Basic body balance should be the most important and first thing that is taught to all levels. This will give our young athletes the tools to play and excel in our sport. It’s as important as teaching a beginning boxer to keep his hands up to guard his face from punches. When I speak about balance in the water I am speaking about Stability! Without Stability there is no balance and we can not accept floating as a option. So what is the best way to find our balance/stability in the water? In my opinion, the best way to find your balance is to be aware of when you actually lose your balance. Each and every player should know when he/she is in balance and therefore stable in the water and when they are out of balance.
Here are a few examples from other sports of being balanced or playing with stability. Think about a basketball player who is playing defense in a ready position – wide stance, knees bent a little, on the balls of his/her feet, ready to move left/right/forward or back whatever the circumstance calls for. Or think about a baseball player getting ready to field a ground ball. The same stability or balance is necessary – wide stance knees bent, keeping the ball in front of him/her ready to react and jump right or left if the ball takes a bad hop. Or think about a volleyball player ready to receive a serve or dig a spike – same stance – ready to react to the ball. In all cases these athletes are on the balls of there feet ready to spring into action to react to the situation. If they were back on their heels they could not or would not react to a ball the same way. In fact, they may actually fall over if they had to react too far to the left or to the right. The same concepts apply in our sport. We must teach our young athletes to find their balance and be ready to react to a bad pass or jump to make a block. In water polo it is very evident whether or not a goalie is on balance. Watch them as they prepare to jump for a ball to make a block. It will become quite clear as to whether or not the goalie is starting from a balanced position.
A water polo athlete must maintain a level of stability through out the game. This means that our athletes must master the ability to transition from a horizontal position in the water to a vertical position in the water without losing stability and balance. The only way to master this skill set is to practice it. In order to practice it first both the athlete and the coach must be aware of when they are in balance and have good stability and when they are not. Much attention must be given to this skill. Without this ability there is no hope to move up the ladder and become a great water polo player.
Balance can be applied to all aspects of the game such as individual technical movements of the game such as Passing, Shooting, Field Blocking, Attacking with the ball, Attacking away from the ball, and Defending.
Here are a couple of exercises to help your athletes with balance.
- Begin with both hands on the ball, keep the ball over the head. The ball is touching or slightly above the head. While using an eggbeater kick maintain proper balance in the water. Try to keep the upper body fairly stiff and uninvolved. Feel your stability in the water while you focus on your legs and lower trunk. Now force yourself to fall off balance and then regain your stability. Fall off balance to the right and regain balance, then to the left and regain balance, forward and regain balance and then backwards and regain your balance. The focus is on your legs. Balance should be regained using the legs only. Once again the upper body should be uninvolved in this drill as much as possible. Instruct your athletes that they can use their legs only – in order to find their balance from an off balance position they should try to go from an egg beater kick to a breaststroke kick and then return to eggbeater again as they balance out.
Balance passing drill - Make sure that balance is a part of this drill at all times. Instruct your athletes to take the ball from the water and hold their hand underneath the ball - two inches off the water line, tell them to hold that position and raise their entire body 2 inches higher out of the water, then have them slowly turn their body 360 degrees maintaining balance at all times, once they see their target then they throw the ball to the their passing partner who will catch the ball and repeat the drill. The point of the drill is to keep stability and balance and be aware of it as they move their bodies around in the water and perform this passing drill. As they do this they will build the proper body motion and strengthen muscle memory.
- This can also be accomplished just by doing a simple passing drill with 3 players. Have the athletes stay 2 inches above their normal passing position in the water (in other words they elevate their entire body 2 inches higher in the water and perform the entire drill this way. Then have them pass clockwise first for 5 minutes and then after a short break repeat the drill counter clockwise. When the athletes are working their legs they are much more likely to stay on balance with good stability
Bad pass and react drill – Three players. The player throwing the pass purposefully throws a bad pass. The pass should be catch able but out of a normal range. The goal is to force the receiver off balance and make them receive the ball off balance and then recover to find their balance as quickly and efficiently as possible before they make the next pass. This is a great drill for teaching awareness. The players go from balance to off balance back to balance. Once again, focus on the legs. They should go from an egg beater kick to a breaststroke kick and back to an eggbeater kick as they find their balance.
Critical thinking on body balance:
- All passing drills should be done with concentration. Too many times this is when young players talk and laugh and goof around. This is a fundamental skill that teaches body balance. The team that passes the best is usually the team that is on balance the most. Repetition is the best way to build good habits. Make sure they are doing it right and then have them do it over and over again.
- During shooting drills have all the players focus on finding their balance before they receive the ball. Too many times even at the college level you will see players being lazy and floating All players should be taught to make it a habit to be on balance and ready to receive and do something(pass or shoot when they receive it). They should not have to prepare their bodies after they receive the ball. Watch some videos of high levels players – they are always ready on balance. There is no time in the game that you should be floating.
- Perimeter defense is another good place to focus on stability in the water. When pressing/fouling on the perimeter it is critical to stay on balance and be under control. This allows you to protect yourself against a talented offensively player. When you have your balance/stability you are ready to react in any direction for any reason.
A great example of this is when the offensive player grabs you to gain advantage. If you have a strong base of stability you are able to fend him/her off and react appropriately so that you don’t have to use your arms/hands to grab and get kicked out. With stability you are able to recover and rebalance with your legs
Basic Body position is essential for playing water polo and it is the foundation for all movements in the water. Work on finding your balance in the water. This will allow you to play this great game at the highest level.