to effectively stop the center forward from scoring. And, frequently during the season this type of guarding technique will result in the defender fouling out early in the contest.

Playin behind the center forward also gives the opposing center forward the best position for passing in the pool. A position which allows the center forward to sit in the center of the scoring area with full view of the entire pool. After a foul on the center forward the center forward can easily pass the ball to any of his/her free teammates who are in front of him/her. All the center forward’s teammates and opponents are in front of him/her and can be kept in sight because the defender is playing the center forward from behind.

Again playing behind the center forward allows the center forward to receive the ball in the best scoring area possible, right in front of the goal about 2-3 yards distance from the cage. Under this situation, the goalie has little chance of stopping the ball if it is shot at the goal with any force at all; unless, of course, it is a poorly aimed shot and the ball hits the goalie

If, on the other hand, if the defender plays in front of the center forward, then the defender will be able to:

a. intercept most passes thrown from any appreciable distanceto the center forward,

b. push the center forward toward the two yard line where the center forward can be double teamed by the defender and the goalie,

c. get the jump on the center forward when the ball changes possession,

d. keep the team members alerted to any scoring situations, and

e. eliminate the center forward as a ball control position for your opponents.

3. Keep Constant Pressure On Your Person

There is no singler method that aloows the defender to keep pressure on his or her person; howeve, pressuring your person is one of the most important skills in the game of water polo. It is a “situationfundamental" which incorporates a great number of skilled techniques.

The main purpose of the pressure defense is to reduce the effectiveness of your opponent as an offensive player. This purpose is accomplished by the defensive player placing him/herself in a better position to:

a. block passes,

b. hinder passes,

c. intercept passes,

d. discourage offensive breaks, and

e. more effectively stop attempts at scoring on the part of the opponent.

A key to good pressure defense is anticipation. An experienced player who is able to foresee an offensive move or pass before it is apparent to the inexperienced player has learned the skill of anticipation. This skill is enhanced greatly if the defensive player is close to his/her person or is pressuring his/her person, and, thus, is in a better position to take advantage of any situation which might arise.

It is safe to say that more pass interceptions are caused by pressure being applied to the passer by the defender than by any other reason. Pressure causes the passer to hurry, and thus, to forget the necessary caution that eliminates many bad passes.

4. When Breaking – Break On The Ball Side Of Your OpponentT

When attempting to receive a pass from a teammate who is being closely guarded, it is very important that the potential receiver of the pass to be on the ball side of his/her defender.

When a person begins his/her break, he/she should make his/her initial move on the ball side of the person’s defender. This will enable the person to:

a. better keep an eye on the ball and any potential pass that might be thrown to him/her,

b. eliminate the easy interception from the defender,

c. reduce loss of the ball due to the short pass or deflected pass

d. prevent most pass interceptions which could cause the ball to change hands, and put the person on defense.


(For the most part I tried to keep the content of Robert Gaughran’s original hand-out " Situation Water Polo " intact; however, I did take a few liberties with the original work. I changed the outline form, updated some of his terms, and edited a few sentences for my own clarity. Robert said essentially that I could do with his hand-outs what I pleased, and hopefully, what I did would please him. Place your mouse pointer on Robert's photograph and see how he looked when he wrote the handouts.- Doc)