Back to Fundamentals by Terry Schroeder

Tips from the Top on Time Management

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

Volume 2 Number 8January 15, 2010
The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

Time management is another very important aspect of the game.  Being aware of the 30 or 35 second clock and the game clock is crucial to any team’s success.  Each player in the pool and on the bench should know the game situation and the time on the clock at all times during the course of the game.  It should become a habit to glance at the clock (game and 30/35) during the course of the game.  Knowing the clock will help determine what you should be doing in the game.

Here are some thoughts on time management regarding the 30/35 s shot clock.

Front court offense – clock management

30/35 seconds to 20 s. – counter to offense or with new clock, get to your positions and run new clock play. Look to stop the clock by drawing a foul to help give your team time to set up the offense.

20 s – 10 s – run front court, movement, drives to get open or clear, good releases on the perimeter, safe passes.  Look for good high percentage scoring opportunities.

10 s – 0 – isolation at center or one on one isolation drive, look for cross pass to shot when possible, 5 m foul shot, those not involved need to balance to defense


30/35 s – 20 s – counter defense, try to let the clock run, shift in tandem to make the opponent throw long passes.

20 – 10 s – front court defense try to get into the press as soon as possible off of the counter – go into appropriate zone or drop when necessary, trap the ball when possible, only foul when necessary to protect the center.

10 s – 0 – look to stair step and help or gap to the shooters, if pressed – stay in it and get into the lanes for the counter.

6 on 5

First ten seconds – look for the quick and take advantage of any 3 on 2 or 2 on 1, next go into a rotation, penetrate and try to move each defender out of his/her zone, break down the center defender.

Next ten seconds – attacking and looking to make the defense over commit and then make the extra pass to set up a team mate.

10/15 s – 0 – once they come even spread it out and try to get the ball to the center or a post up with everyone else rotating back to defense.

5 man

First ten seconds – cover the quick, fill the back line, protect 1 and 6, protect the post, shot block in appropriate lanes.

Next ten seconds – communicate rotations, shot block – forcing the shot from outside 5 or 4 man with hands up funneling the ball to the goalie, box out on any shot - no second chances.

10/15 s – 0 – coming even  - rotate to cover and make them throw a long cross pass as you come even. Get back into a press if possible.

Game clock

In each quarter, each team will have approximately 8 opportunities
8 minutes = 8 opportunities per team (approximate)
With 4 minutes to go in the game – each team will more than likely have 4 front court opportunities.
3 minutes – equals 3 opportunities each
2 minutes – equals 2 opportunities each
1 minute – equals 1 opportunity each

The following are situations when the score/time is imbalanced in the opponents favor.

If your team is down by 3 with 2 minutes left you need to force the issue and try to get a quick score at one end while looking to press hard and get the ball back quickly at the other end.  The officials generally will let the team that is behind press a little harder and make the team that is ahead really protect the ball.  Obviously, in this situation you can’t give up a goal and you can’t afford to get excluded.  Being excluded is almost as bad as giving up a goal.  Not only do you give the opponent a new shot clock, but you can’t press and force the issue when you are down a man.  If your team is excluded you need to move and take some chances on 5 man defense.  Also, look to go hard on the 5 man counter.

Here are some thoughts for this situation

  1. Look for isolation right off the counter – try to stop the clock.

  2. If your center is not open right away then run a play – isolation post up (2 across to the 4 / 5 side with 1 posting up and isolating 3 with the ball and the post up)  Look to get the ball inside to set or the post up.  It is likely that if you are behind and get the ball to an isolated post player you will be rewarded with an exclusion.

  3. If you get an exclusion you have to look for the quick and make something happen fast.  Time is still your enemy.  Attack quickly to break down the defense.

  4. Make good passes  - no turnovers.

  5. On defense – high in the lanes – jump the lanes to try to steal.  Front the center – look to get underneath and draw the offensive. Jump in front on the drives or fake a push off

  6. You can’t afford to give up a goal or an exclusion – giving the other team an exclusion is also giving up another 30/35 seconds.

If your team is down by 2 with 2 minutes left.  You will have at least 2 opportunities so you can play straight up.  Meaning you don’t have to take a great deal of risk.  You need to score a goal in each of your possessions.  However, if you fail to score on your first possession then you are right back where you were in the last situation.  Down by 2 with 1 minute to go in the game or down by 2 with 1 ½ minutes to go and the opponent has the ball.  Once again, you need to press the issue and try to score quickly and then press hard to try to force a turnover at the other end.  

This same thought process should apply with any imbalanced time/score situations in the fourth quarter.  For example, you are down by 4 with 3 minutes remaining or you are down by 5 with 4 minutes remaining.  In this type of imbalanced score/time situation you need to press the issue and try to score quickly on the clock while pressing and forcing the turnover on the other end. 

The more time there is on the game clock (4 or 5 minutes) the more time you have to make up the difference.  If you are down by 2 with 1 minute to go, the situation is much more critical.

Here are situations with the score/time imbalance in the favor of your team.  In other words you are ahead in the game and the clock in on your side.

Up by 3 with 2 minutes or up by 2 with 1 minute

Thoughts on what to do in these situations.

  1. Protect the ball on the perimeter – do not expect a foul.  The officials will tend to let the defense overplay a little so you need to adjust and really protect the ball on the perimeter. Do not draw a foul if possible – you want the clock to run.

  2. Center move out to the 3 meter line – perhaps even the 4 meter line if we are really being pressed hard.  This will make it more difficult for the goalie to come out and try to steal the entry pass.

  3. Be very conservative if you drive – drive to free water.  Only drive if being pressed way out and you need to help the ball.

  4. The opponent may try to bait you into committing an offensive foul – play smart – no individual battles.

  5. No surprises – No one can be surprised by a quick shot or a quick blind pass.  Each pass should be deliberate with eye contact.

  6. Play for your center – do not put the ball to set until there is less than 10 seconds on the shot clock.  When the ball comes to set do not expect a call.  Keep your head up and work for a turn and a natural goal. 

  7. If you draw an exclusion – make good safe passes and be patient a new shot clock is just a valuable as a goal in this case.  Spread the offense out and make the defense take high risks.

  8. As time runs down on the shot clock dump the ball (with 2 – 3 s. left) where appropriate.  Do not allow anyone to take off on the counter.

  9. Clean defense with no exclusions on the other end.  You may want to play in a soft defense (3 / 4) protecting the center more.

Never celebrate too early.  If you are up by 3 or 4 goals and time is running down you need to stay focused and finish the game out.  I have seen too many teams lose a lead very fast because they lost focus.  Finish well.  I hope that some of these time management tips will help you and your team be more successful.As always feel free to email me if you have any questions to: [email protected]. Happy New Year.

See you at the pool

Coach Schroeder

WATER POLO PLANET.COM: the Alternative Voice