Jim Solum
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Jim SocumShot DoctorBandage Ball


December 2016

Photograph by Deep blue media.eu/G.Scala

  •  2-Finger release 
  • Curve Shot
  • Topspin set pass
  • Curve lob Shot
  • 5-meter Foul Lob Shot
  • Lean-Over Shot
  •  Topspin skip shot Part II
  • Topspin lob and power shot
  • Thumb/ring finger passing
  • Thumb/ring power shot

 In last month’s article Smart Hands 2 Part II we talked about unique hand positions, and finger movements to release the ball for a shot called the index finger skip shot.  While it appears that these are mechanically simple releases with the hand pinching the ball, the index snapping down to skip the ball and the thumb or ring finger throwing ball.  However, it requires a highly skilled hand, a smart hand, to perform these movements.  In addition, to hand training the body has to be retrained to lean forward and lift up the right leg to the horizontal in the Lean Forward Technique.  The theory is simple but the practice is difficult.  Learning new concepts and breaking old habits forces the player to grow.  The coaches have to have patience during this process.

The six drills previously discussed improve the “smartness” of the player’s hand and allow him or her to eventually use any of the new releases. These drills were: the ball toss, thumb pass, ring finger set pass, Lean Forward Technique and Index finger release.  These drills teach the rudiments of developing a smart hand by teaching hand control to the thumb, ring and index fingers.

This month we add another six drills to increase the sensitivity and dexterity of the fingers so they are skilled enough to use the new releases in this article.  The point of all of these drills is to teach the shooter’s right hand to become more aware.  The shooter’s hand cannot remain “unconscious” if he or she wants to be successful in water polo.  There no longer is a place in water polo for players with “dumb hands.”


  •  Pinch ball
  • Hard wrist snap
  • Index/middle fingers snap down on ball


The 2-finger release is a fairly common release among elite water polo players.  Among high school and age group water polo players the 2-finger release is unknown.  The 2-finger release adds another finger to the release—the middle finger.  The ball is pinched in the hand lightly, the wrist snaps down and the two fingers make final contact with the ball.  The ball spins off the two fingertips for ball spin.

Many players prefer the 2-finger release because it has a greater variety of shots than the index finger release.  The index finger release can only be used for the skip shot.  The 2-finger release, on the other hand, can be used for passing, shooting, skip shots and lobbing the ball.  The 2-finger release feels more “secure” than the index finger release.

The 2-finger release places the index and middle fingers together.  Do not gap the two fingers.  The index and middle fingers are placed in the center of the ball.  To place the index and middle fingers in the center of the ball just tilt the wrist a little to the right.

 The new release grip requires the player to adopt a pinch grip.  The standard cradle cannot slide the fingers up the ball and then snap the two fingers forward.  There is a learning curve for the player to accept the new ball grip.

To position the hand to throw the 2-finger release the catcher’s hand has to have these two fingers together.  This allows the player to shoot the ball immediately after catching the ball.  The player does not have to drop the ball in the water to change the release.

For the above average water polo player, the index finger release and the 2-finger release are fairly simple mechanically and do not require extraordinary skill.  The players “get it” in a few minutes time.  However, it is a giant step up from the standard 3-finger release (ball spin off the index, middle finger and ring finger) for the untrained player.

 There are many uses for a 2-finger release.  The simple pass to another player uses the 2-finger release.  A skip shot uses the 2-finger release.  The lob can be thrown with a 2-finger release.

The power shot using a 2-finger is a more accurate shot and has a quicker release.   The 2-finger skip shot is easier to skip and lifts off the water quicker.  And the 2-finger lob is more accurate because it has a 30-degree ball arc instead of a 55-degree ball arc and has significantly less ball rotation.

What is a skip point?  A skip point is where the skipped ball to be is thrown so it bounces into the goal.  Too far of a skip point and the ball bounces over the goal.  For example, a 3-finger skip shot, skipping up at a 30-degree angle, using a 4-meter skip point, skips the ball 2-meters over the goal.

A 2-meter skip shot for a 2-finger skip shot uses a 2-meter point because the ball rises off the water quicker, at a 45-degree angle, instead of the standard 3-finger release skip shot of 30-degrees and a 3-meter skip point.  The 2-finger release skip shot has to move the skip point further forward a meter to the 2-meter line to get the ball to go into the goal and not over it.

The lob aiming point aims the ball by calculating the “drop” of the ball.

The lob aiming point for a 2-fingered lob is 12-inches (30-cm) over the goal; a 3-fingered lob is 24-inches (60-cm) over the goal.  Aim the ball at the imaginary 12-inch lob aiming point in the air and the ball drops into the high corner of the cage.  This is the same concept is used in archery, where the archer aims above the target because the arrow will drop down and hit the target.  For more information please turn to Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Skip Shots 1-4



  •  Hand behind ball at start
  • Hand in front of ball at release
  • Curve point 12-24 inches (30-61-cm)

 This is a simple curve shot that mildly curves the ball from the left wing, the 1 or 2-spot (EU-5, 4) into the right corner of the goal.  The shooter starts with his or her hand behind the ball using a pinch grip and then slides the hand in front of the ball.  As the arm moves forward, the slides in front of the ball. With the shooter’s hand in front of the face of the ball, the ball has to curve inward.  The result of the hand-in-front of the ball at the release is a mild curve.

The goalie expects that the ball is a standard shot and assumes that the ball is going to miss the goal—it does not—it curves into the goal.  The curve aiming point for the mild curving shot is 12-inches (30-cm) in front of the right corner.  For a curve shot with a great curvature of its trajectory, the curve aiming point is 24-inches (61-cm) in front of the right corner of the goal.

To say that the fingers slide across the ball is not quite correct.  The hand position of the pinched grip is moved by the wrist so the hand is in front.  A demonstration is to pinch the ball with the hand behind the ball and then move the wrist so the hand is now in front of the ball.  The hand has not moved on the ball.  The change in the wrist position and hand position occurs as the arm is accelerating past the shooter’s head.

The drill is for the shooter to get on the 1-spot (EU-5) and curve the ball into the lower right corner of the goal.  If the ball goes straight and hits the far wall the release was incorrect.  When the ball hits the left goal post, the curve was too sharp.  The shooter adjusts the hand until the curve is perfect.

The shooter increases the degree of difficulty, by hanging on to the goal line and shooting from behind the goal and curving the ball into the right corner.   It takes a while for the shooter to figure out the correct hand position.  The curve shot is not a difficult release, but one that needs refinement by the shooter.  Girls can curve the ball as easily as the boys.  Smart hands are not boy hands.  Again, it is mechanics and not magic.


  • Football Grip
  • Square Body, Lung Up
  • Short Arm Cock

 The shooter evolves from the relatively simple index finger skip shot, 2-finger skip shot and curve shot to a more complex hand-body motion, the topspin set pass into the center.  The problem with all set passes is the backspinning ball skims away from the center.  The set pass is thrown either too short or too long.  The set pass is the most difficult pass to complete successfully and requires a smart hand to apply just enough force on the ball to make it skim to the center’s hand.

Few at the age group and high school level can complete the set pass.  Coaches assume that anyone can complete a short pass into set and do not practice set passing.  This is a difficult pass because it is short, thrown over a guard and requires a skilled hand with just enough “touch” on the ball to skim the correct distance.

The topspin set pass was invented as a training tool for developing a smart hand.  The topspin set pass works when thrown correctly but few players have the courage to break their old skimming the ball habits to try it.  A topspin set pass can be thrown at up to 30 mph (45 km/h) into the center without skipping.  The ball hits the ball and stops with a bass thud sound.

The hand mechanics are to use a football grip with the fingers pointing inward with the hand moving forward about an inch (2-cm) which places a topspin on the ball.  The ball hits the water and digs into the water and stops dead.  A remarkable sight compared to seeing balls skim all over the place in a game.

The topspin set pass involves a new kind of wrist snap.  Instead of a powerful hard snapping down of the wrist, the wrist motion is soft and short.  For the hard snapping water polo shooter this is a radical release.  The lighter and softer the release the better.  The purpose of the wrist snap is to place spin on the ball and not more power.  A hard wrist snap adds about 4 mph (6.54 km/h) to the velocity of the shot.  A hard wrist snap is not necessary if only spin is placed on the ball.

This is a major development in creating a smart hand—the soft snap.  And it is very difficult for the player to change hand speeds.  This is much more difficult than asking the player to change from a cradle grip to a pinch grip or use a 2-finger release.

The key to throwing the topspin set pass is for the passer to have a square to the goal body posture and a short arm cock.  The passer lunges high out of the water and pulls straight down with the left hand.  The release is critically affected by these two factors.  If the passer’s body is not square he or she can use a long arm cock and the ball skips over the center’s head.

The length of the leg extension is the length of the arm cock.  A short arm cock is required to modulate the amount of power applied to the ball so there is not too much.  The short arm cock accentuates the release of the ball with the football grip.

The passer cannot fall back into old habits of a long arm cock, a sharp left shoulder point and a long right leg extension.  This body posture destroys the set pass.  In addition, it looks really funny as the arm goes through some gyrations as it throws the set pass.  The passer has to be conscious and aware of being in the new body posture and not fall back into old habits.  This new posture may be harder than learning any of the new releases.

This football grip for the topspin set pass directly contributes to mastering the thumb/ring release.  This release must be learned.  The player has to know that “failure leads to success.”  Success appears after many failures.  There is no success without failure.  These are slogans that the coach must repeat endlessly as the players get frustrated.  The player keeps practicing day after day until he or she learns this new set pass.


  • Pinch ball
  • Diagonal spin sidespin
  • Curve lob aiming point


Everyone wants to curve a lob but nobody knows how to do it.  The curve lob requires a new kind of release, the slice.  The hand position on the side of the ball is similar to the curve power shot.  The fingers on the side of the ball impart a curved trajectory.  The slower the ball rotation, the greater the curve trajectory of the ball.  The faster the ball rotation, the less is the size of the curve.

The water polo slice release is the same action as the tennis player does when he or she slices the tennis ball.  In tennis, instead of the racket hitting behind the ball squarely, the racket hits the side of the tennis ball.  This action takes speed off the ball and changes the ball spin.  In water polo, the slice hand position slows the ball’s rotation and curves the ball into the goal.

The curve lob slice positions the hand in another unique hand position.  The shooter’s pinch grip hand holds the hand behind ball.  As the arm accelerates forward the wrist turns the hand so it is in front of the ball.  At the release of the ball, the hand slide down the side of the ball.  The fingers slide down the side of the ball slowly.  The slice release slows the rotation of the ball which allows the air to curve the ball more.  A fast spinning ball curves less as it cuts through the air quickly.

For a demonstration, the player holds an imaginary ball with the hand behind the ball and swings the arm forward.  As the hand passes the shooter’s head, the wrist turns the hand so the pinched ball now has the hand positioned on the side.  The hand did not slide on the ball.  Another demonstration is to hold the ball on top and turn the wrist so now the hand is underneath the ball.  The hand did not slide on the ball, the wrist changed the position of the hand with the ball stuck to the hand.  This is called a fixed release.  Other mobile releases will have the fingers sliding across the face of the ball.

When practicing the curve lob the players have a difficult time holding onto the side of the ball and not sliding the hand across the surface of the ball.  This is a very slow release of the ball from the hand.  Most releases snap the ball off the hand quickly.  The curve lob does not.  For the jittery and high-strung high school water polo player this simple release is daunting.  Less is more with this shot.  A rule that the player does not initially understand until he or she masters the release.

The lob aiming point for a standard 3-finger 55-degree trajectory lob is 24-inches (61-cm).  The ball is aimed at higher point in the air that takes into account the ball drop.  The curve lob has about a 12-inches (30- cm) drop.  Women have less arc on the ball then men, so these lob aiming points are slightly lower. For more information, turn to Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Lobs Parts 1-3.


  •   Do not sink
  •   Turn quickly, lean on side
  •    Slice release

 The fifth release is similar to the curve lob in its hand release placement.  However, the body position of the shooter is much different.  Instead of calmly throwing a lob from an angle at the goal, the shooter has to get fouled, pick up the ball quickly, lung upward, move to the side and use an arm circle arm swing.  At the release of the ball the hand slides down the side of the ball placing a diagonal spin on the ball that curves it.

As the shooter turns and faces the goal, he or she leans to the left to buy time.  The goalie expects a quick 5-meter foul shot and is already jumping into the air.  The curve lob to score has to have the goalie sinking.  The arm position is also unique in the elbow is locked and the arm pivots from the shoulder.

Most shots have bend the elbow and pivot around it.  The curve 5-meter foul shot locks the elbow and creates a stiff arm and a “helicopter” arm swing.  This locked elbow arm swing delays the release of the ball.  This simple locking of the elbow is not hard to do but it flies in the face of thousands of shots with the elbow acting as a pivot point.  To the coach, locking the arm and pivoting from the shoulder seems like it should be easy to do but the habit-bound player has a difficult time changing their arm motion.  The drill to fix this problem is to lock the elbow and swing the arm in a circle.  Again, this is easier said than done by the player.

As the arm swings around in a semi-circle the hand is behind the ball.  As the arm moves forward the hand changes position from behind the ball to sliding down the side of the ball.  The delay of the shot and the slow ball speed catch the goalie sinking and the ball goes in the high corner of the goal.

At the release of the ball, the shooter’s hand moves from behind the ball to sliding down the side of the ball.  This slice action by the hand causes the ball to curve.  The slice motion is a slow hand motion.  When the slice is done too quickly there is not much of a curve because the ball is spinning too rapidly.  Please turn to Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: 5-Meter Foul Shot


  • Kick up high and hard
  • Lean on side
  • 45-degree arm position

 The shooter is taking an outside shot and sees the guard’s outstretched arm directly in front of the path of his or her shot ready to field block the shot.  The shooter lunges up, leans to the left and shoots around the guard’s arm.  The ball is thrown at the left corner of the goal.  The guard is left guarding air.

The lean-over shot has many of the qualities of the 5-meter foul shot.  The shooter comes high out of the water to force the guard to commit his or her arm to the shot.  Then leans to the side and uses a helicopter arm swing with a shoulder pivot.  The ball is shot with half of the shooter’s body submerged and the arm at a 45-degree angle.

Again, the same problems with the shooter bending the elbow instead of locking the elbow are present with the lean-over shot.  The drill to break this habit is to take a low elevation lean-over shot.  The arm and the ball are 6 to 9-inches (15-21 cm) off the water with the side of the head submerged.  The lean-over shot cannot be completed unless the elbow is locked and a helicopter arm motion is used.  The ball is shot low at the left corner or the ball is skimmed on the water.

One of the problems that the coach encounters with this low elevation lean-over shot is the shooter does not want to place his or her head in the water and swing the arm over the head.  Instead, the habit-bound shooter bends the elbow and the ball stays above the right ear and does not cross over the head.  In this arm position, the shooter cannot throw the ball at the left corner and throws the ball directly into the guard’s arm.  For more information, please turn to Polo Articles: Shot Doctor: Vertical to Horizontal Shots Part 2.


New ideas and breaking old habits makes teaching these six shots to the players a difficult work for the coach.  Have patience coach!  These new concepts are slowly understood by the players.  A few players will immediately understand what the shots are about.  Half of the team will eventually figure the moves out in a month or two.  Some players will never comprehend what the coach is saying.   Teaching these new concepts of will take a season or more for the players to master.  3071

These six shots force the shooter’s hand IQ into new heights.  The rigid hand behind the ball hand position will not work with any of the shots.  The 2-finger release does not use the ring finger (the standard 3-finger release does).    The curve power shot, on the other hand teaches the shooter to curve the ball by moving the hand forward during the shot.

The topspin set pass uses a new ball spin, the topspin, to throw a hard pass into the center that stops immediately without skimming.  The curve lob thrown out of the 5-meter foul surprises the goalie by turning a power shot into a lob with a slice release.  The lean-over shot forces the shooter to lock the elbow and use the shoulder as a pivot point instead of the elbow to shoot the ball.  All of these new releases enable the shooter to create the smart hand that is able to use whatever release is necessary to score.

 © Copyright Jim Solum 2016

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