Group Ball Handling Drills for Water Polo

Partner and group ball handling skills force players to control the ball with their teammates in ways that deviate from standard passing and shooting. Not only do these drills simulate game situations, but they also challenge players who may already have decent ball handling skills.

Developing dexterity and familiarity with water polo balls solo is fine, but practicing with other players fosters better reaction time and communication skills. The following drills each involve at least two players and will refine the abilities of both seasoned and beginning water polo players.

Tip Passing

Tip passing should be done in groups of three or more with one ball between the players. Players should move as close to each other as possible and keep the ball in the air without catching it or bringing it behind their head. That means that they will control the ball with just the movement of their fingers and wrists, rather than their entire arm and shoulder. The idea is to touch the ball for the shortest time possible while maintaining control.

As soon as the ball does hit the water (it's bound to eventually), let the players regroup and get back into position before starting another round. Make the drill extra-challenging by asking players to:

  • Pass randomly rather than around the circle in one direction.
  • Keep both hands out of the water and use them interchangeably.
  • Call for the ball.
  • Keep the ball as high into the air as possible.

Off-the-water Passing

Give groups of three to four players one ball. They should all be several feet from one another. One will send a wet pass to land a few feet away from their teammate. It can land in front, behind, or to the side of the player. That player will take a few strokes to the ball, and then pass it on to the next person in the group. Their pass should be a flip pass off the surface of the water. However, it can also be a backhand pass, push pass, or pop pass… as long as they stay horizontal and don't bring the ball up and behind their head.

As the drill progresses, the players constantly swim to different places in the water, so groups should start far away from each other.

Hot Tip: Add a Challenge

Adding spins and wheels, and encouraging players to use both their strong and weak hands will add a degree of difficulty during off-the-water passing for more experienced players.


Have players practice taking shots on goal, but require fakes before they shoot. Remember that the more a fake looks like the movements before an actual shot, the more convincing it will be. Also, the more varied the movements of the player, the harder it will be for the goalkeeper to predict the pass or shot.

Fakes can incorporate:

  • Arm and shoulder movements
  • Head movement
  • Sidestepping or shifting movement in the water
  • Eye and head deception (looking one direction, throwing in another)

Spin & Wheel Passing

For this drill, have three players form a line. One of the outside players passes the ball to the middle player who, after catching it, spins, and then passes it to the third player. That player then passes the ball back to the middle player who wheels, and then passes the ball back to the player who started with the ball. After a certain number of passes, the players should switch positions until each have had a turn in the middle.

Passing While Swimming

Have players line up at one end of the pool in groups of three. They should swim to the other side of the pool, passing a ball as they go. The passes should be flip or pop passes, and the ball should be passed almost as soon as it is received. Passes should land just a couple of feet in front of their teammate. Players should be encouraged to use both their strong and weak hands during the drill. Repeat the drill until everyone has had a chance to be in each position in the line.

Ball Handling as Team Building

When players work on ball handling skills with partners or in a group, they learn their teammate's strengths and styles of play. Because they are forced to pay attention to the other player(s) during the drills, they also work on communication and awareness. Practicing ball handling drills with teammates improves the team as a whole and the players' individual skills, so while solo ball handling drills are important to practice, so are those that engage a larger group.

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