Volume 1:  Number 5            Augustl 1, 2006

US National Men's and Women's Water Polo Players or Coaches

Each month a playeror coach from a US National Men's Team and a player or coach from a US National Women's Team will give the water polo community some tips on how to play a particular position or a fundamental skill. In turn WPP will post a photograph and concise biography to help the water polo community get to know the players and coaches.

Playing As a Defender by Jesse Smith

We just arrived in Athens and I will refer to the two meter man as center, and two meter defender as defender.

My six tips for playing the center as a defender are:

1. In general it is important for the defender to keep their hips up, with their back approaching parallel to the plane of the surface of the water. This allows the player to exert strong pushing power (from the eggbeater-- legs swirling like propellers, very fast) against the center player and it also prevents the center from grappling with the defender's torso and suit.

2. Depending on the position of the center, the parameter players, and the ball, the defender can decide to play between the ball and the center or between the center and the goal. If the ball can successfully be entered into the center from the parameter then it easier to prevent a goal or penalty by playing behind the center; the defender can try and hinder the center's shot and probably not be excluded, or prevent the center from shooting and probably be excluded. If the defender thinks it unlikely the ball will be passed over or through them from the perimeter (without the defender touching it), then the defender can "front" and play in between the center and the ball. It is important for the defender to play the odds and be realistic about the inherent advantage given to the center; try and limit this disadvantage and thereby limit the exclusions, goals, and penalties.

3. The two above tips should be clear to any advanced players, and are to be used as guidelines for beginner players. Advanced players having realized the role of the defender should think of ways to practice solutions to the problems they encountered while trying to follow the above ideas. This can include holding something heavy above the head while eggbeating, and weightlifting (i.e., squats) so that the defender can manipulate the center's position more effectively. The defender should find out the range of "fronting" that he/she feels comfortable with during practice (mock situations where parameter players pass it in to center, and the defender lunges for the ball-- the center does nothing, and then as the defender becomes more successful at tipping the ball, the center can work to get the ball, making the drill more difficult for the defender.

4.It is also important for the defender to get adequate sleep, and eat healthy because endurance, mental clarity, and strength are vital for success at any position andt especialy at the defender position.

5.Always remember that the defender can learn something from every practice and every game, and there is always room for improvement. I am writing these things out of experience, and most of the techniques I have learned over the years from more experienced players are all centered around the above very simple ideas.

6. The most important tip I can offer is to develop techniques of practice which focus on improving the method of technique rather than the result of a certain technique. So try and get around quickly and judge your success upon that, rather than how many steals you can get. Good luck, and have fun! If you have any questions or comments please email at [email protected]


INTERNATIONAL/CLUB: Has drawn acclaim as one of the game’s most naturally gifted athletes…Scored six goals for Team USA at the 2005 FINA WorldChampionships…Was one of the U.S.A.’s top scorers at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece...Scored 9 goals at the 2004 Summer Olympics, includingtwo goals in his Olympic debut against Croatia and a three-goal performance against Italy to clinch 7th Place for the U.S....Made a splash in 2002 as anexciting passer, scorer and defender…Scored in three games at the 2003 Pan American Games...Had four goals in the finals of the 2003 World Championships...Was named as the Top Defender at the 2003 American Water Polo League finals for Newport…Finished fourth on the team with nine goals in the2002 FINA World League…Scored four goals in Team USA’s win over Russia in July…Made senior National Team debut at the 2001 Canada Cup, inCalgary.

PROFESSIONAL: Spent the 2005/2006 season playing for Ethnikos Pireus in Greece

COLLEGE: Played at Pepperdine University... A Division I First-Team All-American in 2004…A First-Team MPSF pick in 2002...First-Team All-American in2002...Led the Waves with 55 goals in 2003.

HIGH SCHOOL: A graduate of Coronado High School in Coronado, CA... Helped Coronado to three San Diego Section CIF Division II championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000...Named San Diego Union Tribune Player of the Year in both 1999 and 2000.

PERSONAL: Favorite foods range from sushi to carrots...Enjoys hiking.

2005 FINA World Championships, Montreal, Canada, 11th place
2005 FINA World League
2004 Olympic Games, Athens, Greece, 7th place
2004 Torneo di Napoli, Naples, Italy, 3rd place
2003 FINA World League Super Finals, New York, NY, 3rd place
2003 Pan American Games, Dominican Republic, 1st place
2003 FINA World Championships, Barcelona, Spain, 6th place
2003 Jobo Curtini Tournament, Rijeka, Croatia, 3rd place
2003 FINA World League, Budapest, Hungary, 3rd place
2003 U.S. Cup, Stanford, CA, United States, 2nd place
2003 French International, Nice, France, 1st place
2002 FINA World Cup, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 7th place
2002 Unicum Cup, Budapest, Hungary, 4th place
2002 FINA World League, Various Locations, 3rd place
2002 Tristar International, Kranj, Slovenia, 3rd place
2002 Eight-Nations Tournament, Nice, France, 3rd place
2001 Pan American Qualifying Tournament, Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep., 1st place
2000 Junior Pan American Championships, Barqisimieto, Venezuela, 1st place

(Biography by Kelly Foster photograph by Kirby Lee - provided courtesy of USA Water Polo)

Tips for the Defender by Natalie Golda

The defender is the most important component of half court defense. A good defender will determine the defense played against an opponent and have the ability to physically fatigue an opponent’s center. In addition the defender contributes to a team by creating counter attack advantage opportunities, the focal point of the transition counter attack and the ability to score from the perimeter.

The objective of the defender is to neutralize the center. This can be accomplished in the following ways:

  1. Gain and maintain ball side position for as long as possible
  2. Use ball side positioning to force the center farther away from the goal and then establish inside position (The defender is between the center and the goal)
  3. in addition to gaining and maintaining ball side position, the defender can physically fatigue the center by always being hard to defend during the counter attack and the offense

Defender’s Key Responsibilities

  1. Gain ball side position by the defensive ten-meter line
  2. Maintain ball side position for as long as possible
  3. When behind, establish inside position behind the center’s strong side turn shoulder
  4. Allow no goals from the center position
  5. Never allow the center to rest

Defender’s Base Position

  1. Body is in a horizontal position
  2. Maintain an arm length away from the center
  3. Maintain contact with the center and always know the location of the ball

Ball Side Position Techniques

  1. Swim Around
  2. One Arm Swim Around
  3. Spin Around

Swim Around: Center grabbing the top of the Defender’s suit

  1. Take quick and choppy free style strokes to release the grab at the top of the suit
  2. At each spot maintain contact with the center and vision to the ball
  3. The critical point is when the ball is at the x3 defensive position. When the ball is passed from x3 to x2 or x3 to x4 you have to swing your legs around and point them to the ball. Your hips must switch (right hip to left hip or left hip to right hip) so you can face the location of the ball.

One Arm Swim Around

  • Use this technique of fronting when you are dealing with a smaller more mobile center.
  • When using the one arm swim around you maintain contact with the inside arm. Using quick strokes with the outside arm to help you move from spot to spot.
  • Again the crucial point is at x3. You have to switch hips and have feet pointing at the ball. Always have vision of the ball.

Spin Around

  • Spinning around is a good way of getting the center to release their hold.
  • Body position on the spin around is: x1 hips up pointed to the ball inside hand on center; x2 spin into the armpit and get square/face to the ball (defender’s back is into the center); x3 snap your shoulder and place hand on center and hips up; x4 spin into the armpit and get square/face to the ball; x5 full spin, hips up pointed to the ball and place hand on center hips up.

Drill    (1 on 1)
With a partner practice each of the three ball side positioning techniques. Visualize the ball being passed starting at x1 to x2 to x3 to x4 to x5. Then reverse direction, visualize the ball being passed from x5, to x4 to x3 to x2 to x1.


Has been involved with the U.S. National Team since 1998 then she was on the Youth National Team…Stepped up to the Senior National Team in 2003… Is one of the program’s strongest players…. Led the team along with Van Norman with 12 goals at the 2005 FINA WorldLeague….Led Team USA out of a slump with the team’s first goal in the 2004 Olympics Bronze medal victory… Scored in two games at the 2003 PanAmerican Games, where the USA won gold to qualify for the Athens Olympics...Had four goals at the 2003 World Championships...Netted three goals at2003 Thetis Cup in Greece…Has been included in the Speedo Top 40 Tournament since 2003.

PROFESSIONAL: Joined Glyfada, a Greek club team, for the end of season play offs.

COLLEGE: 2005 AWPCA Player of the Year, MPSF Conference Player of the Year, NCAA tournament MVP, and NCAA 1st-tournament team… Awarded2004 Peter J. Cutino Award (Collegiate Water Polo MVP)… Was a member of UCLA’s 2001 and 2003 NCAA championship teams... Led the Bruins inscoring with 50 goals in 2003... Named to the 1st team at the 2003 NCAA and MPSF tournaments... 1st team All-American in 2003 and Honorable MentionAll-American in 2002...Co-led the 2002 Bruins in scoring with 37 goals...Named to both NCAA and MPSF All-Tournament Teams.

HIGH SCHOOL: Named CIF Division III Player of the Year her junior and senior years at Rosary High School, which won the CIF Championship in 1998 and 1999... 1st Team All-County…OC Register Athlete of the Year.

PERSONAL: Played softball for 14 years and loves being part of a team… Younger brother plays water polo at the agegroup level…Served as the Student Assistant Coach for UCLA through the 2006 season… Listens to “Highway to Hell” toprepare for games… Describes best water polo moment as scoring a goal in the Bronze Medal game in the 2004 Olympics…Favorite movies are Dumb and Dumber and Spaceballs.

2005 FINA World Championships, Montreal, Canada, 2nd place
2005 FINA World League, Kirishi, Russia, 5th place
2004 Olympic Games, Athens, Greece, 3rd place
2004 FINA World League Series, Long Beach, CA, 1st place
2004 Holiday Cup, La Jolla, CA, 1st place
2003 Holiday Cup, Los Alamitos, CA, 1st place
2003 Pan American Games, Dominican Republic, 1st place
2003 FINA World Championships, Barcelona, Spain, 1st place
2001 Junior World Championships, Perth, Australia, 1st place

(Biography by Kelly Foster photograph by Kirby Lee - provided courtesy of USA Water Polo)