US National Men's Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
Last month, I focused on the 6 on 5 man advantage. As I said in my article last month – this would be a big key for us in the World Championships. Reflecting back on 4th place finish at the World Championships in Rome here are my thoughts. We are one of the best teams in the world. We are close but we need to continue to work hard and work together to climb those final few steps to get to the top. In the critical times it was our 6 on 5 that failed us. In the semi-final against Spain we were not able to convert the most important 6 on 5 opportunities in the 4th quarter. Overall, we were 2 for 6 on our 6 on 5 in this game. As I had predicted, 6 on 5 would make or break us and scoring 35% does not usually help you win the big games. In the bronze medal game, the breakdown of our 6 on 5 in the 3rd and 4th quarter was also the difference.
We were slightly better against Croatia, scoring on 5 out of 11 chances but in the end - in the most important games at the most critical times our 6 on 5 did not come through. The bottom line is that we know what we need to work on and if we are to climb that final mountain and win a gold in London we will need to continue to work on and improve our 6 on 5. We are one of the best teams in the world and we will continue to work hard on the fundamentals to help make our 6 on 5 the best in the world.
While scoring when you have the man advantage is critical - being able to stop your opponent when they have those same 6 on 5 opportunities is equally important. So this month, I thought I would focus on the fundamental keys to a successful 5 man defense. In my opinion, another important bench mark of team work is how well your 5 man defense is playing. It is absolutely critical that all the players involved in the 5 man defense are working together and know what their responsibility is when the ball is at each position. Successful 5 man defense is the ultimate in zone defense. Each and every player has the responsibility for at least 2 and sometimes 3 offensive players. Each player on the defense is also trying to funnel the ball to the center of the cage by successfully taking away a part of the shooters angle.
Here are my fundamental keys for a successful 5 man defense:
Being able to stop your opponent when they are up a man is one of the big keys to winning big games. In this recent World Championships, the winner of the tournament was Serbia. They definitely had a very strong 5 man. In fact, in the semi-final game against Croatia they were excluded 18 times and still managed to win the game. That is great 5 man defense.
When you stop your opponent from scoring on their 6 on 5’s you often will frustrate them and “get in their heads” which obviously then can carry over to every other aspect of the game. Every team should go into a game of water polo with the knowledge that they are going to be excluded here and there. When it happens do not complain about it – but make it a challenge.
When you are a man down every player needs to be working hard. The intensity has to be at its highest level. As I said before this is the ultimate zone defense so each and every player needs to be funneling the ball to the center of the cage. If one player does not do his job the defense will break down quickly and usually this results in a goal being scored against you. As I mentioned before in last month’s article when you get the opportunity to practice 6 on 5 and 5 on 6 make sure you practice like it is a game. The harder the 5 man defense works the better the 6 on 5 will become and vice a versa. Practice like it is a real game and you will see the rewards happen in the games.
My recommendation when you practice 6 on 5 and 5 man is to make it shorter, higher intensity periods. Perhaps do 10 attempts for each group 2 – 3 times during the practice rather than trying to do it all at once. This will keep the intensity high and make it more game like. To be successful on your 5 man defense you have to work together as a team.
As always, please feel free to email me if you have any questions firstname.lastname@example.org .
See you at the pool.
USA Water Polo Ė Menís National Team Coach
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