Interview with Goalie Stan Sprague

Sandy Vessey-Schneider
Water Polo Planet

Stan SpragueStan Sprague has been a familiar face on the pool deck for a very long time. As a matter of fact, reading this interview will be a bit of a history lesson for those of us who picked up the game "post leather ball era". All though Stan's career started as a goalkeeper, most of his time has been spent coaching and developing goalies.

Stan began playing back in the 50's at Fullerton High School, then moved on to Long Beach State, and eventually, the Inland-Nu Pike club, where he was named MVP at the men's US Nationals. While he had an exciting career as a player, his obvious passion lies in coaching and developing young athletes, in particular goalies. His vast resume spans from the 1960's as a swim coach, through the 70's as the Head Women's National Team coach. Later in the 80's and 90's he served as the Goalie coach for both the Jr. and Sr. Men's National Teams. In addition to so many other titles, he also trained goalies at numerous camps over the years. As a result Stan Sprague is a member of the USA Water Polo "Hall Of Fame".

I grew up in Yorba Linda, California. When I started playing water polo as a freshman at Fullerton high school, there wasn't really any real club activity other than your high school team during the high school season. Clubs were more for teams that were training for national or international competition using players out of high school. After graduating from High School, I played 2 years at Fullerton College and then to Long Beach State. I played Club for Whittier Polo Club, Inland Water Polo Club and finally Inland-NuPike Water Polo.

1. What drills do feel are the best for the following: (a). Lateral movement, (b). Leg strength, (c). Reaction time?

  1. I like high corners & low corners (some call them side to side) I also like 25 yards of lateral walking (with a time standard) making sure the heads stay above the hips and does not get ahead of hips.

  2. When building leg strength I have always been a strong believer that the athlete needs to first be able to lift their own body weight before they add weight so we do a lot of dry-land leg work without weights. Once they get to where they can do quick repetition on dry-land or in the water we will then put weight-belts on them but I stay very light. We add more weight as they can handle more. I am not a fan of using metal chairs and water jugs because it is too much weight for young bodies.

  3. Development of reaction time can happen by just getting a lot of shooting if the goalie starts young or older. Get on a handball court with the goalie; have the goalie facing to the court wall and a couple players behind playing handball and the goalie must use their left hand on the ball that goes to their left and same on right, or you can be on the pool deck where the goalie is on their knees about 5 feet away from a wall and someone behind is throwing a tennis ball or a water polo ball at the wall and the goalie explodes to the ball (can be two handed or one handed).

  4. My favorite drill for reaction is the Quick Hands drill.

    Shooter starts a goal post. Shoot to where the goalie can get their hand on the ball but must be quick. Goalie makes a pull-down, get ball out quickly to shooter and staying even with shooter. Shooter is moving quickly walking laterally from 1 post to the other in a small arc, no more than 3-4 meters out, and shooting on goalie quickly not hard as they move (8 to 10 shots each direction). When shooter reaches the second post then they work their way back to the first post.

    The goalie should focus on quick pull downs, getting ball up and quickly out to the shooter and goalie must stay squared to the shot.Coach wants to watch that the goalie is keeping their hips under their shoulders, they are squaring to shot and shooter must give shots that goalie can block.

2. A two on one counter attack is coming your way, how do you communicate with your defense?

If the counter attack is coming toward the goalie first of all they made a mistake by not calling back some of their teammates earlier. The goalie should direct the defense. Most times the goalie will take the player with the ball by yelling "I have the ball" or if the one defender can get the player with the ball the goalie should yell "press ball no foul" and the goalie can cheat toward the open player but keeping an eye on the ball.

3. What 6 on 5 defense do you prefer to work with and why?

  1. I prefer to have the field players funnel the ball to the center of the goal! This happens by the field players having the correct hand up for field blocking so x1 & x2 should have the arm on the goal post up and keep the top defenders back enough to discourage the post player from popping out.

  2. If you have a quick goalie with good lateral movement I also like to storm the offense leaving the player furthest from the ball open (that can be a hard pass).

4. How do you communicate with your 2m defense?


I have my goalie do most of the communicating with the 2 meter defender and the 2 meter player should be the one to call for drops or other defenses. The 2 meter defender needs be watching the ball as much as possible but the goalie can also assist if the defender has their back to the ball when they're fronting. The goalie needs to help by calling out the location of the ball. I attempt to use a read defense with my team so most of the communication with the 2 meter defender is in practice so that they and team learn to read as one.

5.How do handle "one on goalies"?

  1. If the player with the ball is swimming in and not paying attention to the goalie and is not going to have much time to fake because they have a defender on them, the goalie can then move out a little bit to change the shooters angle. The goalie should move out towards the ball with both hands in a shadow position.

  2. If on the other hand they are going to have more time then the goalie must know what area of the goal they have covered and then watch the ball to the goal on the shot. Sometimes when the goalie knows what they don't have covered they can then bait the shooter to shot in that area. The goalie should be ready to explode in that direction but watch the ball sometimes shooters don't see the open spots!

6. What advise can you give a high school goalie?

Have fun, work hard in the class room and the pool! High school goalies need to understand that the field players are going to develop at a faster rate than they will therefore you have to work harder than they do.

  1. You should be the first in the water; you should be the last one out.

  2. You should be looking for every opportunity for somebody to shoot on you.

  3. You should use every opportunity you have to watch other goalies and learn what they are doing.

  4. It doesn't hurt to watch shooters and what the body movement/tendencies are for different types of shots.

7. What skills, talent, and physical traits do you think are important to become a top notch goalie?


  1. Excellent concentration - Very reliable person – a natural leader - Can't be easily disturbed during the game or training.

  2. Intelligence - Recognizes situation very fast.

  3. Mobility - Maximum support by legs (not hands!)

  4. Natural Quickness and Size - Can react fast, quick hands and quick side to side movement with legs.

  5. Goood Communicator - Has the philosophy they can block all shots - Hates to retrieve ball from goal

8. What was your favorite game, and what made it so special?

My favorite game as a coach was the 1974 Women's Sr. Nationals. My "A" team played my "B" team in the championship game and I sat in the stands and watched!

My favorite game as a player was in 1963 when I won the James Lee Award for Most Valuable Player and my team won their first Men's National Championship.

9. How has the game changed for goalies since you played?

StanWhen I played water polo as a goalie in the mid fifties through the sixties we actually use a leather ball. As the game progressed the ball got heavier. The goalie was not allowed to pass the ball past mid tank and the goalie could not go outside the 4 yard line. It wasn't until after I quit playing that the goalie was allowed to pass the ball the full length of the pool and/or score or move to mid-tank. I think those actions really accelerated the game and that you now have a quarterback that can make that touchdown pass and set up the offense. Fortunately or unfortunately I was the one of the goalies that was used in the development of the first synthetic ball developed by Voit Ball Company with the consulting of Jimmy Smith.

What stood out to me most in this interview is how Stan coaches goalies to dictate where the shooter will shoot. Thus lowering the number of options and allowing the goalie to have the upper hand. He mentioned how the goalie can do this on the counter attack, 6 on 5, and One on goalies. It teaches goalies to think and they will be more confident for it. He teaches young goalies that they must work harder than the field players, look for every opportunity to block shots and watch other goalies.

I hope this interview was not only extremely informative, but also entertaining from a history of water polo standpoint.