Jim Solum

Jim Solum

Dr. Jim Solum, DC is a former men's college water polo coach from Southern California. He is a 59-year old retired sports medicine chiropractor residing in Los Angeles, California, USA. Jim has one daughter, 26-year old Nicole, who ran track and field for the University of New Mexico. He remains active in the sport by holding water polo seminars, writing articles and giving private lessons on shooting.

Jim started playing high school water polo in 1966 at Long Beach Jordan High School in Southern California where he was All Moore League in swimming and Jordan's High Athlete of the Year. He played two years at Long Beach City College, lettered both years, and helped win a California junior college state championship in water polo in 1970. At Cal State University Long Beach, he started and was a two-year varsity athlete. The university was 4th and 7th in the N.C.A.A.'s Championships during his years there.

Dr. Solum has a B.A. in Sociology and a M.A. in Sociology in 1974 and 1977. Later he received a doctorate in Chiropractic from Pasadena College of Chiropractic in 1988.

He taught part time at Long Beach City College in Physical Education Department for four years and was an assistant water polo coach during that time. At LBCC he came under the influence of the legendary water polo coach Monte Nitzkowski, coach of the bronze and silver medal US Men's water polo teams at two Olympic Games. Monte continued coaching into his seventies and was the 2000 US Olympic Men's Assistant Coach.

At Huntington Beach High School and at Mira Costa High School in Southern California Dr. Solum was a walk on coach in the 1970's and early 80's coaching water polo and swimming. Dr. Solum was the men's head water polo coach at El Camino College and at Fullerton College. In 1981, he published the first article on the speed of the water polo shot as timed by a radar gun. He last coached at Corona Del Mar High School, Newport Beach, CA in 2004 as an assistant boy's water polo coach.

In the mid 1970's he became life-long friends with Ricardo Azevedo, a Brazilian national team water polo player who had played at Long Beach Wilson, Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach. Ricardo later became a two-time Olympic men's water polo assistant coach and is the US Senior Men's coach before going to Italy to coach a professional water polo team.

Ricardo Azevedo was renowned as an athlete for his creative shooting style and later as a great shooting coach. Ricardo taught Dr. Solum the fundamentals of shooting that the Europeans were using from 1975-2010. He is deeply indebted to Mr. Azevedo for all of the information and time that he spent talking and demonstrating the various shots and shooting principles.

Dr. Solum currently is a private shooting coach and writes a monthly column called "The Shot Doctor" for the Water Polo Planet.com website. He has trained 4 Olympic players, 7 players on the US Senior National Team, and 50 Division I players. He can be reached at [email protected]
Jim Solum

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Volume 1 Number 1 March 1, 2008

The road to success is not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 0ne percent better.

FUNDAMENTALS OF THE WATER POLO SHOT

The throwing motion is a series of structured and mechanical movements.  The shooter who masters the mechanics of throwing can go on and become an Olympic player.  The best shooters, through trial and error, figure out how to throw the ball hard.  When the great shooter is asked about how he or she “did it,” the question is usually not answered. The player’s few words are, “Watch me in the water.”  The player’s shooting motion is never translated into words.

The average player or coach does not have the special insight into throwing that the Olympic player does.  Straining our eyes, we do not see what the shooter’s body does underwater.  This monthly series on shooting will fully explain the shooter’s entire throwing motion both above and below the water.

The difficulty in water polo is the observer only sees the shooter’s head, left shoulder and the right arm.  The other 75-percent of the body is underwater and unseen. Visually it looks like the shooter only used the right arm and left shoulder to shoot the ball.

Coaches call this throwing technique the “Big Three.”  The shooter kicks up, rotates the left shoulder and slaps the hand on the water. In fact, there is a lot more complexity to the shot then the “Big Three.” For example, there is the “Big Ten.”  The seven other parts of the throwing motion are the torso, left arm, hips, right leg and left leg and the feet. These seven body parts generate most of the thrower’s posture, power and placement of the ball.

FUNDAMENTALS OF THE POWER SHOT

The power shot is the main throwing motion for the shooter.  Throwing the ball hard requires the shooter to use perfect technique and follow the ten throwing fundamentals.  Failure to follow these ten throwing steps results in the shooter throwing a weak shot.

The proper throwing technique consists of ten parts, five lower body fundamentals consisting of the hips and legs; and five upper body fundamentals that use the torso and the arms. Each one of the throwing fundamentals uses a specific part of the body to assist in throwing the ball.  The ten parts of the throwing motion function together to create a whole body throwing motion with the shot starting in the toes and ending in the fingertips.

The shooter begins the shot by using the five lower body throwing fundamentals.  The shooter points the left foot at the goal, the right leg is straight back, the right foot rotates inward and outward to kick, the hips rotate back to cock the body and rotate forward throw the ball. The weight of the body transfers from the right foot to cock the ball to the left foot to help release the ball.

The shooter’s five upper body fundamentals position the back in the vertical, the abs crunch and contract to snap the torso forward, the left hand sweeps to the left to turn the body to the right to cock the right arm and then pulls down to elevate and rotate the hips.  The shooter’s right arm is high in the air, close to the ear, with the elbow at ear level.  The right hand grips the ball softly in a horizontal cradle position or in a vertical hand position with the finger firmly pinching the ball.  The ball is released using the standard 3-finger release, a 2-finger release or 1-finger release.  The ball leaves the hand with a backspin (ball spins backward), no spin or a topspin (ball spins forward).  Each one of the fundamentals or parts of the body builds on the previous one until the ball leaves the shooter’s hand. Below is a list of the ten fundamentals necessary to throw the ball.

LOWER BODY FUNDAMENTALS

1. Left Foot Points, Pivots, Aims the Ball
Left foot is fixed, is used by the body to pivot around, points to aim the ball
Part of a system that angles the body
Part of the a system with the right leg to cock the body for power
Left foot forward prevents a square-to-the-goal body
Square-to-the-goal body position creates a weak shot

2. Right Leg Straight Back
Right leg and foot is mobile, moves and shoots the ball
Right leg steps-out to the side
Right leg swings back to point the left shoulder
Shot starts in the toes and ends in the fingertips

3. Right Foot Snap-In
Right foot is cocked to the side to cock the body for the shot
Right foot snaps-inward to begin the shot
Right foot rotates to side and down to power the shooter
Scissor kick, where both legs slap, together is not used
Scissor kick lunges the shooter to the left when right
leg slaps left leg

4. Hip Rotation: The Hips are the Shot
Throwing motion is mainly a rotational movement
Hips rotate the body
Left hand assists in rotating the body
Strong hip rotation creates a strong shot
Weak and slow hip rotation creates a weak shot

5. Weight Transfer

Shooter’s weight transfers from the right foot to the left to throw the ball
Shooter cocks the arm with the weight of the body on the right foot
Shooter throws the ball and shifts the weight onto the left foot
Weight transfer makes the back vertical
Poor shooter lies on back, has heavy right foot and throws ball over the goal

Football example:
Quarterback steps back to cock the arm and shifts weight onto right foot
            Quarterback steps into the throw and shifts weight onto the left foot

UPPER BODY FUNDAMENTALS

6. Vertical Back
Shooter’s back is vertical to catch the ball, cock the body and throw
Vertical shooter shoots accurately, with power at the high corner
Vertical shooter positions the elbow and hand high
Horizontal shooter cannot create much power or shoot accurately
Horizontal shooter shoots low to the left corner of goal

7. Ab Crunch: The Abs Throw the Ball
Three main parts of the body throw the ball: legs, torso and right arm
Most shooters have strong legs and arms and weak abs
Abs and low back are called the core.  A weak core creates a weak inaccurate shot
Power from the legs is transferred into the torso and into the right arm
Ab crunch snaps the torso forward for power and a vertical body position
Abs are a vital part of the 3-part throwing motion:
Elevate (legs), rotate (hips) and crunch (abs snap torso forward)

8. Left Hand Usage
Left hand is more important than the right hand for throwing the ball
Is the third hip of the player and assists in body rotation
Sculls to keep the shooter vertical, elevate and turns the body right or left
Sweeps to the left to turn the player’s body to catch the ball
Sweeps to right and left to rotate the body for the pump fake
Sweeps to left to cock the shooter’s right arm and body
Pulls down to begin the shot

9.  Right Arm Position
Right arm releases the ball, creates ball spin and the length of arm cock
Right arm decides whether the ball is aimed high or low by height of hand/elbow
Controls the amount of power transferred to the right hand for lob or hard shot
Power shot-100% power; Lob shot- 40% power

10. Right Hand Release: Grip, Releasing Fingers and Ball Spins

Grips:

Standard cradle grip: horizontal hand, fingers lightly hold the ball (backspin)
Pinch grip: vertical hand with five fingers firmly gripping the ball (backspin)
Football grip: hand across the top of ball (topspin)

       Releasing fingers:

3-finger release for backspin power shot, lob, skip shot
2-finger release for backspin power shot, lob, skip shot
Index-finger release for backspin skip shot
Middle-finger release for no-spin lob and off-speed shot
5-finger football release for topspin power shot, lob, curve and skip shots

Ball Spins:

Fingertips release ball in the center
Middle three fingers make final contact with ball
Impossible to have the hand on top of ball (standard release)
Backspin is the standard spin with the ball rotating backwards
Topspin has the ball rotating forward, used for skip shot or curve shot
Knuckle ball has no ball spin
Diagonal spin has ball stripes diagonally spinning for curve shots

THROWING MISTAKES

Poor posture and improper body position drastically effect the shot.  The majority of these throwing mistakes occur underwater in the shooter’s lower body fundamentals.  A wobbly ball comes from a wobbling arm and torso that originates in the shooter’s wobbly unstable legs. The Hungarians have a saying about these types of technique errors: All mistakes are leg mistakes.

The shooter and coach mistakenly focus on the right hand release when the ball goes awry.  The ball curves to the left, turns into a lob or flies over the goal and the shooter assumes that the release is the cause.  The hand is not the cause but the effect. The cause is the ten parts of the body not functioning together.  In list below, both shooting problems and their fixes are examined.

Problem Fix
1. Not angling the body Left foot forward, Right leg back, Rotate the hips (L.L.R.)
2. Falling backward Weak legs, weak kick, right leg not back, torso not vertical
3. Falling to the side Point the left foot at the corner, vertical back, rotate the hips
4. Side arm Angle the body=Left foot forward, Right leg back, Rotate the hips
5. Dropping the elbow:
Boys before the shot
Girls during the shot
Lazy legs, lift up the elbow
Angle body, arm close to ear
6. No hip rotation Angle body
7. Ball curves:
Diagonal spin
Side spin
Angle body, arm close to ear
Angle body, elbow high
Angle body, no side arm, do not drop elbow

In conclusion, the perfect shot comes from perfect technique. The shot starts in the toes and ends in the fingertips with the shot starting in the legs, moving to the hips and torso and finishing in the right hand.  When all ten parts of the body function in harmony, the ball is thrown by shooter’s whole body with power and authority.

Next Month: The Skip Shot

© Copyright 2008 Jim Solum

[Click Jim’s photo to learn more about his water polo experiences
and Click the water polo ball to learn more about Jim’s books.]