Back to Water Polo Fundamentals by Terry Schroeder

In and Out Skill for Water Polo

Terry Schroeder
US National Men's Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 1 Number 8May 15, 2008
The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

This skill is perhaps the most important defensive skill in the game.  During the course of a normal game almost every defensive front court series involves at least one defender executing the in and out skill.  Mastering this skill will help you to become a defensive specialist.  The skill occurs in two different situations during the course of a game.  The first area that you will see this skill being executed is on the perimeter.  On the perimeter the skill begins in the head out feet in ready position.  In this position you are guarding your opponent on the perimeter.  You are ready to jump out to your perimeter opponent with one big breaststroke kick or you are ready to scull backwards (push water with your hands) and initiative the skill.  The in and out skill on the perimeter is used to crash to the 2 meter man to try to steal the ball or protect 2 meters and then jump back out to the perimeter to shot block or put pressure back on your perimeter opponent. The idea is to use your legs to jump in towards 2 meters and then to be able to recover and use your legs again to jump out towards the perimeter.  A skilled player is able to do this without swimming.  Swimming into to 2 meters and then swimming out to the perimeter takes a great deal more time and is much less effective. The "In and Out" skill is all about using your legs to create space.
Steps of the "In and Out" skill on the perimeter

  1. Head out/feet in “ready” position;
  2. Scull backwards (push water with your hands) and pull/gather water with your legs;
  3. Coil your legs under your body;
  4. Rotate over your hips;
  5. Spring towards  2 meters with a big breaststroke kick;
  6. A lateral jump with another breaststroke kick  - 1 - 2 freestyle strokes may be necessary when you are learning the skill;
  7. Push water with your hands and pull/gather water with your legs;
  8. Coil your legs under your body;
  9. Rotate over your hips;
  10. Find the perimeter player and spring towards him or into his shooting angle using a big breaststroke kick;
  11. 1 - 2 freestyle strokes (not necessary but may be needed)a another breaststroke kick into the shot blocking position and do not get vertical;
  12. Continue to move towards the shooter with a split eggbeater in a 30 – 45 degree angle checking him if possible with your sculling hand to knock him off balance and you may have to leg up and become more vertical if the shooter is really getting up high preparing to shoot;
  13. Be ready to return to 2 meters if necessary.

As you progress and get better with this skill you will be able to eliminate the freestyle strokes.  The goal is to create as much distance as possible moving in and out by using your legs and sculling motion under the water.

Another very important use of the in and out skill occurs on the 5 on 6 defense.  In this situation the skill is essentially reversed.  The defender would start in the head in and feet out ready position protecting the post.  Often times the defender will have a hand on the post man.  This is a good thing because you will be protecting the post and you will also have more leverage when you want to spring out.  The defenders legs should be angled towards the perimeter player that he/she is shot blocking or to the spot where he/she needs to be to protect the angle that the shooter has towards the cage (especially at the x1 and x3 spot).  The defender is guarding the post and needs to anticipate the pass to their particular perimeter player.  When the ball is in the air towards their opponent they need to push off of the post player jump into the shooters lane.  Then as soon as the shooter passes the ball the defender must be able to jump back to the post player and protect the post.  The in and out skill during the 5 on 6 defense is essential because each defender is responsible for at least two offensive players.  Once again swimming should be minimized.  The more you can jump out over your legs and jump back over your legs the more effective you will be at defending on the 5 on 6.

Steps for the "In and Out" skill on a 5 on 6

  1. Head in and feet out with a hand on the post man;
  2. Legs angled out to cut down shooting lane;
  3. As ball is in the air to your perimeter player push off/release form your post man and gather water with your outstretched leg to spring out to cut down shooting lane;
  4. Shot block and be careful not to get yourself in a full vertical position;
  5. When your perimeter player passes the ball – push water with your hands, gather water with your legs;
  6. Coil your legs under your body;
  7. Rotate over your hips;
  8. Spring back towards the post player with a big breaststroke kick;
  9. 1-2 freestyle strokes to get back to hand on the post man, head in and feet out ready position.

Once again, as you get better with this skill you can eliminate the freestyle strokes and use your legs only to cover the distance.

The basic level of the in and out skill can be practiced with two offensive players closer together and will end up utilizing more freestyle strokes to cover the distance between offensive players. The advanced players will be able to move greater distances using only their legs. See drills below for basic and advanced skill work.

Game applications/drills to work on

Perimeter play – 3 player drill.  One player the ball up and is the perimeter player ready to shoot. Another player has the ball and is the 2 meter player (he/she can sit with 2 hands on the ball in front of them).  Begin this drill with these two players about 3 meters apart.  The defender begins in the ready position with his/her head out towards the perimeter player with the ball and feet in towards the 2 meter player with the ball. On the whistle the defender will coil and spring towards 2 meters , executing a lateral jump to the ball at 2 meters, then immediately try to coil and spring back towards the perimeter and get into a shot blocking position. 

Variation of the drill – spread the two offensive players out to 4 meters or even more, the perimeter player (shooter) can move laterally once the defender has jumped towards 2 meters, the shooter legs up as if to shoot the ball and the defender must leg up with him/her, repeat the drill two times – so that the defender executes the in and out skill twice.

Advanced perimeter drill – requires 6 players – offense and defense at the 3 spot, the 4 spot and 2 meters.  Run a 3, 4 drop.  You can do this drill very controlled with the 4 man putting the ball to 2 meters and the 3 man crashing in and then moving back out when 2 meters kicks the ball out to the perimeter player.  Than the 3 man puts the ball to set and 4 crashes and moves back out when 2 meters kicks the ball out to the perimeter. 
The next phase of this drill would be to begin with and entry pass and than play it out live.  Defense is really focusing on moving in and out.  The final phase of this drill is to play it out live from the start. 

5 on 6 - 3 player drill.  One offensive player is the post on the 6 on 5 and one offensive player is the perimeter player (1, 4, 5, or 6).  The offensive players are positioned about 3 meters apart to make it realistic. The defender begins on the post (with a hand on the post player.  On the whistle the defender springs out over his/her legs and assumes the shot blocking position, then after two to three seconds coils and springs back to the post. 

Variations of the drill – allow the perimeter 6 on 5 player to move laterally so the defender player needs to adjust, repeat the drill 2 - 3 times so the defender needs to execute the in and out skill 2 - 3 times in row.

Other drills – In and out to the driver drill.  3 player – defending 1 or 5 and driver drives behind you. The defender is head out feet in.  He jumps back to the driver and then back out to the perimeter.

Need to be able to pivot over either hip!

When I watched the Hungarian team play a game in the 2004 Olympics I said to my friend that was watching with me “The Hungarians will win the gold because they are so good at the in and out skill”.  This allowed them to have the best 5 man defense in the Olympic Games and sure enough they won the gold medal because of it. 

Team USA is spending a great deal of time practicing this skill.  We are becoming better at it but we have a long ways to go to approach the skill level of the Hungarians.  We are going to keep working at it.  No matter what level of water polo you play this is a skill that you should work on consistently.  As you get better at the in and out skill you will notice that your defensive game improves dramatically.  Have fun and good luck with it.  As always please email me if you have any comments or questions at [email protected]

See you at the pool!


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