Volume 2:  Number 1            April 1, 2007

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 playeror 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 the Center Defender by Ricardo Azevedo, US Men's Head Coach

PRIORITY – Controlling the center

Holding position -

  • Keep the center away from 2 meters
  • Legs – your legs will determine your success
  • Upper body strength
  • Body position
  • Stay away from being sealed
  • Read the entry angles and play your diagonals accordingly
  • Understand the offense’s game plan

Don’t give up the turn -

  • Position your body Diagonally
  • Seal one side of the Center
  • Anticipate the entry pass
  • Position body in the way of the turn
  • Use the foul early
  • Work with the goalie

Take away Shooting Opportunities -

  • Establish a strong and aggressive presence early in the game
  • Scout your opponents
  • Match-up with Center as soon as you can
  • Be aware of the Game situation
  • Understand spacing versus Time left
  • *Need to work on understanding which shot is the center attempting
  • Force the outside move, so the Team defense can help

Running a drop -

  • Need to know where each player likes the ball
  • Recognize your own range of strength
  • Don’t get lazy - practice and play with good technique
  • Control the center at all times, do not allow separation
  • Work on Shot blocking with either hand
  • Work on maintaining position or going for better positioning
  • Do not give up a turn
  • Keep your body on the opposite side of the drop

How long do I stay in front?

  • As long as you can control the entry pass
  • Do not let the Center seal the wings on you
  • Know where you are in the pool
  • Don’t give up the 5 meter shot, play him like an attacker
  • Remember that power plays are better than penalties

Counter Responsibilities –

  • Punish the Center when leaving the position, without turning the ball over
  • Counter all the way through, don’t stop in the middle
  • On 6 on 5 counters, you are the release turn to your back early
  • Communicate your position and intentions
  • Find the center on Offense and punish him, as much as possible


    Learning how to commit a foul –

    • Foul through the man, and never pull back
    • Diagonal Drill – Position on Front and Back
    • Side to side movement without grabbing the shoulder
    • Leg lunges to control the Center, reestablish the legs
    • Work on entry pass adjustments from 1-3-5

    Reading the Offense -

    • Allow a pass to the wing and adjust and protect against the turn
    • On a cross pass, position legs first than upper body on the diagonals
    • When defending a driving offense be aware of the lanes by stepping into the side
    • Jump around and control the Center, still maintaining Shot blocking lanes
    • Know the clock and Foul situation

    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
    • Develop buzz words when calling players back – discuss with team mates
    • Practice different drop defenses and gage your own range

    Developing Leg Strength

    • Heavy Ball, both vertically and horizontally
    • Weight belts
    • Bands and heavy bars
    • Animal drill (very good game situation drill)
    • Sprints off wrestle situation
    • Squats and dry land lifts, running and ply metric exercises


  • Stay even keeled and don’t show emotion
  • Must realize more than anybody that he will get bad calls
  • Control your temper, you will get hit at times
  • No personal battles – think we – not me!
  • The best defense, is how much you make him work before he shoots


  • Do not allow a natural goal at the 2-meter position
  • Limit the number of exclusions outside of 2-meter position
  • Force the centers to commit offensive foul
  • Be an explosive counter player and smart shooter
  • Counter to offense every time at 100%
  • When countering to defense “Find the Center”
  • Be an asset to the team, and not a loose cannon


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 3 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 16 and under.

This is a critical time in the player’s development.  Many stop playing due to other interests, lack of success, lack of playing time, poor leadership or other reasons. Players tend to lack mental toughness and self-confidence.  They tend to be self-critical and struggle with their desire to be competitive or need to be more competitive.  There is a need for attention and security.  There is a focus on team spirit, leadership and discipline within the team. 

Coach must be: Charismatic, experienced, knowledgeable, articulate, a disciplinarian, have managerial know how, a thoughtful persuader. 


  • Techniques should be mastered leading to artistry and improvisation, all under game conditions. 
  • Individual skills covered during the warm up and/or in competitive situations.   
  • Increase technical speed.  
  • Begin specific position training.
  • Technical training supports the tactical system
  • Technique is still highly emphasized at this age.  


  • Increase tactical speed (decision making)
  • Individual: The beginning of tactical understanding in all aspects of the game
  • Small group: 3x3 and 4x4
  • Position: Players start to play specific positions; attacker, center and defender. Practices should be designed to include specific position training; especially for the goalkeeper and the center.
  • Defense: Base principles of press and zone defense
  • Counter Attack: Understanding of advantages, spacing and transition
  • Offense: Base principles of press and zone attack
  • 6x5:
    • Attacking the 3x2
    • Attacking Storm and 4x1 defenses
  • 5x6:
    • Positional responsibilities
    • Shot Blocking
  • Team:
    • Clearly defined team tactics


  • Conditioning should still take place with and without the ball
  • Conditioning without the ball emphasizing water polo movements    
  • Flexibility: Static and dynamic
  • Importance of warm up and warm down
  • Swim Training: Aerobic
  • Strength Training: Core, upper and lower body (emphasize overall body)
  • Nutrition: Proper diet pre and post game and at tournaments
  • Importance of rest and recovery


  • Increased concentration
  • Leadership and player responsibilities
  • Discipline
  • Respect for the game
  • Establish pre-practice and pre-game routines
  • 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)