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 5 Number 6January 15, 2013
The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

The Value of Game Situation Drills

Practice with a purpose!  This is good advice for players and coaches alike.  I believe that one of the most valuable tools that coaches can use in practice is to scrimmage with a specific game situation in mind.  This will keep the athletes focused and help to create intensity (more game like) during the drills.  Another very important benefit to practicing with game situation drills is it will help to develop and improve on the athlete’s water polo IQ.  If an athlete practices specific situations repetitively during training than when these situations present themselves in games - the athletes will be better prepared to do the right thing and improve their team’s chances of winning the games. 

In general, time management is a very important aspect of the game.  Being aware of the 30 second clock as well as the game clock are crucial to success.  Every athlete and coach 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) during the course of the game.  Knowing the clock will help determine what you should be doing in the game.

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

Front court offense –clock management

30 s to 20 s. – counter to offense or with new clock, get to positions and run new clock play. Look to stop the clock to help set up offense (when down).  Try not to get fouled in order to keep the clock running (if ahead).

20 s – 10 s – run front court with movement especially against a zone. If being pressed good releases on the perimeter  - working to get the ball into your center.

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. Don’t be afraid to dump the ball if no good shot is appropriate.


30 s – 20 s – counter defense, shift in tandem to make the opponent throw long passes.

20 – 10 s – front court defense try to get into the press off counter when possible – go into appropriate zone or drop when necessary, trap the ball when possible, only foul when necessary to protect the center.  If behind – hard press, foul to steal or to stop the clock

10 s – 0 – look to stair step and help or gap to the shooters, if pressed with no good center option – stay in press and get into the lanes for counter

6 on 5

30 s  - 20 s – look for the quick, go into a rotation, penetrate and try to move defender out of their zone, break down the center defender (which side is the 3 on 2 on)

20 s – 10 s – attacking and looking to make the defense over commit and then make the extra pass to set up a team mate.  Post players need to be active

10 s – 0 – once they come even spread it out and try to get the ball to our center or a post up with others rotation back to defense.

5 man
30 s – 20 s – cover the quick, fill the back line, protect 1 and 6, protect the post, shot block in appropriate lanes

20 s – 10 s – 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 s – 0 – coming even  - rotate to cover and make them throw a long cross pass as players are shifting. Get back into a press if possible.

Here are some general thoughts on managing the game clock.

In each quarter, each team will have approximately 8 opportunities.

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

So what are the game situation drills that are most beneficial for training situations? I believe that the most beneficial game situation drills are the ones that create the most intensity.  The critical situations  - one minute left up by 1 or down by 1.  Tie score with one minute left… these situations are great because the game is on the line and the players must be totally focused.  They also create urgency which is sometimes hard to create in practice but happens all the time in a game.   

At the very least you can create a situation like this  - one quarter left in the game and you are down by three or up by three.  I believe that most all of the game situations that you practice with your team should be 3 goals up or down, 2 goals up or down, 1 goal up or down and of course tie score.  All of these situations can be practiced with as much or as little time left on the clock.  My advice is construct different situations that will come up in games.  For example, down by 3 with one quarter to go.  Obviously, this will occur in games. Begin with the sprint.  There is still plenty of time left on the clock.  I will always tell my team that they are going to get their chances.  Water polo officials love to make the game close so if the team that is down is working hard and playing smart they will earn some exclusions and get chances to get back into the game. One of the most difficult things to do in our sport is to protect a lead.  On defense, I would have my team begin to press a bit more  - force play more without taking a lot of silly chances.  Obviously, if you are down by 3 the last thing you want to do is to give up another goal.  So focus on playing good hard defense. Get in the lanes on defense, try to make a steal.  If the ball goes into center, crash hard to help the center defender. Avoid getting exclusions if at all possible.  As the clock is winding down you may need to press more and take more chances.   On offense, you must play smart and continue to play.  Look for the dagger to take the other team out.  Don’t play “not to lose”, play to win!  Be smart with the ball and use the clock to your advantage.  Protect the ball on the perimeter - knowing that the defense has to press a bit more.  Try to isolate the center late in the clock with players not involved in the play going back to defense.  If the defender cherry picks and leaves early  - by all means go with them and play defense.  Let your offense go five on five or four on four which makes it even more difficult for the defense.  As the clock gets lower realize that the defense needs to take more chances and take advantage of this.  If the defense is pressing hard than spread out your offense (which in turn spreads out the defense) bring your center out just a bit (maybe to the 3 m line) so that the goalie can not cheat out on him/her. 

Here are some other good situations to practice.

Down by 3 or up by 3 with 3 minutes left in the game and your team has a 6 on 5 after a time out. 
Down by 2 or up by 2 with 2 minutes left in the game and your team has a 6 on 5.
Down by 1 or up by 1 with 1 minute left in the game and your team has a 6 on 5.

All of the above situations produce critical 6 on 5 opportunities both offensively and defensively.  Remember that these drills are for the offense as well as the defense.  The time can be changed to ratchet up the intensity of the play.  For example, the situation may be down by 2 with 1 minute left and your team has a 6 on 5 after a time out.  Obviously, scoring this 6 on 5 gives you a chance to pull within 1 and have one more possession left to try to tie the game.  If you score you may have 40-45 seconds left on the clock.  The opposing team has one possession - your team must make a stop and get down quickly into the front court. As a coach, you probably want to have a couple of different plays to run on this final possession.  This should all be talked about on the time out prior to the 6 on 5 (if that was your team’s last time out). 

Another great situation is tie score - one possession left – 30 seconds or less left in the game.  Obviously, in this situation if you have the ball you don’t want to give your opponent another chance with the ball so you must use the clock and try to get a good shot opportunity with little time left on the clock.  This may mean working for your center or working for a 5 meter foul shot off of isolation. You should run this situation off of a time out and without a time out.  Coaches should prepare their team a “last possession play” that they are to run if there are no time outs left.  If you are on defense in this situation you must make one final stop.  If you make the stop you go into overtime – they score and you probably lose. 

Another good starting point for game situations may be down by 2 or up by 2 with a 5 meter penalty shot.  Maybe there is 2 minutes left or 1 minute 30 or even a minute.  The thought is to create pressure on the shooter so that when these situations occur in the game the shooter has already been there many times.  Whether the shot is made or not creates another situation.  If the shooter misses and there is 2 minutes left and his/her team is down by 2 goals, then they need to press and work hard to get the ball back knowing that they will have at least two more possessions and they must score on both of them.  If they miss on their first possession and they are still down by two goals with a minute left – they really have to force the play  - pressing hard  - trying to make the steal and hopefully making something happen quickly so that they get the ball back and possibly get tow more chances. 

Be creative with your situations.  Think about where your team is struggling.  Do they have trouble protecting a lead?  If so play more situations with the starters having a lead with 3 min. left, 2 min left, 1 min left… Or if your team is having trouble playing from behind – create situations where they have to try to play “catch up”.  Create seemingly impossible situations and see fi they can work their way out of it and win some games where they had no business winning. 
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 the team that is behind can not give up a goal and can not afford to get excluded.  Being excluded is almost as bad as giving up a goal.  Not only do you give the opponent a new 30 s, but they also have a good chance to score and put the game away. It is also more difficult to press and force play when you are down.  If an exclusion does occur when you are down in these situations you need to take some chances – storm and try to get in the passing lanes.  It is a good idea for coaches to have a specific defense that they want to play in these situations. 

When your team is down in these situations where the clock is not in your favor here are some ideas to think about:

  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 in to an isolated post player you will draw the exclusion.

  3. If you get an exclusion  - look for the quick and make something happen fast.  Time is still the enemy.  Attack quickly to break down the defense and generate good scoring opportunities.

  4. Make good passes -the last thing you want is a turnover.

  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

There are also times when the clock/score is in your favor. In other words, you are ahead in the game and the clock is on your side.

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

Here are some 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 your team is really being pressed hard.  This will make it more difficult for the goalie to come out and make the steal.

  3. Be conservative if you drive – drive to free water.  Only drive if being pressed way out and you need to help the ball. Everyone should be aware that if one player is driving you must protect the ball even more so – don’t shoot or make a crazy pass to center during the drive. 

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

  5. Don’t surprise you team mates.  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 in isolation.  

  9. Clean defense with no exclusions on the other end.  Perhaps play in a zone to protect center.

Remember this - the more time there is on the clock – equates to more time to make up the difference.  As the clock winds down - down by 2 with 1 minute to go, the situation is much more critical.  I believe that creating more of these so called critical situations will help your team grow and improve more than the non critical situation.  Don’t just scrimmage for the sake of scrimmaging!  Use this time wisely and create situations to help your team practice what they will face in the game.  The more you practice these game situations the better you will become at reading the situation and figuring out how to win games when the game is on the line. 

I hope that you have enjoyed this month’s article.  As always, if you would like to comment or if you have a specific question feel free to email me at [email protected] .

I appreciate any feedback.

Have a Merry Christmas!



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