Dante Dettamanti
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Dante Dettamanti BS, MS
Coached Stanford University to Eight NCAA Championships

Volume 2 Number 11
September 1, 2014

Water Polo Doesn’t Come with an Instruction Book – That’s Why We Have Coaches.

Water polo is steeped in tradition. It is so steeped in tradition that change is slow. Sometimes it is so slow that it can be a detriment to the improvement of the sport. What I am talking about is the tradition of the “2-meter” player, the big person that we place in front of the goal in our attacking offense. As described in Part 1 and 2 of this series, rule changes and defensive tactics have caused the position to change from a scoring and passing position to a position of “drawing exclusions”.

Despite evidence that the position has become ineffective, and has helped lead to the static nature of the game; coaches still use the 2-meter player as the “backbone” of their offensive attack. One of the problems is that coaches are not willing to change anything that they do. They are perfectly willing to keep doing things the way that they have always done them, as long as their teams are winning games. They could care less about promoting the sport or making it more popular. They should care; because if they don’t make changes, we may not have a sport in the future.

Changes are needed in terms of the dynamics of the sport. In this modern era, sports that create excitement with movement are the sports that are the most popular in the world. Water polo has gone in the opposite direction. We have become more static in the way that we play the game. There is less movement in the sport than there has ever been. In today’s game, 60-70% of the game is played in a fairly static vertical position in the water. Moving by swimming in a horizontal position accounts for only 30-40% of the game; and that includes the time of the transition from defense to offense. Movement in front of the goal is virtually non-existent in today’s game.

Because of the success of the 2-meter attack among the bigger teams in the world from countries like Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro, and the success of the 2-meter game with coaches like Ratko Rudic, teams at all levels around the world continue to emphasize this style of game. Just because it is successful for the “big” teams in the world, doesn’t mean that it will be successful for everyone.

My contention is that exclusively playing this one-dimensional style is bad for the sport. There is no reason why we can’t add an attack based on movement, and still produce winning teams at all levels. Adding a movement-driving game to our attack gives us a multitude of ways to score goals. A defense has to not only to prepare for a team’s 2-meter game; but now must worry about a multiple driving attack as well.

To the coaches out there who are afraid to make changes; I am offering you a way to increase your scoring, and win more games than you are currently doing with your one-dimensional 2-meter attack. It is also going to make the game more fun to watch and play, and maybe even increase the popularity of the sport. This article will go over some of the details of a driving/movement game, and what teams have to do in order to incorporate this style of play into their game plan.


Hopefully I have convinced the skeptics out there that this kind of game can be successfully played at all levels. But before this happens, we also have to convince the rule-makers and the officials who referee the game that it is important for the good of the sport. The FINA Technical Water Polo Committee (TWPC) must feel that we needed changes that aid the driving game; because they recently instituted a 2-hand holding rule that was meant to help increase driving. The only problem is that referees have been slow to make changes, and are not calling this rule in games. As long as holding with two hands is not called as an exclusion, the driving game will not make a lot of headway in our sport.

If we want to promote a driving game, the referees have to be instructed by the rule makers to give the benefit of the doubt to the driver. There is invariably going to be body contact on a drive; but that should not go against the driver. The contact should be allowed, and not called a contra foul; as long as the driver is making a conscious effort to get around the defender. The referee has to realize that the driver is entitled to that space on either side of the defender. If the defender jumps in front of the driver and grabs him as he tries to drive around, it should be called an exclusion foul on the defender, and not a contra foul on the driver.


In this section, I hope to outline some of the basic principles of playing the driving game. It is up to coaches to put these principles together and create an attack that will fit the skills and abilities of their team. A coach must make decisions on how to incorporate a driving attack in their team’s offense, and whether to include a 2-meter player or not. I have received e-mails from several coaches that have had success in a driving attack, without using a center at all. A 2-meter-less offense is certainly an option; but if you have a good 2-meter player, it would be a shame to waste his/her talents.

The “drive-first” attack as outlined in Part 2 allows coaches to add another dimension to their offense by utilizing both 2-meter players as well as drivers. Some of the basics of the “drive-first” attack are outlined below.


As mentioned in Part 2, a space in front of the goal must be created that will allow a pass to get to the driver without being intercepted by a defender. Immediately at the end of the counterattack, any players in front of the goal have to clear the area by immediately swimming out to a wing, preferably moving to the side opposite the ball.

If the 2-meter player is the first to arrive, he also must swim to the wing opposite the ball. The only time the 2-meter player does not move to a wing is if he immediately gains front position, and a quick pass can be made to him before the defense has time to drop back.

If the 2-meter player is fronted, he must quickly move out of the area in front of the goal; instead of staying there and wrestling to gain front position. As mentioned before, the wrestling match in front of the goal is a waste of precious time that could be better spent in driving.

Ideally, for a predominately right-handed team, the ball should come down the right side of the pool, and the player who arrives in front of the goal at the end of the counterattack should clear out to the left-side 01 wing position. This allows the pass to a player who then drives in front of the goal to receive the ball from the right side, directly to the driver’s right hand. In a right-hand oriented offense, the drive can come from any one of four outside positions 01, 02, 03 or 04 (numbering counter-clockwise from the 01 right-handers wing), while the pass usually comes from the 04 or 05 perimeter positions.

Another excellent option is to run a screen between 02 and 01, 03 and 02, or between 04 and 03, with the first player setting the screen and the second player looping around to drive towards the goal.


Who should be the first driver? In the right-handed attack, anyone in the 01, 02, 03 or 04 positions can drive. To avoid confusion among the drivers, the coach can call for a drive only from a certain position, like 02 or 03; or he may desire to drive his best driver first. If this is the case, the coach can assign priorities to his drivers, with the first priority going to the top driver on the team; no matter what position he is in.

If a screen is called for, players can set a screen from the coach’s pre-arranged positions; or a screen can be set for the first priority driver. For instance, if the top driver is at position 02, then it is up to his teammate on the right (03) to set the screen for the driver at 02. The 02-driver than loops around the screen for a ball-side drive to the goal.

In order to change things up a little, and keep the attack from becoming predicable, a team can run their drive attack from the other side of the pool. Even though it is not necessary, the chances of success are increased if the team has a good left-handed driver on the other side of the pool.

A left-hander must place himself at position 03, 04 or 05 and the ball should be on the 01, 02 side of the pool. Having a left-handed driver gives the team more options on the attack; and at the same time causes confusion among the defenders as to where the drive is coming from. Caution: Remember the importance of the timing of the drive as described in Part 2.

If nothing comes from the first drive or screen, the driver must clear out to a wing position. As the driver moves toward the wing, he can take advantage of a lazy defender who doesn’t follow him. He must remain a threat as he moves across the goal, and should make himself available to receive a cross-pass in front of the post. This holds true for any player, including the 2-meter player, who is “clearing-out” to a wing. They should be looking to receive a pass when the defender is not paying attention.

As the driver moves to a wing, we are now back to an “open” area in front of the goal, similar to what we had at the end of the counterattack. This is where a coach has to make a decision about who will be driving next into that open area. If the coach doesn’t have a strong 2-meter player, he may want to continue with the driving game, performing the same drives and screens as described above. The drive attack continues until a shot is taken, or the shot clock expires. Note: As drivers continue to drive and move to a wing, the other players on the perimeter must maintain a balanced perimeter and spacing between perimeter players by rotating away from the wing.

After the first drive attack, the coach may elect to bring in his 2-meter player. If possible, a right-handed 2-meter player should station himself at the 01, 02, or 03 perimeter positions at the end of the counterattack. As soon as the first driver opens up the area in front of the goal, the 2-meter player can drive ball side into position in front of the goal. Once again, a quick pass before the pressing defenders can drop on him may result in a shot or exclusion.

An even better option that gives the center the best opportunity to gain excellent front position is to run a screen for the 2-meter player. This can be done from anywhere the 2-meter player is situated on the perimeter; but if I had a preference, I would station my 2-meter player at the 01 wing position. Then I would run a screen to bring him across the goal and into position in front of the goal. Either 02 can set the screen; or the first driver clearing out to the 01 wing can set the screen. In either case, the 2-meter player on the wing can loop around the screen and move into good ball-side position in front of the goal.

Note: As a matter of course, I would set a screen for my 2-meter player every time I wanted to bring him into the set position. This almost assures good front and ball-side position; especially against a team that does a good job of fronting the 2-meter player.


A coach can take all of the above options and create a multi-dimensional offense that defenses will have difficulty adjusting to. The idea is to not be predictable, and not get into a rut of doing the same thing every time down the pool. The different options include when you will bring in the 2-meter player, whether you use a 2-meter player at all, when you will do your drive attack, what side of the pool your attack will come from, will it be an individual drive or a screen, and finally from what position on the perimeter will the drive come from.

In order to control the attack, the coach has to establish parameters for his players to follow so that the attack will be fairly well organized; and not just a hodge-podge of unorganized movement that is confusing to everyone, including the attacking team. A well-coached team can vary their options from quarter to quarter, from possession to possession, and from situation to situation.


A drive-first attack can be used anytime; but a great time to utilize it is when the defending team is a good pressing team that also fronts your two-meter player. Not only is it easier to drive against a press defense, but the team will not waste time waiting for the 2-meter player to get into front position. If a coach decides not to use the drive option at all during the front-court attack, he most certainly should use it for pre-designed after-goal plays, corner-throw plays, and after time-out plays. There is nothing more frustrating then watching a team, after a time-out, running the same old 2-meter offense and getting nothing out of it.

The advantage of using the drive attack for these kinds of plays is that the team can start in a half-court attack that doesn’t involve a counterattack, with the full 30-second possession available to run the attack. A designed play also has more chance of success because the players have practiced it, and know what to do ahead of time. In pre-designed plays, the coach has the option of starting with an open area in front of the goal; or starting with a decoy player in front of the goal, who then moves out to a wing when the play is initiated.


This article that started as a question about utilizing a 2-meter player, has now turned into a four-part article about the “drive-first” attacking offense. The next, and hopefully last part, will describe some of the individual and team skills and tactics that will allow a team to successfully implement the “drive-first” attack into their offense.