US National Men's Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
This month I want to explain the fundamentals of awareness in water polo. In all my years of playing or coaching it has been obvious to me that the best players have the best awareness of the game. In fact, the better players always seem to be able to anticipate the next play and seem to stay one step ahead of the game. Becoming more “aware” in the water will help to make you a better player. Here are the basics of becoming more aware in the water.
First, you must always know where the ball is. It does not matter what position you are playing and whether you are on offense or defense, you have to know where the ball is at all times. This is one of the biggest reasons why we are always taught to keep your head up at all times. When your head is down you are vulnerable on offense and on defense – mainly because you do not know where the ball is and therefore are lost. When you know where the ball is, you will be able to read what is happening and what is going to happen next. This alone will improve your awareness in the game.
Know where the center is. Once again, whether you are on offense or defense this will help determine what you have to do next. On defense, this will determine if you are pressing or dropping into a zone. If the center is set to the weak side (the side away from the ball) you have to press and get in the lanes so that the ball can not easily be passed to your side of the pool and then subsequently passed into the center. If the center is set on your side then you may have to foul and drop or immediately go into a zone (depending on what type of defense your team is running). On offense, knowing where the center is will determine what you need to do. If the center is set to your side, then you will need to release hard to make yourself available to receive the ball and make the entry pass. Or advance the ball to the next perimeter player who can make the entry pass to your center. If the center is set to the weak side, then perhaps you might drive to create a backdoor option. If the center is really struggling to set on either side then perhaps you might look to post up.
Know where the “free man” is. This will determine what the next play is. Obviously, if you have the ball you may have to make the pass to the free man. The defender is going to try to make this difficult on you if he/she also knows where the free man is. A good defender will try to press (no foul) or press and foul and drop to make this next pass more difficult. If you are on offense and you do not have the ball, you may have to release to help advance the ball to the free man or you may have to reposition yourself if your defender drops onto the free man. In this case, you may become the free man and you want to make sure that you have repositioned yourself to a more advantageous spot in the pool. If you are on defense and you know where the free man is, then this may determine if you are going to switch onto the free man (essentially always taking the more dangerous shooter out of the play). Perhaps you don’t switch but you drop back a little making a pass to this free man more difficult. Knowing where the free man is will help you determine what to do next whether you are on offense or defense.
Know where the goalie is. Every true shooter knows this at all times. Certainly this is easy to do when the ball is in your hands and it is your shot. In this case you need to be able to read the goalie and determine what is open in the cage. The best shooters will read what the goalie is doing before they get the ball. Therefore, when they receive the ball they are ready to shoot and beat the goalie. Knowing where the goalie is will also determine if you can make a pass to the center or to the driver with inside water. If the goalie is playing out then you may keep him/her honest by shooting the ball (perhaps a lob) or at least faking and making the goalie believe that you are going to shoot the ball before making the next pass. The center defender needs to know where the goalie is and if he/she can help on one side or another. In this case, if the goalie comes out then the center defender may have to show his/her hands and let the goalie make the steal on the entry pass.
Know where your defender is. This applies to all positions. If you are a center you always want to feel where the defender is. This will help you with positioning and sealing your defender. This seems like common sense but it is amazing to me how many centers lose track of their guard. Knowing and feeling where the guard is will help to determine what kind of shot you can attempt or turn you can make. The attackers also need to read their defender to determine what their next play is. If you are driving you have to read what the defender is giving up. If you are releasing for the ball and being pressed you will need to create movement to open yourself up. Perhaps this means that you do a quick V cut or a straight release backwards or towards the ball.
Know where the other defenders are. Knowing where you have help when you are on defense will help you know when you can take some risk. For example, you can press hard on the perimeter knowing that if your opponent drives and gets inside of you the wing defender is aware and will be there to help you so you don’t have to panic and get kicked out. The proper defensive move is to counter rotate and swim with your opponent knowing that the wing defender may switch or at least drop to protect you. On the opposite side if you are the driver and have gained this inside water position you need to also be aware that this wing defender may drop onto your back and hammer you. The goalie must be aware of all defenders and read who is getting beat and where the next pass and potential shot may come from. He/she must also read the defenders in a zone and determine if one of his/her defenders is not covering their specific lanes. This may determine if the goalie has to overplay one side or another on the shot.
Finally, knowing your position in the pool in relationship to the goal and other players will help to determine what you do next. If you are a center and you are being pushed out to the 5 meter line then you should probably try to re set or clear out. If you are on the perimeter and you are at 9 meters then your defender is probably going to drop off of you and you will not have much of a shot from where you are at. If you are too tight to the center then this may clog the passing lane and make it difficult to make the entry pass. Knowing where the other players are will also help to create good spacing which will make your offense and counter attack much more successful.
Remember to practice like you are going to play. If you are not focused in practice then you will not be very aware and this will carry over to the game. Work on being aware in each of the above areas and I am confident that this will help your game. As always feel free to email me if you have any questions about this month’s article. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you at the pool.
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