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

Volume 2 Number 3
November 1, 2010

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

In this day and age of more sophisticated zone defenses, it seems more and more difficult to score goals in the front court. Tall long-armed defenders not only prevent the ball from going in to the 2-meter player; but also block shots from outside shooters. The best recourse for many teams is to try and draw exclusion fouls at 2-meters in order to obtain a 6 on 5-man advantage. Even this course of action is difficult to achieve because of the high turnover rate at two meters. Because of zone and crashing defenses, getting the ball into two meters very often has little chance of achieving a positive outcome.

Actually, the best chance of scoring goals and the method that will give the highest scoring percentage, is during the counterattack. One on nobody, two on one, and three on two counterattack man-up situations can create a much easier way to score goals than zone shooting, 2-meter shooting and scoring on the extra-man. A well- coached team can also score a high percentage of shots from the more difficult 4 on 3, 5 on 4, and 6 on 5 counterattack situations.

The best way to achieve these kinds of counterattack opportunities is from a pressing (man to man) defense. This kind of defense was a lot more common years ago in water polo, especially here in the United States. Water polo picked up the press from the sport of basketball. Nowadays you don’t see the press as much in this country; but it seems that the Europeans use it a lot more than we do. In my last year as a collegiate coach, I used the press defense, with modifications, to the system that was being used in Europe. The pressing defense that we used resulted in 2-3 goals per game being scored off of the counterattack. Many times it was the difference maker in our games.

There are indeed, many opportunities during the press that will result in a turnover and goals off of the subsequent counterattack. These are described below:

POSITIONING – It is the positioning of defenders in a press that gives this kind of defense an advantage in gaining a man-up counterattack over a zone defender. Very simply, the defenders in a press, playing right next to, or on the side or front of the offensive player, are always in the best position to get “free” on the counterattack.

In addition, the defender is already facing the other end of the pool, and can easily take one-two strokes to get free, while the offensive player has to turn around first in order to chase back in the other direction. The defender in the press, many times has a clear path to the other end; while a zone defender has to take several strokes just to get even with the offensive player.

INDIVIDUAL STEALS – When pressing the player with the ball, the defender with correct positioning and the right technique, can easily steal the ball from the player attempting to pass the ball; especially if the passer is holding the ball in his hand. Many offensive players, especially at the high school and age group levels are not very adept at protecting the ball, or have difficulty controlling the ball without holding it in their hand. A good defender can take advantage of this to make a steal and gain a one on nobody man advantage in the other direction.

LUNGE BLOCK – The lunge block is a technique that was common back in the 50’s and 60’s; but has given way to the automatic foul in today’s water polo. I believe in the opposite approach. I have my players try to avoid the foul by using the lunge block. This requires positioning on the left shoulder of a right-handed passer and waiting until the player attempts to pass the ball. Pushing down with the right hand and reaching (lunging) for the throwing arm with the left hand (lunge block) often results in a bad pass or dropped ball that can be easily intercepted; resulting in a man-up counterattack.

PASSING LANES – Playing in, or next to, the imaginary lane between the passer and the player receiving the ball can also result in a steal of the ball and a man-up counterattack. The defender can take advantage of the stationary player receiving the ball, by playing on the receiver’s side, taking an aggressive stroke while the ball is in the air, and jumping into the passing lane to steal the ball.

FRONTING THE WING – I am a big advocate of defenders playing in front of players on the wing, whether it is in a press or a zone defense. Because of their positions on the side of the pool, wing players are not a big offensive threat, and can easily be fronted at all times during a game. A steal results when the ball is thrown to the wing and is intercepted by the defender playing in front position. Any turnover by the offensive team will also give the wing defender an automatic body length lead on the subsequent counterattack. Many times, while playing a zone defense, playing in front of the wing may be the only opportunity to gain a man-up on the counterattack.

FRONTING 2-METERS – Playing in front of the 2-meter player is not only an effective way of keeping the ball from that position; but it puts the defender in excellent position for the counterattack. Counterattacks from fronting the wing, and fronting the 2-meter player, usually result in lower percentage 5 on 4 or 6 on 5 man-advantage situations. Teams that can handle these kinds of man-up situations will be rewarded by scoring bonus goals that can sometimes make the difference in a close game.

LEAVING EARLY- Many times when being confronted by a hard-press, not all of the offensive players will be able to advance into the “strike-zone” in front of the goal. As the 30 second shot clock is expiring, defenders guarding a player that is not a scoring threat, or is outside the scoring area, can take off early on the counterattack. If the offensive player is caught up in the offense, and fails to follow the defender, the result can be an easy goal at the other end of the pool.

Playing a pressing defense that utilizes the above-mentioned techniques will result in turnovers by the team on offense. Not only will the turnovers result in more goals for the defensive team on the subsequent counterattack; but it will effectively stop the other team in the execution of their offense.