US National Men's Team Coach
A few months back, I wrote about sculling and how everyone in water polo needs to be able to do this skill effectively. Sculling is the base from which we will do our first three jumping skills. Let’s review sculling very quickly. The correct body position for this skill is to be laying (stomach down) slightly on your side in the water. Your body will be turned approximately 35 - 45 degrees in the water. You are in a feet first position (meaning that your feet are out in front of you and you are going to be traveling in the water with your feet first). One leg is lower in the water and one leg is up close to the surface of the water. The legs are moving in a bicycling motion and the athlete is trying to “grab” the water with the feet and legs in order to help pull the water moving the body backwards in the water (feet first). The arms/hands are also working to help propel the body backwards over the legs. The arms are moving in an “egg beater” type motion and trying to push water with each stroke of each arm/hand. As the arms do this “egg beater” type motion the hands are catching water and almost throwing water out in front of you to help propel you forward over your feet.
Once again, there are three different jumps that begin in this sculling position. They are a jump to a swimming position, a jump to a shot blocking position, and a jump to a lateral lunge towards 2 meters. In all of these jumps it is important to utilize what I call “coiling and springing”.
Here is how this works. As you sculling and preparing to jump your leg closest to the surface (the outstretched leg) will “grab” the water and this time instead of recovering and staying in the bicycling motion you will allow your body to be pulled over your legs. As your body comes over the legs you will pull your legs in towards your hips. This is the coiled position. You are now like a loaded spring ready to explode into your next move. Obviously, you do not want to stay with your hips down or underneath you – in fact, you are rotating over your legs with the legs slightly to one side or the other. As soon as your have rotated over your legs then you will spring forward or out of this position with a big breaststroke kick. As I mentioned earlier you can spring into a swimming motion (like you are playing driver defense) or you can spring into a shot blocking position or a jump towards the ball. To maximize the distance that you can jump you will need to utilize this coil and spring concept.
These jumps can all be practiced on your own in the water. Go through the motion very slowly and try use good technique before utilizing the skill. Remember that you want to develop good habits. Have your coach watch you from the deck and make sure that you are doing the skill correctly. Once you have the skill down, then you can begin to challenge yourself to see how much distance you can cover on your jumps. This is called your range. The best water polo players can cover the most distance on these jumps. These jumps are all critical to playing good defense.
Another very important type of jump occurs on the 5 man defense. These jumps are from the X1 and X3 position and now you are jumping into a shot blocking angle. You will still utilize this concept of coiling and springing. However, now you have to think about defending the post position as well. So you are no longer in the sculling position. On these jumps it is helpful to practice with another player to make the skill as game like as possible. You will set your self up like you are guarding the post on the 5 man defense (you can be at either X1 or X3). You are controlling the post and perhaps even thinking about shot blocking the near side shot from the perimeter. Think about where your legs are as you are doing this. Remember a fundamental skill that we talked about months ago – your body will follow your legs. So as you are preparing to jump out and take your shot blocking angle you must get one leg out towards where you want to jump (remember the split eggbeater – this will allow you to continue to guard the post man or to shot block while you are preparing to jump. When you are going to jump you will gather water with the outstretched leg to pull your body towards that leg. Then you will coil your legs underneath you and immediately spring into your jump with a big breaststroke kick. Immediately you will begin to eggbeater and get into a shot blocking position to cover your proper angle on the 5 man defense. It is extremely important as you get yourself into a shot blocking position that you are balanced in the water. Your best chance of shot blocking occurs when you are balanced in the water.
Finally, one other type of jump occurs at times when you need to be prepared to jump either in or out. Perhaps you are coming down the pool on counter attack defense and your team is down a man. You are find yourself stuck in the middle between two players that you must try to cover. You need to be prepared to jump towards either player. In this situation you can’t really be in a ready position with one leg out (ready to jump out over one leg – because you would be limited to jump only one way). Instead, you must prepare your body in a hunched position. Your eggbeater is working very strong and your body is tight and you are coiled and ready to spring (think of a cat ready to spring at a mouse). In this position you are ready to jump either way. So when the pass is made to either player you can explode out of this hunched position towards the player with the ball. This takes some practice. Once again, have your coach watch you from the deck to help you with the mechanics of this move.
When you feel comfortable with all these jumps you will notice your defensive game improving greatly. Once you have these skills down you can now practice them with some resistance to improve your range. You can practice the first three jumps with a resistance band. Or you can practice any of the jumps with a weight belt. I would highly recommend beginning with a light belt and making sure that you are able to do the skill correctly before moving to a heavier belt. The last thing that you want to do is to practice the skill incorrectly.
Practice these jumps and have fun with them. As you get better at them you will see you game taking off to new levels. Next month, I will discuss a critical skill which I call the in and out skill. This skill will win championships and gold medals for your team.
As always, if you have any comments or questions feel free to email me at [email protected]. Our USA team continues to work very hard and we are spending a great deal of time in every workout improving our fundamental skills. I would highly encourage each and every one of you – coach and player to do the same.
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