Volume2: Number 6 Women's Varsity Coaches June 15, 2007

Bi-weekly a varsity coach from the west coast and a varsity coach from the east coast is given the same question solicited from a member of the water polo community. The coaches answer the question independent of each other and their answers are posted here together with a photograph and short biography of each coach. We hope to have the men's varsity coaches to answer the questions in the fall and winter and the women's varsity coaches to answer the questions in the winter and spring.

QUESTION: Your team hardly ever gets any of the loose balls and they do not switch very well in a game. This is because most of the time your players on defense are so intent on watching the players they are guarding that they never see the loose ball or an impending switch. What can you do in practice to make them more aware of the ball and critical switches.

Danielle Altman, Coach of UC Santa Barbara

ANSWER: First and foremost, each of my players need to understand certain concepts of water polo defense in order to improve their switches and awareness of loose balls. If we were struggling in these areas, I would reinforce these concepts with the team in practice. I call watching only the player you are guarding "face guarding". Meaning, you are face to face with one player only. The term I will use with my athletes is "keep your head on a swivel". This stresses the importance of turning your head constantly, and improving awareness of what else is going on in the pool.

The best drill for "keeping your head on a swivel" is to play half court press and front water polo. The ball would start on a wing, and each perimeter player must get possession of the ball. Every time the ball moves, each perimeter defender must look behind them at the 2 meter defender, to make sure that we are fronting. If we are not fronting, the player defending the ball must foul and drop.

The second thing that I do is to inform the team that a good front court water polo defense is always a "zone" defense, rather than "man-to-man" defense. Each individual player needs to be responsible not only for the player he or she is defending, but also for the water surrounding the player and the playert he or she is defending. For example, if you are defending the bottom wing, if a player drives into "your water", then that player may become another part of your defensive responsibility. You must defend your water.

There are several ways to improve an individual defender’s abilities to switch in practice. The first step is to break down possible drive opportunities for an offense, and walk through the possible positions of the offense at the end of the drive. For example, I will have two offensive players running a 2-1 or 1-2 pick. I have my two defenders play the pick man-to-man the first few times through the drill. The offense may pick the front or back of the defender, and may balance up or down, or maybe go "back-door". Playing the picks man-to-man will show the defense what "water" the offense is using. The next few times through, I will have the defenders switch, and try to anticipate what water the offense will use. When they switch, the defenders must commit to the switch, even if they end up a little out of position. The third step is to run the pick, and allow the defenders to communicate whether they will switch or stay on their player. This allows them to make the same choice that they will have in a game situation.

One of the best practice drillst I will run with my team to teach them how  to recognize the location of the ball is a "silent scrimmage". The players in the scrimmage are not allowed to verbally communicate. This forces the players to use other senses in order to be more aware of what is going on in the scrimmage. For example, the players must use sight a lot. As this pertains to defense, the players must turn their head to see the ball. This silent scrimmage can be run both full and half court, and will guarantee better awareness from your players.

Danielle Altman

Danielle Altman,UCSBHead Coach Danielle Altman enters her fifth season at the helm of the UC Santa Barbara women's water polo team in 2007. Under her tutelage, the 2006 Gauchos finished the season with an overall record of 18-17 and were ranked 14th in the Collegiate Water Polo Association National Coaches Poll after placing 10th in the ultra-competitive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

The 2006 season was the second consecutive winning season for Altman at UCSB marking the first pair of back-to-back winning seasons for the Gauchos in recent program history (1996 or later).

In 2005, the Gauchos went 17-12 overall and 5-7 in the MPSF, ending the season ranked ninth in the CWPA Poll and marking the first winning season for UCSB since 1997 when the team posted a 20-15 record. The 2005 season also marked a milestone for Altman: her first season over .500 at the Division I level.

In Altman's tenure with UCSB, she has placed four players on the All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Team, including current senior Aimee Stachowski, a two-time conference honoree.

Altman joined UCSB in 2003 when she helped lead the Gauchos to a 16-16 record, which she duplicated the following season. Overall the Grass Valley, Calif. native has steered the Gauchos to a 131-119 four-year record.

Prior to joining the Gaucho family, Altman served as the head women's water polo coach at California State University, San Bernardino for four seasons. With the Coyotes, she compiled a four-year record of 64-58 and in 2002, she guided San Bernardino to a 26-8 mark, the best in program history. In her final two seasons with the Coyotes, Altman's teams posted a combined record of 41-18.

In addition to her coaching duties, Altman was a professor of kinesiology at both Cal State San Bernardino and Cal State Fullerton. She began her coaching career as the head water polo coach and swimming coach at Bear River High School in Grass Valley.

J.J. Addison, Coach of Connecticut College

ANSWER: There are two issues here in my opinion: awareness and explosiveness.

The first step is that every player must live by the "Ball, center, player, area" code meaning that every defender must ALWAYS know where the ball is, where the center is, where the player they are guarding is and what is going on in the area around them. Knowing all 4 will put you in a position to make the appropriate defensive play (and anticipate to offense better) but failing on just one, for just a couple of seconds, can lead to a goal against your team. This kind of full court awareness comes from playing experience and while it would be nice to play year round with games every week, most of us must find other ways to gain that experience. I recommend watching other water polo games at tournaments, online, on CSTV, anywhere you can. I also recommend watching basketball, soccer and hockey to see how the concepts of awareness, court vision, help, etc. are sped up, yet remain the same, on land.

Now in the water you have to look away from the player you are guarding in order to see everything else. But if you lose track of your player, you are missing one of the four pillars of awareness and you are likely to be the one who gives up a goal. When I was learning, I was taught to hand-check and look away (behind) to always know what is going on at my back. The problem this presents is that the hand you are checking with can be used against you by an exploitative and explosive driver so it is of utmost importance to check quickly to physically confirm that 'your' player is where you 'left them' while you visually confirm where the ball and center are and what is happening in your area. As players gain experience, they can start watching their own player out of the corner of their eye and focusing more heavily on the ball, center and area. I teach the players I work with to give their player a little space if they need to in order to prevent getting grabbed and to see the bigger picture, then I tell them that it is ok to be 'off' of their man as long as they get a hand up, take away part of the goal and quickly close their player out when they get the ball.

The second step is explosiveness. Whether it is a rebound, switching onto a driver, a turnover, a bad pass...any situation that involves movement, that movement must be quick. I learned the hard way that the best water polo players are not the ones who are fast, who come in first on the swim sets. The best players are the ones who are quick, who anticipate well and move explosively to the ball or the open water. There can be no hesitation in water polo (except in your fake) and when an opportunity presents itself, there can be no 'pacing'. When a lose ball lands in front of the cage and you are guarding the wing, you are not about to swim the 1650, you are about to take 5-10 strokes that will determine the outcome of the play. Do not hesitate and do not swim any slower than your all out sprint speed.

My two favorite drills for dealing with these issues are the 'Red Cap Scrimmage' and 'Four Corner Sprints'. The 'Red Cap Scrimmage' is when you play for a set period of time, with 5 white, 5 blue and 1 red field players. Shot clocks are off and goals do not count. Both teams are constantly pushing the counter but may set up for 10 seconds or so if need be. Player with the red cap is always on offense. The continuous nature of the counter, the fact that the offense always has an advantage and the fact that goals do not 'count' (no line-up after a goal, just immediate counter) forces players to anticipate, cheat and be more aware in general. In 'Four Corner Sprints' players spread out throughout the pool and make one big breaststroke kick and 1-2 hard pulls forward, left, right, and backwards on the whistle. Movement should be contained and at maximum intensity to train the core and the mind to move explosively in any direction at any time.

J.J. Addison

JJ Addison, Conn.JJ Addison enters his fourth season as the head men and women's water polo coach at Connecticut College.

A 2001 graduate of the University of Colorado, Addison previously served as head coach of the club water polo team at his alma-mater. Addison directed the Buffalo water polo program for three years, his first two as a student-coach. Under his direction, Colorado had an overall record of 29-5. In 2001, Addison was honored as the Southwest Division Coach of the Year.

Prior to his arrival at Colorado, Addison spent three years at the University of Southern California. Addison excelled with the Trojan varsity program, and received the Spirit of Troy Award from the University in 1997.