Volume 1:  Number 12           March 1, 2006

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

Each month a player or 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.

Tips for Attackers and Drivers by Ricardo Azevedo, US Men's Head Coach

PRIORITY – Managing the game

Understanding the position -

  • Read game situation
  • Understand movement versus mobility
  • Hand speed
  • Body position
  • Leg strength – explosiveness and endurance
  • Know the clock and know your sets
  • Understand the offense’s game plan

Knowing when to drive -

  • Evaluate offensive sets
  • Read the Center position
  • Know the game situation (Score, Time, etc)
  • Be aware of your defender ability to counter
  • Evaluate position of defender
  • Be aware of the ball

Shooting opportunities -

  • Scout your opponents
  • Establish your range for the perimeter shot
  • Be aware of the Game situation
  • Understand type of shot required for success
  • Keep your legs under you for counter defense

Attacking a drop -

  • Need to know where each player likes the ball
  • Don’t get lazy with your passing
  • Control the goalie by always looking like a shooter
  • Move both forward and sideways as you fake, create a new lane with your faking
  • Communicate with each other when, sure of decision
  • Do not give up the counter attack
  • Know our way to break each drop, and execute accordingly

Attacker versus Driver?

  • When playing in the attacker mode, one must be in control
  • When driving, go 100%
  • Know where you are in the pool and what is your next move
  • As an attacker, you must RUN the offense
  • As a driver, you must EXECUTE the offense

Counter Responsibilities –

  • Get to your back and see where the logical place is to go
  • Counter all the way through, and be aware of spacing
  • Be aware of the post ups and switch early
  • Listen for directions and adjust accordingly
  • Stay mobile as, the next move is a stroke away
  • Release for the ball and pass under pressure - DO NOT GET FOULED


Learning how to Drive –

  • Timing drives from every position (5 to 7 meters)
  • Leg position for both offensive and defensive stands
  • Side to side movement without losing your legs - stay in the horizontal
  • Hand speed, learn to drive with either hand
  • Work on variations (Give and Go, Stop and Go, etc)
  • Learn to acquire ball side, by establishing strong stroke techniques

Defending the drive -

  • Evaluate both your and your opponent’s speed and range
  • Legs and hip rotation is a must and must be practiced every day
  • Play defense with your position and not with your hands
  • Shot blocking is PARAMOUNT, work on it every day
  • Take an extra stroke whenever possible, but be aware of where you are
  • Keep your head up and control the direction of the driver
  • Be aware of Defensive set, and play accordingly

Communication with team mates -

  • Swivel drill - come over hips to crash and recover
  • Shot block - turn to reach, recover the shooting lane
  • Post pushing drill, use the opponent to gain distance on recovery
  • Call for help when being posted by bigger player
  • Be ready to help everywhere, and communicate such

Shooting Situations –

  • Swim and shoot from every position
  • Shooting off the pass both front and cross
  • Wrestle and shoot 5 times (2 out, 2 in, and 5 meter)
  • Perimeter shooting with a defender
  • Pressure shooting (inside and outside)
  • Specific situation shooting (6/5, 5 meter, penalty)

Developing Leg Strength

  • Heavy Ball, both vertically and horizontally
  • Weight belts
  • Bands and heavy bars
  • Wrestle and shoot situation
  • Squats and dry land lifts, running, and metric exercises


  • Must work very hard on anticipation and execution
  • Must be ready to cover for the position players
  • Be in control and take someone with you whenever possible
  • No personal battles think we not me!
  • As an attacker you are in control, be aggressive and run your sets
  • Be ready to play long minutes “Be is Shape All the time”


  • Do not get beat to ball side
  • Limit the number of exclusions outside on the counter
  • Force the ball to your strong side when guarding in the perimeter
  • Be an explosive counter player and smart shooter
  • Protect the ball, no steals on the perimeter
  • Get to your back soon and often, you will be call upon to help
  • Be aware of the time when driving
  • Do not shoot when a teammate is driving


Ricardo AzevedoRicardo came on deck as the Men’s National Team Head Coach in December 2005. He brings with him 21 years of experience working with national team programs. He spent 1998-2005 as the men’s and women’s head coach at California State University Long Beach.

During his tenure at CSULB, the 49ers recorded their highest MPSF tournament finish ever. Azevedo began his National Team career as the Junior National Team coach from 1984-1992. He went on to served as the assistant coach for 1996 and 2004 Olympic Teams. In addition, he was named Olympic Development Coach of the Year in 1998.

Azevedo also has a long list of accomplishments at the high school level. From 1990 to 1998, he served as the water polo coach at Long Beach Wilson High School where he led numerous teams to CIF Championships. Azevedo was voted CIF Coach of the Year three times and was selected as the 1998 California High School Coach of the Year.

Azevedo graduated from Long Beach State in 1979 as a two-time All-American. During his collegiate years, he also played for the Brazilian National Team (1974-1980) and Club Botafogo (1975-77). A 1975 graduate of Wilson High School, Azevedo and his wife, Libby, reside in Long Beach and have two children, Tony, a two-time Olympian and pro water polo player in Italy, and Cassie, a four-time All-American water polo player at Cal State

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

Planning Practice: Part 2 by Guy Baker, US Women's Head Coach

The curriculum for designing a practice must be appropriate for each age level. This article will focus on 12 and under and 13-14 age groups.

Age group water polo planning practices guidelines recommended by the Senior National Team staff.

  1. Create an environment of passion and love for water polo.
  2. Plan practices in advance and keep the practice and all activities short and crisp.
  3. Determine the appropriate length of practice, not too short or long; 1:15-2:00.
  4. Keep practices fun and interesting by maximizing activity and minimizing lines.
  5. Have a ball for every player and try to involve as many players as possible in practice activities so as many players as possible are active.
  6. Plan the amount of time you will spend on an activity and stick to it.; End practices on time. Wear a watch and use it.
  7. Spend 80-100% of the practice time on activities that have a high ball ratio, water polo movements without the ball and small sided (1x1, 2x1, 2x2, 3x2 or 3x3) attacking and defending. 0-20% of the time in activities that involve low ball ratio for example scrimmages, with one ball and a lot of players.
  8. Build competition into the practice. Competition is fun and prepares players for real water polo games.
  9. The game of water polo is played at a minimum 60-70% in the vertical to semi-vertical position. Remember this when planning a practice.
  10. Make conditioning fun; include ball, partners, groups…

12 AND UNDER: Development of individual and small group tactics
This is the golden age of learning and the most important age for skill development. Demonstration is very important and the players learn best by doing. This is also an important time to introduce and teach the basic principles of play. It is important to establish discipline from the beginning.

Coach must be: An enthusiastic and positive teacher, possess water polo awareness, ability to demonstrate or utilize someone who can paint a good picture, (older player, assistant coach), knowledge of key factors of basic skills, give encouragement.


  • Develop a good overall base.
  • Develop movement and skills with and without the ball.
  • Emphasize defense and offense individual skills.
  • Develop the individual skills under the pressure of time, space and an opponent.
  • Increase technical speed.
  • Encourage taking risks.


  • Individual: Start 1x1 situations offense and defense
  • Small group: 2x1, 2x2, 3x2 and 3x3
  • Position: Players must play a variety of positions. They must develop an awareness of the game. Emphasize the complete player and the basic principles of play
  • Defense:Basic principles of press defense
  • Offense: Basic principles of press offense
  • Team: Team tactics do not take a priority at this age. Focus is placed on body positioning and the skills. Players play a variety of positions and emphasis is placed on player development instead of getting results.
  • System: Put players in the water for the love of the game, without spending much time coaching a system. Focus on teaching the fundamentals as opposed to systems


  • Conditioning with the ball
  • Conditioning without the ball emphasizing water polo movements
  • Condition with partners and groups
  • Use fun and engaging activities


  • Keep it fun
  • Encourage decision making
  • Imagination/creativity
  • Increase demands of training
  • Emphasize discipline
  • Encourage players to watch high school, college and National Team games

14 AND UNDER: Development of individual and small group tactics
The pace of development quickens at this time due to the acceleration of physical and mental maturation. The demands of skill training as well as training loads should increase, thus provoking improvement with mental toughness and concentration. Awareness of tactics within the game becomes an important facet of the learning process.

Coach must be: Enthusiastic, patient but demanding.


  • Build on the press defense and offense
  • Begin zone defense and offense
  • Continue to emphasize the development of individual skills under the pressure of time, space and an opponent
  • Continue to increase defense and offense technical speed
  • Begin counter attack individual skills
  • Begin 6x5 and 5x6 individual skills


  • Increase tactical speed (decision making under pressure)
  • Individual 1x1 Press and Zone Defense and Offense situations
  • Small Group: Continue with 2x1 to 3x3 and add 4x4
  • Team: Start Teach possession of the ball concepts. Goalkeeper becomes involved in the counter attack. Base 6x5 and 5x6 structure.
  • System: Base concepts for defense, counter attack, offense 6x5 and 5x6. Keep it simple.  Love of the game and the fundamentals are still more important. There should be a great deal of coaching in 2x2, 3x3 and 4x4 situations.


  • Conditioning with and without the ball
  • Flexibility: static and dynamic stretching
  • Agility: Coordination with and without the ball
  • Strength: non-weight bearing and core strength
  • Speed and endurance activities


  • The game should still be fun and enjoyable. Players should have a passion for the game.
  • Imagination and creativity
  • Increase demands
  • Establish practice goals
  • Maintain discipline
  • Encourage players to watch high school, college and National Team games


In 1998, Guy Baker took over the USA Women’s water polo program and ran with it. In eight years time, Baker turned the national team program into the most decorated women’s water polo program in the world. He coached the Women’s National Team to a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, a World Championship title in 2003 and a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Guy Baker US CoachPrior to his Women’s National Team head coaching position, Baker served as the assistant coach to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Baker began his coaching career in 1985 as an assistant coach under Ken Lindgren at Long Beach State University, where he was a former star player. After six years with the 49ers, Baker moved on to UCLA, here he was named men's head coach in 1991. In his first year, Baker coached the men’s team to a second-place NCAA finish and was named American Water Polo Coaches Association Coach of the Year. UCLA added women’s water polo in 1995, prompting Baker to tackle head coach double duty from 1995-1998. In that time, the UCLA women’s team notched three collegiate titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998 and the men’s team won four NCAA titles in 1995, 1996, 1999 and 2000. Baker was named National Coach of the Year on the men’s side in 1995 and 1996 and for the women’s team in 1997 and 1998. Baker was the first coach in history to lead both a men’s and women’s collegiate team to NCAA titles in the same year (1995-96). He went on to duplicate the double win the following year.

Baker, who is also an avid basketball fan, currently lives in Long Beach, Calif., with his wife, Michelle, and his two daughters, Samantha and Christen.

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

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