Terry Schroeder

Water Polo Fundamentals of a Successful 6 on 5

Terry Schroeder
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 2 Number 3July 15, 2009

The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

Here we are just a week or so away from our biggest tournament this year – the World Championships.  After a fairly good showing at the World League Super Finals in Montenegro last month, we went home and spent three weeks on our own getting ready for Rome and the World Championships.  As we enter the final week of preparation, we will focus a great deal on our 6 on 5.  In my opinion, the 6 on 5 is perhaps the biggest key to having success in the big tournaments.  You can not win the big games without scoring a high percentage of your extra man opportunities.  So for this month’s article I decided to focus on the fundamentals of a successful 6 on 5.

First and foremost, team work is really measured by your 6 on 5.  This is when the “team” really shines or when weaknesses are exposed.  This is due to the fact that a successful 6 on 5 is all about setting up a team mate.  To score a high percentage of 6 on 5 opportunities a team needs to have the post players involved as well as the perimeter.  A good perimeter game (players attacking on their legs) will set up the post game and vise a versa. One on one play does not work on a 6 on 5.  When you are up a man you need to really work together to make sure you score the ball.  Typically, a team that is playing together and winning the big games will be scoring 60 – 70% of their man advantage situations. 

Here are my keys for a successful 6 on 5:

  1. Look for the quick. Immediately after the exclusion look for the quick.  It is often easier to score if you can attack before the defense has had a chance to set up.  If you can break down the defense so that you have a 2 on 1 or a 3 on 2 right after the exclusion you will have a higher scoring percentage.  Just make sure that you do not force a bad shot or create a turnover by trying to create something when it is not there.
  2. Get to your position. If the quick is not there then get to your positions.  On every team individual players have strengths and weaknesses.  Make sure that you get the post players to the posts and the perimeter players to their spots.
  3. Start wide.  Many teams will try to hit you if you are to close and then you end up playing on your back.  So start wide and try to pull the defenders out.  This will open up the posts more too.
  4. Be a threat. At the same time that you start wide you need to be a threat.  Get on your legs. Each player on the perimeter must be in the attack mode.  Post players are actively looking for free water and the ball.  Penetrate as you attack and then when you make a pass move back out so that you are ready to receive the next pass and attack again.  The bottom line is that you need to make the defense work in all positions.  You have the advantage so put the pressure on the defense.
  5. Keep good spacing.  Never let one defender guard two players.  Remember that you should be moving with and without the ball.  You should be looking for a passing lane and/or a shooting lane.
  6. Body positioning and balance.  Make sure that whether you are on the post or you are on the perimeter  – you are constantly keeping yourself on balance and ready for the next pass.  Prepare your body to shoot before you receive the ball.  Too many young players catch the ball and then prepare their bodies to shoot.  You must be ready to shoot the ball.
  7. Set up a team mate.  The best passes come from a player that looks like a shooter.  All passes that go to the post should come from a perimeter player that has locked down the defense by looking like a threat.
  8. Read the middle defender.  He/she will determine which side the 3 on 2 is.  Attack that side.  The goalie is also relying on the middle defender to shot block so be prepared to take advantage if he/she is out of position.
  9. Run your rotation.  The ball should be worked around the perimeter with each player attacking a locking the goalie/defense down.  In reviewing tapes of many games, especially at the high level it is quite clear that there is a much higher percentage of scoring when all the perimeter players have touched the ball.  Work it around  – attack but be patient and break the defense down.
  10. Try to work for the best percentages.  Don’t let the defense dictate where the shot is going to be taken from.  Defensively, many teams will try to make a right hander shoot from the 5 position.  Don’t settle for this on offense.  That is the lowest percentage shot.  Try to work to set up your best shooters from their best spots.

Finally, practice like it is a game.  Practice does not make perfect but practice does make permanent.  So if you practice at 60% then it will be difficult for you to score when you try to suddenly go 100% in a game.  Get on your legs and be serious when you practice 6 on 5.  This will absolutely make or break you as a team.As always feel free to email me a [email protected] if you have any questions.  Cheer hard for USA Water Polo at the World Championships.  We are going for the gold.

See you at the pool.

Coach Schroeder
USA Water Polo – Men’s National Team Coach

Fundamentals of a Successful 5 Man Defense in Water Polo

Terry Schroeder
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 2 Number 4August 15, 2009

The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

Last month, I focused on the 6 on 5 man advantage.  As I said in my article last month – this would be a big key for us in the World Championships.   Reflecting back on 4th place finish at the World Championships in Rome here are my thoughts.  We are one of the best teams in the world.   We are close but we need to continue to work hard and work together to climb those final few steps to get to the top.  In the critical times it was our 6 on 5 that failed us.  In the semi-final against Spain we were not able to convert the most important 6 on 5 opportunities in the 4th quarter.  Overall, we were 2 for 6 on our 6 on 5 in this game.  As I had predicted, 6 on 5 would make or break us and scoring 35% does not usually help you win the big games.  In the bronze medal game, the breakdown of our 6 on 5 in the 3rd and 4th quarter was also the difference.

We were slightly better against Croatia, scoring on 5 out of 11 chances but in the end  – in the most important games at the most critical times our 6 on 5 did not come through.  The bottom line is that we know what we need to work on and if we are to climb that final mountain and win a gold in London we will need to continue to work on and improve our 6 on 5.  We are one of the best teams in the world and we will continue to work hard on the fundamentals to help make our 6 on 5 the best in the world. 

While scoring when you have the man advantage is critical – being able to stop your opponent when they have those same 6 on 5 opportunities is equally important.  So this month, I thought I would focus on the fundamental keys to a successful 5 man defense.  In my opinion, another important bench mark of team work is how well your 5 man defense is playing.  It is absolutely critical that all the players involved in the 5 man defense are working together and know what their responsibility is when the ball is at each position.  Successful 5 man defense is the ultimate in zone defense.  Each and every player has the responsibility for at least 2 and sometimes 3 offensive players.  Each player on the defense is also trying to funnel the ball to the center of the cage by successfully taking away a part of the shooters angle.

Here are my fundamental keys for a successful 5 man defense:

  1. Communicate the exclusion.  If you are the man that has been excluded you need to let everyone on your team know that you have been kicked out and they need to quickly mobilize to set up into a 5 man defense.
  2. Protect against the quick.  If the center or attacker is isolated and his/her defender gets excluded it is very important for the defender that is closest to come back hard and deny the pass right back to the unguarded player.
  3. Get your back line set.  The first line of defense has to get set up – these are the three defenders that will end up closest to the goal.  Usually these players are called X1, X2 (center defender) and X3.  This back line gets set to make sure that the offensive team does not get any slam dunks or easy goals from the post players.  X1 and X3 need to get set up quickly to make sure that no easy near side goals are scored from the 1 and 6 players.
  4. Play heavy on the posts.  Do not let the post players score.  Wear them down by playing heavy on them and using them to push off of to move out at the player with the ball.  I am not saying that you should ever get excluded for just mauling the post player but usually you can get away with being pretty heavy on the posts and making sure that they do not score on a 6 on 5.
  5. X1 and X3 – primary responsibility is to never allow the 1 and 6 players to score a near side ball.  It is impossible for any goalie to cover the entire cage on the 6 on 5.  If the goalie can rely on his/her X1 and X3 players then the entire 6 on 5 becomes easier to cover because he/she does not have to worry about these near side goals.
  6. Be mobile.  The best 5 man defenses are mobile and have the ability to move in and out.  I have written about this in and out skill in the past and I believe it is one of the most important skills in water polo.  The teams that do this best have the toughest 5 man defenses to score on because they can keep the offensive team off balance.  To play successful 5 man you can not get caught in the vertical you have to be mobile and this takes great legs and balance.
  7. No drifting.  Once you move out to shot block you need to hustle back to the post after the player you are shot blocking has passed the ball.  Successful 5 man is all about releasing each other.  So if one player is slow to come back to the post this will start a chain reaction and someone on offense is going to end up being open for an easy shot.
  8. Maintain your balance.  Whether you are neutralizing the post player or jumping out to shot block you must maintain your balance.  This will allow you to move in and out and be a successful shot blocker.  The most successful shot blockers are always on balance in the water.
  9. Center defender is a big key.  The center defender should be the best shot blocker on the team.  It is very important that he/she is mobile and does not sit in the middle of the cage and shield or block the goalie out.  The center defender can actually intimidate shooters by taking away the angles and being in the shooters lane so that it appears to the shooter that there is no open shot.
  10. Play the odds – if a team has a right hander at the 5 position – this is probably where you want to force the shot to come from.  Make the player with the worst shot or the poorest angle shoot when possible.  When you are playing good 5 man , most of the shots should come from the 4 and 5 players (the two outside perimeter spots).  The reason for this is that these players have to shoot through the most defenders and the goalie in order to score.

Being able to stop your opponent when they are up a man is one of the big keys to winning big games.  In this recent World Championships, the winner of the tournament was Serbia.  They definitely had a very strong 5 man.  In fact, in the semi-final game against Croatia they were excluded 18 times and still managed to win the game.  That is great 5 man defense.

When you stop your opponent from scoring on their 6 on 5’s you often will frustrate them and “get in their heads” which obviously then can carry over to every other aspect of the game.  Every team should go into a game of water polo with the knowledge that they are going to be excluded here and there.  When it happens do not complain about it – but make it a challenge. 

When you are a man down every player needs to be working hard.  The intensity has to be at its highest level.  As I said before this is the ultimate zone defense so each and every player needs to be funneling the ball to the center of the cage.  If one player does not do his job the defense will break down quickly and usually this results in a goal being scored against you.  As I mentioned before in last month’s article when you get the opportunity to practice 6 on 5 and 5 on 6 make sure you practice like it is a game.  The harder the 5 man defense works the better the 6 on 5 will become and vice a versa.  Practice like it is a real game and you will see the rewards happen in the games. 

My recommendation when you practice 6 on 5 and 5 man is to make it shorter, higher intensity periods.  Perhaps do 10 attempts for each group 2 – 3 times during the practice rather than trying to do it all at once.  This will keep the intensity high and make it more game like.  To be successful on your 5 man defense you have to work together as a team. 

As always, please feel free to email me if you have any questions [email protected] .

See you at the pool.

Coach Schroeder
USA Water Polo – Men’s National Team Coach

Tips from the Top on Time Management

Terry Schroeder
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 2 Number 8January 15, 2010

The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

Time management is another very important aspect of the game.  Being aware of the 30 or 35 second clock and the game clock is crucial to any team’s success.  Each player in the pool and on the bench should know the game situation and the time on the clock at all times during the course of the game.  It should become a habit to glance at the clock (game and 30/35) during the course of the game.  Knowing the clock will help determine what you should be doing in the game.

Here are some thoughts on time management regarding the 30/35 s shot clock.

Front court offense – clock management

30/35 seconds to 20 s. – counter to offense or with new clock, get to your positions and run new clock play. Look to stop the clock by drawing a foul to help give your team time to set up the offense.

20 s – 10 s – run front court, movement, drives to get open or clear, good releases on the perimeter, safe passes.  Look for good high percentage scoring opportunities.

10 s – 0 – isolation at center or one on one isolation drive, look for cross pass to shot when possible, 5 m foul shot, those not involved need to balance to defense

Defense

30/35 s – 20 s – counter defense, try to let the clock run, shift in tandem to make the opponent throw long passes.

20 – 10 s – front court defense try to get into the press as soon as possible off of the counter – go into appropriate zone or drop when necessary, trap the ball when possible, only foul when necessary to protect the center.

10 s – 0 – look to stair step and help or gap to the shooters, if pressed – stay in it and get into the lanes for the counter.

6 on 5

First ten seconds – look for the quick and take advantage of any 3 on 2 or 2 on 1, next go into a rotation, penetrate and try to move each defender out of his/her zone, break down the center defender.

Next ten seconds – attacking and looking to make the defense over commit and then make the extra pass to set up a team mate.

10/15 s – 0 – once they come even spread it out and try to get the ball to the center or a post up with everyone else rotating back to defense.

5 man

First ten seconds – cover the quick, fill the back line, protect 1 and 6, protect the post, shot block in appropriate lanes.

Next ten seconds – communicate rotations, shot block – forcing the shot from outside 5 or 4 man with hands up funneling the ball to the goalie, box out on any shot – no second chances.

10/15 s – 0 – coming even  – rotate to cover and make them throw a long cross pass as you come even. Get back into a press if possible.

Game clock

In each quarter, each team will have approximately 8 opportunities
8 minutes = 8 opportunities per team (approximate)
With 4 minutes to go in the game – each team will more than likely have 4 front court opportunities.
3 minutes – equals 3 opportunities each
2 minutes – equals 2 opportunities each
1 minute – equals 1 opportunity each

The following are situations when the score/time is imbalanced in the opponents favor.

If your team is down by 3 with 2 minutes left you need to force the issue and try to get a quick score at one end while looking to press hard and get the ball back quickly at the other end.  The officials generally will let the team that is behind press a little harder and make the team that is ahead really protect the ball.  Obviously, in this situation you can’t give up a goal and you can’t afford to get excluded.  Being excluded is almost as bad as giving up a goal.  Not only do you give the opponent a new shot clock, but you can’t press and force the issue when you are down a man.  If your team is excluded you need to move and take some chances on 5 man defense.  Also, look to go hard on the 5 man counter.

Here are some thoughts for this situation

  1. Look for isolation right off the counter – try to stop the clock.
  2. If your center is not open right away then run a play – isolation post up (2 across to the 4 / 5 side with 1 posting up and isolating 3 with the ball and the post up)  Look to get the ball inside to set or the post up.  It is likely that if you are behind and get the ball to an isolated post player you will be rewarded with an exclusion.
  3. If you get an exclusion you have to look for the quick and make something happen fast.  Time is still your enemy.  Attack quickly to break down the defense.
  4. Make good passes  – no turnovers.
  5. On defense – high in the lanes – jump the lanes to try to steal.  Front the center – look to get underneath and draw the offensive. Jump in front on the drives or fake a push off
  6. You can’t afford to give up a goal or an exclusion – giving the other team an exclusion is also giving up another 30/35 seconds.

If your team is down by 2 with 2 minutes left.  You will have at least 2 opportunities so you can play straight up.  Meaning you don’t have to take a great deal of risk.  You need to score a goal in each of your possessions.  However, if you fail to score on your first possession then you are right back where you were in the last situation.  Down by 2 with 1 minute to go in the game or down by 2 with 1 ½ minutes to go and the opponent has the ball.  Once again, you need to press the issue and try to score quickly and then press hard to try to force a turnover at the other end.

This same thought process should apply with any imbalanced time/score situations in the fourth quarter.  For example, you are down by 4 with 3 minutes remaining or you are down by 5 with 4 minutes remaining.  In this type of imbalanced score/time situation you need to press the issue and try to score quickly on the clock while pressing and forcing the turnover on the other end.

The more time there is on the game clock (4 or 5 minutes) the more time you have to make up the difference.  If you are down by 2 with 1 minute to go, the situation is much more critical.

Here are situations with the score/time imbalance in the favor of your team.  In other words you are ahead in the game and the clock in on your side.

Up by 3 with 2 minutes or up by 2 with 1 minute

Thoughts on what to do in these situations.

  1. Protect the ball on the perimeter – do not expect a foul.  The officials will tend to let the defense overplay a little so you need to adjust and really protect the ball on the perimeter. Do not draw a foul if possible – you want the clock to run.
  2. Center move out to the 3 meter line – perhaps even the 4 meter line if we are really being pressed hard.  This will make it more difficult for the goalie to come out and try to steal the entry pass.
  3. Be very conservative if you drive – drive to free water.  Only drive if being pressed way out and you need to help the ball.
  4. The opponent may try to bait you into committing an offensive foul – play smart – no individual battles.
  5. No surprises – No one can be surprised by a quick shot or a quick blind pass.  Each pass should be deliberate with eye contact.
  6. Play for your center – do not put the ball to set until there is less than 10 seconds on the shot clock.  When the ball comes to set do not expect a call.  Keep your head up and work for a turn and a natural goal.
  7. If you draw an exclusion – make good safe passes and be patient a new shot clock is just a valuable as a goal in this case.  Spread the offense out and make the defense take high risks.
  8. As time runs down on the shot clock dump the ball (with 2 – 3 s. left) where appropriate.  Do not allow anyone to take off on the counter.
  9. Clean defense with no exclusions on the other end.  You may want to play in a soft defense (3 / 4) protecting the center more.

Never celebrate too early.  If you are up by 3 or 4 goals and time is running down you need to stay focused and finish the game out.  I have seen too many teams lose a lead very fast because they lost focus.  Finish well.  I hope that some of these time management tips will help you and your team be more successful.As always feel free to email me if you have any questions to: [email protected]. Happy New Year.

See you at the pool

Coach Schroeder

The Art of Substitution

Terry Schroeder
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 3 Number 12November 15, 2011

The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

Water Polo is definitely one of the most demanding sports on the planet.  There is really no rest when you are in the pool.  No one should be resting while they are in the water.  Between the swimming up and down the tank and the wrestling in between to get advantage with position, there is a great deal of energy expended.   This month I have decided to write about the importance of substitution to the game.   There is definitely an art to “subbing” successfully and I will discuss some of the important factors that I have learned throughout my 25 years of coaching.

First and foremost, know your team.  A coach needs to know what each player is capable of.  This includes positions that they are best at and where else that they can play.  For example, on our Olympic team we will have a two players that are primarily centers, three players that are center defenders, two right handed attackers and two left handed attackers (or players that play this side of the pool),  and two utility players that can easily play 2 -3 different positions in the water.  Of course, to round out the 13 players on the team, we will have 2 goalies.  The most difficult part of my job (as coach) is to select the final 13 players.   There is much observation, discussion, thought and prayer that goes into making this final decision.  I try to look forward to the teams that we have to beat to win a gold medal and determine which players are going to give us the best chance.  Who will perform under pressure? Who can be counted on when the game is one the line?  And equally important, who will fill a specific role that is needed?  For example, who can be my defensive stopper?  Who can I count on to guard the opposing team’s best player for a good part of the game?

Also, I take into consideration chemistry.  Which players will help us have the best “team”?  This is often different that just picking the 13 best players.  When I am coaching a game, I need to know who I can count on to do what before I can substitute successfully.  The only way that I truly know this is with experience and time.  We try to keep the intensity very high in all of our trainings so that we can mimic what we will see and experience in a game.  This is a good way for me as a coach to be able to really see what players can do in certain situations.  This is also a good place for me to experiment a little and give players different opportunities to perform in certain situations.   One of the things that can really help is keeping stats.  Stats normally don’t lie and they will always give you clues as to who is doing what in certain situations.  Stats like good entry passes, perimeter field blocks and 6 on 5 goals are critical to who you want in the game.  I think it would be beneficial to have a stat similar to baseball has – base hits with a man on base.  Perhaps a stat of who is scoring fourth quarter 6 on 5’s or critical game changing goals.   These would be valuable stats for me to know as a coach.  It is only when I truly know my team that I can substitute with confidence throughout the game.

Another very important factor is to know the clock.  Obviously, this is a physically demanding game and no player can play with the intensity needed for 32 minutes (all four quarters) and be at their best at the end of the game.  So keeping track of minutes played can be another important factor in when and who to substitute. This may seem cumbersome and difficult but the reality is that after keeping track of minutes over the course of 3-4 games you will begin to see patterns as to when you need to sub for a certain player. After awhile you can begin to keep pretty good track in your head (but it helps to have someone keeping track of actual minutes).  For each player, you should begin to understand how many minutes that they can go and still play at a high level.  There is a breaking point for each player and you don’t want to cross that line if at all possible.  When a player gets too fatigued, they begin to make mistakes and these mistakes can cost you the game.  So use your bench to keep players fresh and at their best.  Also, as a coach you should always be thinking ahead with a plan in mind. Who do you want in the game at the end of the quarter or the end of the game?  Giving key players a break at strategic times will put you in a position to have your best team in the water at the end of the game. For example, I might rest a key payer or two at the beginning of the fourth quarter so that I know they will be fresh and ready to go in the final 4-5 minutes of the game.

Finally, know the situation.  The obvious one is the score.  This certainly may determine who you put in or keep in the game.  If you are behind, the risk is trying to stay with your starters for too long and breaking them down so that in the end of the game they have nothing left in the tank.  No doubt that there are times that you push this envelope and play your key players a bit more than normal but being able to play some of your bench in key times will build your team.  The better your bench is the better your team will be so learn to trust all the players on your team and be ready to give guys a shot at helping the team in a critical time.  Also, because 6 on 5 and 5 on 6 is often where the game is won and lost, you as a coach need to make sure you have good combinations in the water for both your five man defense and your 6 on 5 offense.  If you don’t have these combinations in the water then you need to be ready and willing to use a time out to make your changes in your line up when you earn that big 6 on 5.  It should also be obvious to know who is in foul trouble.  This obviously may change your substitution patterns.  If my best defender is in foul trouble, I am probably going to sit him and save him/her for the fourth quarter.  I want our best team in the water when the game is on the line. There is one more factor that I often try to keep my mind on.  Not every player is going to perform at his/her best in every game.  So as I am watching from the bench, I am keeping on eye on who is playing well and who is struggling.  This may also determine my substitutions as the game goes on. And perhaps help me make the right choice when I have to choose between two players that are pretty equal when the game is on the line.

There are games when making substitutions just seems to flow nicely.  Goals are scored at good times to sub and no key players get into foul trouble and you are ahead the entire game.  Unfortunately, this is not the norm and this is why you need to stay sharp and pay attention to the details of the game. Knowing your team takes time.  Don’t get frustrated if you make some errors, especially early in the season.  You will make some mistakes – this is how we all learn and get better.  Always knowing the clock and knowing the situation will definitely make you a better coach.  Stay focused and sharp on the bench.  Certainly, most of your work as a coach is done preparing the team for the game.  However, once the game begins the ability to make good substitutions can make a big difference.  I like to map out (on paper) what my subbing patterns will look like prior to the game.  I will write out different scenarios for when a certain key player gets into foul trouble.  How does this change my patterns?  The more you plan ahead and prepare prior to a game the easier making good substitutions becomes. As I said before, the ability to use your bench will make your entire team better.  We carry 13 players when we go to the Olympic Games.  I need all 13 to perform at their best to give us a chance to win the gold medal.  Some may play 28 minutes while others may only play 8 -10 minutes per game.  My goal is to help each player understand his/her role prior to the game and then try to stick to that plan as much as possible.

As always please feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions.   I am at [email protected]

Happy Thanksgiving!

See you at the pool.

Coach

Terry Schroeder
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 5 Number 1May 15, 2013

The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

Post Play on the 6 on 5

There is no doubt that each and every position on the 6 on 5 is critical for a successful attack.  This month, I want to make a case for the importance of post play on the 6 on 5.  I can tell you this that every team that I have either played on or coached that had a highly successful 6 on 5 had good post play.  Some might say that the 6 player (left hander) is more important and there is good argument for this as this position often runs the plays and is a key set up player.  The lefty (6 position) has been called the quarterback of the 6 on 5 by many coaches.  The quarterback however, is only as good as the line men in front of him or for that matter the receivers.  In water polo, good active post play makes a huge difference on any 6 on 5.  If the posts are truly a threat to score than this will open up many other options.  Let’s break down this critical position on the 6 on 5.

First and foremost, a good post player is always aware and alert. He/she wants the ball and wants to score.  The very first thing that any post player should do when the opposing team is called for an exclusion is look for open water and make himself/herself available for the quick.  Many goals are scored as the defense is getting set up.  The post player must move into free water and get his/her body ready.  This means good leg support and showing teammates that you are ready for the ball.  If the quick is not available than the next thing to think about is spacing – go to your position (post) and make sure that you are working with your team mates to maintain good spacing and good balance.

There is no rest on the 6 on 5.  Once you go to your position you need to prepare your body to receive and shoot the ball from each perimeter position.  This takes practice.  The best post players can not be one dimensional – meaning that you can not expect to receive and shoot the ball from only one perimeter position.  For example, if you are playing the 3 post (closet to the lefty or 6 position) you might like the 6 – 3 pass.  However, you must work on be able to receive and shoot the ball from the 1, 4 and even the 5 position.  This takes practice and the only way that you are going to get better at this is to practice taking passes and shots from each position on the perimeter.  Make sure that you are practicing game situations.  The pass from 1 is often times a 1 – 3 inside pass in which you must seal off the defender and work on finishing with your left hand (as you hold the defender off with your right). It can also be done the other way, in which you hold the defender off or screen the defender with your left hand and shoot a back handed dunk with your right.  Try it both ways and see what works for you better.  I prefer to hold the defender off with my right and dunk with my left because I can get up higher and screen the defender off easier.   You might also receive the ball from 1 on a firm pass at the 2 meter line or slightly outside.  This pass requires you to receive the ball right handed with a back handed shot.  This is definitely a more advanced shot and requires lots of reps to master.  The pass from 4 will probably be a firm pass on the angle that also requires a back hand type shot (these last two shots are obviously dry passes to the back hand).  This requires that you have strong leg support – your body should be opened up with your right leg facing the goal.  As you receive the ball much of the power on this shot is generated from your legs with a strong breaststroke kick.  The pass from 5 to 3 happens most frequently when your team rotates 6 in 1 pocket.  As 5 goes wide this opens up a lane and a good angle to receive the ball behind the x5 defender for a strong shot. Once again you are popping to free water.  On a 6 to 3 pass, you need to work on a pop to the outside (don’t go too far wide of the cage) and a power 6 – 3 inside as you follow the 6 player inside and explode up for a timing pass and basically a slam dunk.  The 6 to 3 pop shot is usually shot cross cage and the inside shot is usually a quick near side shot. Each of these shots takes work and each can be effective as good scoring opportunities.

Now let’s look at the 2 post and the variety of shots from this position.  First the 1 – 2 pass.  Truthfully, there are not a lot of players in the world that are really good at this shot and it is one that even on our USA national team we did not utilize much.  If you are a 2 post player, I would recommend that you spend some time in practice and work on this shot.  The best 2 post players that are successful with this shot tend to move slightly towards the center of the cage when the ball goes to 1 and they sense that the center defender has given them a little space.  This is another shot where the right leg is out in front of you facing the goal and as the ball comes you explode to the ball for your shot with a big breaststroke kick and a quick back hand shot usually cross cage.  As the ball moves to the 4 position this is a very common shot on the 6 on 5.  The 4 – 2 pass over the X4 defender.  As 4 slides center the X4 defender has to decide whether he/she is staying back or moving at the 4 player.  If the defender goes out then there is a lane created for the 2 post to pop behind the defender for the shot.  Do not take yourself too wide.  Try to maintain a good angle and make sure that you are moving out over your legs and on balance to receive the ball.  Don’t go up and wait for the ball. The 4 player should put the ball up over your head and make you go get it for the shot.  If the defense plays it well, the cage will be covered ( X1 near side and X2 cross cage with the goalie taking middle) and you have to look for a hole to shoot at.  You can look over the goalies head or look to beat the shot blocker on either side.  You must also look for open space for a 5 – 2 pass on the angle with legs set and ready to catch and shoot a quick shot.   The 6  – 2 pass can be inside if 6 goes in you can follow him/her in and look for the slam dunk opportunities or if the pass comes from 4 to 6 and X4 was cheating out a bit then you can pop into that open water and take a firm pass for a quick catch and shoot.  All of the above shot descriptions are based on the 2 post being right handed.  It is very possible that you might have a lefty at the 2 post and then it would be similar to the first description of a right hander at the 3 post.   Every shot option on the post takes great focus.  You are going to get pushed around by the defenders and for a successful shot you must be able to rebalance and find your legs to prepare properly for the potential shot.

All of these shots are realistic and very possible and a good post player should spend time receiving and shooting the ball from each perimeter position.  Make sure that you feel balanced and strong when you receive the ball from each spot.  The key is to be available.  Even if you don’t receive the ball if you are active and popping to free water then you will keep the back line defenders honest and create more shooting angles with higher percentages for the perimeter players on your team.  By moving you are keeping the back line defenders off balance in a sense because they have to honor you and this in turn will make them much less effective as shot blockers.  You are also creating a distraction for the goalie because he/she also has to honor you.  You will also notice that if you get involved early in the game and score a goal from the post how this will really open up the outside perimeter players for better scoring opportunities.

Being a good scorer on the 6 on 5 requires awareness, good legs and good hands.  You also have to have good vision of the cage.  Once you receive the ball you have very little time to read the goalie and make a decision as to where you want to shoot the ball.  Another important factor while playing the post is to reset your position after you pop or move.    Don’t pop and then stay out  – you should constantly be  rebalancing and looking for a good lane to receive the ball.

As I said earlier there is no time to rest on the 6 on 5.  The post man is often times getting mauledand you must keep your cool and be ready to battle back. If the defender hammers you don’t complain about it  – get your legs going and find the ball.  Re adjust and want the ball.  The absolute best thing for you to do if the back line defender is pestering you is to score a goal on him/her.  Don’t get caught up in any individual battles.  The scoreboard is the only place where it really matters.

Good post play includes scoring goals and in doing so the defense has to honor you more which will open up your team mates the next time that you get a 6 on 5. 

I hope that this has helped.  If you are a post player than put some time into practicing these techniques.  If you get better as a post player you will help you team score a higher percentage of 6 on 5’s which generally translates into winning more games.

As always please feel free to comment or ask me a question.  In the mean time have a great week and I hope to see you at the pool soon.   My email is [email protected]

Coach Schroeder

The Art of Shot Blocking

Shot blocking is a vital part of our sport.  With the present rules, a shot block basically turns a scoring opportunity (shot) into a turnover.  Good shot blocking can definitely mean the difference between winning and losing a game.  It is also the link between the field players and the goalie.  When the goalie can trust his/her field blockers to take their side of the cage, the goalies job is easier and the defense as a whole tends to become more connected and stronger.  The goalie certainly anchors the defense but a good field blocking team will make a good goalie into a great goalie.  This month I will give you some of the keys to becoming a successful shot blocker.  In this article on shot blocking I will discuss; shot blocking body position, taking the angle, matching arms, matching elevation, taking your side and a few other small but important shot blocking keys. 

Before I discuss some of the keys to shot blocking, let me first review some basics of shot blocking responsibilities.  In general the shot blocker must take the near side shots and funnel the ball towards the middle of the cage whenever possible.  If you are at X1, you must make sure that your opponent can not get a shot past you on the near side (goalies right) of the cage.  If you funnel the ball (by making him/her shoot to your left) then the goalies job is easier because he/she does not have to dive all the way to the right corner of the cage.  We want to allow the goalie to concentrate on the middle 2/3 of the goal.  If the shot blockers can take the outside corners than the goalies job is much easier. Going around the perimeter, X2 takes near side (goalies right), X3 matches arms and takes the left side of the cage on a right hander and the right side of the cage for a left hander, X4 near side (goalies left), X5 near side (goalies left) and the center defender should try to take cross cage when possible.  If everyone is taking “their side” then the entire defense is stronger and the goalies job is much simpler. 

First of all, I will begin by discussing the proper body positioning in the water for successful shot blocking. It is my strong opinion that it is impossible to be a great shot blocker without being balanced and strong over your legs.  Once in a while, I see an amazing shot block when the defensive player is falling off his/her legs but most often shot blocks are made by players that are balanced and strong over their legs.  The proper position in the water should include a strong tripod position – which basically means that you have both legs working in a split eggbeater and one arm (the non shot blocking arm) sculling for stability and movement.  If I am shot blocking with my right arm then my left leg is forward and my right leg is back in the split eggbeater and my left arm is sculling to keep me balanced.  As I eggbeater in this position my left leg is the primary elevator (vertical power) and the right leg is mover to close the gap between me and my opponent (horizontal power).  Obviously, if I am shot blocking with my left arm the legs will be reversed where my right leg is forward (vertical power) and my left leg is behind (horizontal power).  My sculling arm acts as a stabilizer and is involved in fine movements.  My shot blocking arm should be slightly forward in relationship to my body.  I believe that having your shot blocking arm slightly forward helps in a number of ways – it closes the gap between you and the shooter, it allows you to see your hand/arm with your peripheral vision and it helps to keep you balanced better over your legs (in a slightly forward position).  I also like to have approximately a 30 degree bend in my shot blocking arm.  From this slightly bent position I can react better.  Also, your head should be forward so that you can read the eyes of the shooter.  Most shooters will give you some clues with their eyes as to where they are going to shoot the ball.

Obviously, our sport is very dynamic so it is very rare to just come straight up into a perfect shot blocking position. In fact, more often than not a defensive player is shot blocking in some kind of zone defense where they have are moving in and out (please refer to some of the archived articles about the in and out skill).  A huge key for successful shot blocking is awareness.  Even when you jump in towards center to crash you need to be aware of where your perimeter player is moving.  This will help you to prepare for your next “jump” out towards your opponent – the potential shooter.  Now comes perhaps the biggest key in shot blocking – Take the angle first!  This is definitely a game of angles and when the shooter moves slightly left or right after you have crashed towards the center you must adjust when you “jump” back out towards the perimeter.  If you jump straight out you will often times be missing your shot blocking responsibility (your side). Too many players will jump directly out towards there opponent to shot block when all the shooter has to do is lean right or left to beat the shot block to the near side.  This is especially true on the wings or at the 1 and the 6 spot on the extra man.  If the shot blocker moves directly out towards his/her opponent from the wings or at X1 or X3 on the 6 on 5 there is no way that he/she can take the proper angle and the goalie will be forced to try to dive to the near side to cover.  If this happens routinely then your goalie will begin to feel like he/she needs to cover everything and the cage will begin to open up more for the shooters because the defense and the goalie are out of sync and holes will begin to show up everywhere.  The first step of successful shot blocking is to take the proper angle!  If you miss this step there is no way that you can consistently be a good shot blocker.  This is a good skill to practice on your own.  If you get in the water on your own and practice jumping in towards center ( a good lateral lunge towards the center) and then work out jumping out into a shot block to the right or to the left before moving out towards the perimeter.  The first jump out to the angle is critical as this will help you cover any quick shot by the perimeter player.  Once the angle is covered then you can balanced better over your legs and begin to move out towards the shooter in order to close the gap between you and the shooter and minimize the time that the shooter has to fake before shooting.

One of the questions that many young players have is “when to match arms”?  It is my opinion, that too many players sacrifice the angle or body balance in order to try to match arms immediately.  Here is my rule – cover the angle first with the best shot blocking arm!  When the opponent is on the wing or at the 1 or 6 spot on the extra man it is vital to get back to cover the near side while maintaining your balance.  In order to do this you may not be able to match arms initially.  Imagine shot blocking at X1 and you get pulled center or out by the 2 post.  When the ball is passed down to the 1 position (usually a right handed shooter) your only hope of covering the near side shot is to jump out over your legs and reach with your right hand to cover your side (the goalies right side of the cage).   Obviously, in this case you are not matching arms initially, as you cover the near side with your right arm and regain balance (hopefully you stayed on balance pretty well when you jumped out to cover the angle) you now begin to move out at your opponent.  As you get closer to your opponent you can now switch arms and match your opponents shooting arm with your shot blocking arm.  This translates into right handed shooter at the 1 spot and a left hand up to match arms and shot block.  I think that what makes the most sense is that the closer you are to the shooter the more important it is to match arms.  If you are pulled out of position and you try to jump and cover the 1 man with your left arm initially you will not only be off balance but you will have a tough time jumping to cover the angle because you just can not reach as far with your left arm as you can with your right (while at X1). This same scenario is true anywhere in the pool.  Jump to cover the angle first and use whatever arm makes the most sense to take that angle first.  Then as you move at your opponent you can switch to match arms and make the shot block.

Another key to successful shot blocking is to match the elevation of the shooter.  This is where strong legs come into play.  Once the angle is covered and the shooter engages to prepare to shoot the shot blocker must read his/her elevation and try to match it to the best of their ability.  This is to avoid getting shot over the top.  I have seen this happen many times where the shot blocker is in perfect position but they do not react to the shooter coming up on their legs and the end result is that they are scored on over their block.  Be aware of the shooter and as they come up and elevate with a strong egg beater kick you as the shot blocker must do the same.

Also, it is important to stay true to your responsibility.  As you get to higher levels of play the goalie really depends on the shot blocker to take their side.  The best goalies on teams that are successful usually have good solid shot blockers in front of him/her.  The shot blockers know their responsibility and stay home even when the shooter is faking hard.  A good shooter will try to beat the shot block by faking and making the shot blocker react and move out of his/her responsibility (side).  The key here is to commit to staying home and taking that near side.  It is not your job a s a shot blocker to try to block everything so don’t get pulled out of your side.  Stay home and shot block near side.  This is what being a team is about.  We all have individual responsibilities an when we all do our job the team functions well and often wins.  If the shot blocker is trying to be a hero and take everything away from the shooter he/she will often get beat to the near side.  The end result is that the goalie begins to have to guess what to cover and then as I mentioned earlier, holes begin to open up on the defense and the shooter will have a better chance to finding these holes and scoring.

Finally, don’t get vertical in the water.  I have stressed many times that one of the biggest keys to being successful on defense is the ability to move in and out over your hips.  As you do this you will minimize the time that a shooter has to fake and the goalie then has a better idea of when the shot is coming.  This is turn makes the goalies odds of making the save go way up.  When you get vertical on defense (in a shot blocking position) you give the shooter more time to fake which will make the goalies job that much more difficult.  So it is very important to move out at the shooter in a good strong balanced shot blocking position.

Here is a quick summary of the art of shot blocking.  Be aware of where your opponent is at all times.  When your opponent gets the ball in a shooting position you need to jump to cover the near side angle as quick as you can.  Stay on balance and use whichever arm you need to cover the near side first.  Try to stay on balance as you do this.  Close the gap by moving at your opponent in a strong tri pod position.  Be ready to elevate if your opponent elevates up to shoot. As you move closer to your opponent it is more important to match arms in order to follow the fake and maintain your shot block.  Do not get faked out and lose your side.  Stay home and keep your responsibility.  Remember that your goalie depends on you to take your side and shot block on the near side if that is where the shot goes.

When the field players and the goalie are working well together the defense tends to frustrate the other team.  This is what wins the big games for your team.  Take pride in how you play defense!  Shot blocking is a huge part of playing good defense.

As always please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about this months article. [email protected]

See you at the pool.

Coach Schroeder