Back to Fundamentals by Terry Schroeder

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

Volume 4 Number 8November 15, 2012
The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

Legs, Legs, amd More Legs

Since returning from London, I felt I needed a break from water polo.  I did not watch much water polo and have only recently begun to help out at Pepperdine and watch more of their practices and games.  I would have to say that I have missed the game and especially the people.  As I have become more involved it is clearer than ever that one of the biggest differences between the international players and the college level is legs. I have written many articles about the importance of legs throughout the years and as I begin a new chapter in my water polo life I felt compelled to write once again about the importance of legs in our game.   This month, I will take a little different approach and write about three different areas of the game where legs make a difference.  These three areas are stability, agility and power.  Each one of these is critical to playing at a high level and when you have strong legs you are better off in each of these areas.

Let me begin with Legs for stability, since this is the baseline foundation for water polo.  I have written about the ability to “find your center” in the water as a key to your stability.  This is the equivalent of a land athlete being on your toes.  In water polo, just like any sport on land – you want to spend the majority of your time in the “ready” position.  From this position in the water you should have balance and the ability to use your legs for power and agility both.  In this so called “ready” position you also may be 2-3” higher in the water which will improve your overall awareness of what is going on just because you see the game differently when you are playing a bit higher in the water.  Every move that we make in the water should begin with your legs.  For example, when you begin the game with a sprint – you are going from a position of balance  - like a spring that is somewhat coiled – to using your legs with a big breaststroke kick to get into your sprint freestyle as soon as possible.  The more explosive your legs are the better you are going to start and the faster you will be in a sprint.  This is also the same every time you go from a horizontal (eggbeater) position to a vertical (swimming) position – you must use your legs efficiently to spring forward into a vertical swimming position.  This is accomplished by going from an eggbeater kick to a breaststroke kick to a flutter kick as you move into a swimming position.  The bottom line is that in order to play this game effectively you must have a good balance or stability in the water which begins and ends with your legs.  One of the biggest weaknesses I see in the college game (and the high school game for that matter) is that players do not prepare the legs properly before they receive the ball.   Everyone should be prepared with their legs when the ball arrives.  One of the greatest lessons I learned from my friend Igor Milanovic ( a double gold medalist from Yugoslavia) is that when you receive the ball, the first fake should be in receiving the ball.  This means that your legs are set and ready and when you receive the ball you are ready to shoot.  Too many players over here in our country tend to catch the ball and then prepare their legs to shoot.  This allows the defense to adjust and move into a shot blocking position and by the time the player that caught the ball is ready to shoot his/her chances of scoring are much less.  To become a great water polo player you need to find your center in the water and play with stability.

Secondly, legs are for power.  Immediately, I think of the battle at center and center defender.  To me this is a battle for the “line of scrimmage”.  The team that wins this battle tends to win the game.  If the center is holding a deep position on the defender then the offense is going to function much more effectively.  The same is true the other way around too.  If the defender is pushing the center out to five meters than the defense has a better chance to control the game.  There is no doubt that there is technique involved in the battle but the majority of the fight to hold the “line of scrimmage” is determined by leg power.  It the defender pushing the center out, or is the center able to hold a deep position on the 2 meter line?  While this battle is going on at center throughout the game and is fairly obvious to even the causal fan, there is also a battle for another line of scrimmage on the perimeter.  Watching college or high school this battle is usually more obvious.  One team may be playing out at 9 – 10 meters while the other team is at 6 – 7 meters.  It may be just one meter difference but it will make a difference as to what kind of perimeter shots or even passes to the center are happening on a consistent basis throughout the game.  Once again this comes down to leg power.  Can you hold your position on the perimeter when the other team is pressing hard – or do they push you out to ten meters?  There is no doubt that at times, when you are being pressed you want to spread your offense out and make it more difficult for your opponent to drop or play an effective zone but for the most part you want to be able to hold your water on the perimeter – just like you want to hold your water at center.  Controlling the so called “line of scrimmage” on both the perimeter and at center will often determine which team comes out victorious. 

Finally, legs are for agility.  Agility with your legs includes all the jumping maneuvers that are utilized in water polo. There are three different jumps that begin from a sculling position.  They are a jump to a swimming position, a jump to a shot blocking position, and a jump to a lateral lunge towards 2 meters.  In all of these jumps it is important to utilize what I call “coiling and springing”.  Here is how this works.  As you are sculling and preparing to jump, your leg closest to the surface (the outstretched leg) will “grab” the water help to pull your body over your legs. As your body comes over the legs you will pull your legs in towards your hips.  This is the coiled position.  You are now like a loaded spring ready to explode into your next move. Obviously, you do not want to stay with your hips down or underneath you – in fact, you are rotating over your legs with the legs slightly to one side or the other.  As soon as your have rotated over your legs then you will spring forward or out of this position with a big breaststroke kick.  As I mentioned earlier you can spring into a swimming motion (like you are playing driver defense) or you can spring into a shot blocking position or a jump towards the ball.  To maximize the distance that you can jump you will need to utilize this coil and spring concept.  In the past, I have written about the importance of the “in and out skill” in water polo.  This is the ability to jump “in” towards the center (while playing perimeter defense) and then recoil and spring back out in a shot blocking position over your legs towards the perimeter shooter.  This skill is agility with your legs to the max.  The players that do this well are able to move in the water gracefully.  It is in reality a combination of power and technique that creates the ability to be agile in the water.  It is easy to see how this ability to jump over your legs is so important to defense in our sport.  I have said before the reason the Hungarians were so good for many years (3 Olympic gold medals in a row) is that they were the best at the “in and out” skill and this allowed them to play front court defense more effectively but perhaps even more important that that is their ability to play 5 man defense because of their quickness and effectiveness with this all important skill.  Agility with your legs also includes jumping up for the ball to make a steal of catch a high ball on offense.  Other skills that I would put under this area are lateral motion when faking with the ball and preparing to shoot the ball.  This is a technique that requires skill and power to perform well.  Some of the most effective shooters in the game have an incredible ability to move laterally with the ball when faking and therefore they can create a better shooting lane for themselves.  Another skill that requires agility is getting “separation”.  This may be at center or on the perimeter for a five meter foul shot.  This is the ability to move quickly away from the defender and create some space where you can get better shot off.  The bet players do this primarily with their legs.  Again this is a skill, where you are jumping out over your legs and finding balance again quickly so that you can shoot the ball effectively.  Always remember this rule – your body will follow your legs.  As your legs coil towards your body they should pull water and help prepare your body to spring out over your legs.  This is the basis for all jumps.

I hope that you enjoyed this month’s article and found it helpful. Remember that your legs need to be used for stability, power and agility to be effective in the water. As always if you have any questions about what I have written please email me at [email protected].  Thank you for reading my articles.

See you at the pool.

Coach Schroeder

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