Water Polo Drill #27: "Hernias" by Coach Keith Wilber, Santa Clara University

I think this drill has a lot of different names, but the first time I ever did the drill they were called hernias, so I have always stuck to that name.

This is a counter attack drill which basically gives players and goalies work on “one on nobodies” with a defensive chaser.  You can also run this drill without a defensive chaser, in particular for younger age groups, but for the college level I always use defense.

To set up the drill, put half your team in dark caps and the other half in white caps.  If you have an even number of players, then two players on different teams can partner up.  If you have an odd number of players, you can still run the drill.  With an odd number it easiest to keep one team on offense for a certain number of shots and then switch offense and defense.

Put half your team in one corner of the pool with two lines, a line for dark caps and a line for white caps.  Do the same thing in the opposite corner of the pool with the other half of your team, again with a line for dark caps and a line for white caps.  Both lines should start around 5M, and the lines are facing toward the cage on the opposite side of the pool.

Let’s start with dark caps on offense.  To start the drill, put the defensive chaser in a certain spot.  I usually start with the defensive player on the outside shoulder half a body length behind.  If you have two goalies, they are both in the cages.  If you have three or four goalies, you can use the third and fourth goalies, as passers for each line.  If you only have two goalies, you can have the next offensive player in line be the passer.  This is actually good practice for field players to make long passes.  I find many field players need more practice on long counter attack passes.

Once everybody is set up in the right position, I blow the whistle, and both lines start.  The offensive player goes with their half body length lead, and the defense chases all out.  This should happen simultaneously from both corners of the pool, so you have two one on nobody counter attacks with a chaser going at each cage.  After the first group gets the pass and gets to around 7M, the next group in that line should go.  After a group takes a shot on one cage, the offense and defense go to the back of the lines next to the cage they just shot on.  Since there are lines on opposite corners of the pool, the groups just keep filling the lines next to the cage they just shot on, and they are basically moving in a big circle from one cage to the next and you can continue the drill for as long as you want.

If the offensive player is faster than the defensive player, they should be able to get separation by out swimming their defender.  Once they pass half tank, they should either flip on their back or turn their head to a side while swimming head up so the passer knows they are expecting the ball.  The goalie or the passer should make a good pass that leads the offensive player, is on the opposite shoulder from where the defensive player is chasing, and does not lead them so much that the opposing goalie could come out of the cage and steal the pass. 

Once the pass is received, the offensive player should take it to the cage.  If they have enough separation, I like for them to pick up the ball underneath about 4 or 5 meters out for a rear back shot.  If they don’t have time to fake when doing this, I stress getting up real high with their legs and then putting the majority of the shots on the water.  However, I think it is good to mix up your shot placement because a good goalie will adjust if they shoot the ball on the water every single time, so every single shot does not have to be on the water.  If the offensive player gets enough separation where they have time to fake, I still like for them to pick up the ball again around 4 or 5 meters out.  When they fake, I like for them to again have good legs and now also walk across the width of the cage and take their shot somewhere between the two post.  If they are able to quickly move laterally across the cage while faking, this should help get the goalie out of position for the shot.

The other scenario is when the offensive player is slower than the defensive chaser.  They do get to start with a half body length lead though, so in these situations, their job is to seal their defender off as they swim down the pool.  If the defender is on the outside shoulder, they should seal off to the outside lane line or wall, somewhere between half and 7M, they should make an explosive change of direction towards the cage, and this is when the passer looks to hit them.  The defender will still probably be on their outside shoulder or back, and the offense need to maintain their advantage by holding their inside water while swimming to the cage.  Again, at around 4 or 5 meters they should look to start their shot.  They can either practice a wet shot in the situation, or they can seal of their defender with their off shoulder, get their legs, and then look to finish with inside water like a 2M player who just turned their defender would do.

Usually I have dark caps go two offensive series, and then they switch offense and defense without stopping the drill, and then the white caps go two offensive series.  At this point, I will stop the drill and switch the defenders position.  If I had the defense on the outside shoulder a half body length behind, then the next time, I will put the defense on the inside shoulder, a half body length behind.  In the setup, the offense needs to cut to the middle right away so they can get the defender on their back.  The shooting scenarios are similar if they get separation or if they need to finish holding their inside water.

I also switch up the drill so the lines start from 1,2 side for the counter attacks, and then I also have them start from the 4, 5 side, again with putting the defense in different positions.

I have worked with some coaches who like to have the counter attack in this drill go two ways.  So the offensive player counters down and shoots, and on the shot, the defender kicks off the offense and then counters the other way.  I like the idea of going down and back, but very often I feel the first defender stops playing good defense and starts their counter the other way too early.  This results in the first offender not learning how to finish with a defender on their back, and it also usually leads to too much separation on the second counter since the defender left early.  I prefer just doing the one counter and going to back of the line because there is no incentive to cheat on the defense this way.

Another variation that I do like to add to this drill is the offense has to go again if they miss their shot.  So if they miss, instead of going to the back of the line of the cage next to them, they go to the front.  They basically start their counter the other way once they know they missed their shot, and after they pass the front of the defensive line, a fresh defender should chase after them.  If they miss again, they go again.  You can keep making them go if they miss, but after three or four misses, the defender always catches them.  I like to make them do a hundred fly or something like that if they miss three in a row.

Those are Hernias, and although it is just “one on nobodies”, I think players can learn a lot from this drill…

  1. How to finish a one on nobody with separation
  2. How to finish a one on nobody with a defender on your back
  3. How to finish a one on nobody with a defender on your outside shoulder
  4. How to release for the ball and keep your advantage on a one on nobody
  5. How to make good counter attack passes and lead your teammate when they have an advantage
  6. Defensively, how to chase someone down on a counter without getting kicked out by not going over the shoulders but rather swimming around and also showing hands when you caught on somebody’s back.
  7. If you do the drill for a long time, it is like doing sprints (make sure your players are swimming all out on offense and defense), and then they will also have to learn to finish with they are tired.
  8. Finally, it is also great work for the goalies to see all different types of one on nobody shots and to make long counter attack passes.

Keith WilberCoach's Biography          Coach's Water Polo Web Site

Water Polo Drill #28: "22 Second Counter" by Coach Tom Whittemore, University of Redlands

Time period can be adjusted based on length of course (30m, 25m , 25y, etc.), length of shot clock (35 or 30), and capabilities of team.

Although I believe this drill has many benefits, we use this drill to focus on two common problems in the offensive counterattack. I have found that, at times, players' effort on the counter is directly related to their perceived chance to score. In other words, the greater the advantage, the greater the effort. Also, it can be difficult to transition from a hard counter to a quality front court possession. We use this drill to encourage a more consistent effort on the counter, even if there is no obvious advantage, and to become more efficient in our transition to front court offense.

This drill is best run with visible shot clocks; however it can be run using a stopwatch as well.

This drill can be run for a set number of counters (2 per team, 4 per team, etc.) or for a certain duration of time (5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.)

The drill is quite simple. Set up your teams 6 on 6 in the frontcourt. Start with an immediate counterattack. Do not give the team on the offensive counterattack an advantage. Let all 12 field players start at the same time. Run the shot clock as you would in a game.

The goal of the offense is to accomplish one of the following things before the shot clock runs down to the prescribed time (22 seconds, 20 seconds, 18 seconds):

If the offensive team does not accomplish one of these goals, then it is an automatic offensive foul and the counter goes back the other way.

If the offense does accomplish one of the goals, then they retain possession and continue their offense to a conclusion (goal, shot, steal, dump, etc.).

It is important to note that the offense does not have to shoot or score by the prescribed time limit. They can maintain possession simply by working hard enough to quickly move players into attacking positions.

We usually counter any shot to decrease rest, and increase conditioning, flow, and reaction from D to O.

Additional benefits to this drill include:

  1. Conditioning
  2. Encourage 6 player effort on counter.
  3. Focus on transition from counter O to front-court O, and counter D to front court D.
  4. Clock awareness
  5. Encourage the concept that a successful counter does not always lead to a shot, but can lead to an efficient transition to good front court offense.
  6. Encourage Centers and perimeter players to be aware of early opportunities for entry to 2-meters.
  7. Encourage attacking front of goal on counter.
  8. Encourage early movement on offense to help stimulate transition to front court O.
  9. Encourage those players who may not be great scorers to understand that they can progress the offense by great effort on the counter.
  10. Encourage all offensive players to move into attacking positions on offense.
  11. Encourage offensive players to create there own advantage where no obvious advantage exists.

Tom WhittemoreCoach's Biography          Coach's Water Polo Web Site


The medal pictured above is the last solid gold Olympic medal which was given out at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in Sweden

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