US National Men's Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
This weekend, while coaching at a PACE clinic, I was asked the following question “How fast should a water polo player be to make it to the college ranks? Since this is another common question that I am often asked, I will take this month’s column to give you my opinion.
First of all swimming speed is definitely a factor in the game of water polo. Anyone wanting to play in college should work hard to improve their swim ability and speed. However, I can not tell you how fast an athlete should be or needs to be (as far as swim times go) to be successful in college and beyond.
The real question should be “What is more important swimming speed or quickness and water polo savvy?" This is a fairly easy question to answer. Quickness and water polo savvy are far more important. Of course, no one can be successful in our sport without being a good swimmer. However, the most successful water polo players are quick and smart in the water.
In my years at Pepperdine, I have been blessed with the opportunity to coach some pretty amazing athletes. One of my favorites was an athlete named Jack Kocur. Now without embarrassing Jack, I will simply say that he was not one of the fastest swimmers on our team. When we did swim sets Jack was never close to the leaders. However, when you watched him play he appeared to be one of the fastest players on our team. Jack had quickness and water polo savvy. He was one of the best at seeing the game and anticipating the next play. He was able to beat is opponent nearly all the time because he had one of the quicker “first three strokes”. In my opinion, these “first three strokes” can be the difference in whether you are successful in the sport or not. Because of Jack’s quickness and incredible “first three strokes” he did extremely well and was one of the key players on our national championship team in 1997 at Pepperdine.
There is no doubt in my mind that developing quickness and these “first three strokes” is a big fundamental key in our game and much more important than just swimming speed. Here are a couple of drills to help you develop this skill.
Stop and goes – this can be done during warm ups or for conditioning. The key is to focus on the “go” part of the drill. When you stop and come to a rest, make sure that you are not dropping your hips. The key to a quick start or “go” is to be ready with your body/legs in the ready position. Then when you are ready, blast out with a strong breast stroke kick coupled with an arm pull and then transition right into your first three strokes. Practice this blast off in “game speed” which will help you develop your quickness. Too many times when players do stop and goes they just go through the motions. Make it a habit to do this drill with intensity. It will help you develop a great first three strokes.
Change of Direction - Does this happen in a game? All the time - so why not practice it like it is a game. This can be set up by swimming back and forth between lane lines, cones, or it can be performed by changing directions on the coach’s whistle. Once again, the important part of the drill is in the blasting out in the opposite direction. As you roll over your hips, make sure you get your legs ready and then perform a strong breaststroke kick and go immediately into three hard and fast strokes.
Another variation of the above drill is to have the players in the middle of the pool ready to move in any direction. The coach on the deck blows his whistle and points in one of four directions. The players must react and get into their first three strokes in whatever direction the coach points. This is accomplished by exploding with a hard breaststroke kick and then transitioning directly into three quick and powerful strokes.
I hope that you all understand how vital these first three strokes are to the game. They will save you on defense and help you get open on offense. Work hard and remember to blast out on these drills when you get a chance to work on this skill.
Once again, feel free to email me at [email protected] or call me if you have any questions.
See you at the pool.
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