How to Defend the Hole Set in Water Polo

The hole’s defender (also known as hole D, two-meter defender, or hole guard) has an especially challenging job. They guard the position with the best access to the goal, usually filled by one of the strongest players on the opposing team.

Because offensive action revolves around the hole set, the hole defender will need to have endurance, know how to foul correctly, and be prepared to play very physically. More grabbing and underwater wrestling happens in these two positions — hole set and hole defender — than anywhere else in the pool. This guide explains the skills the hole defender position requires and the tactics hole defenders should use.

Different Guarding Strategies

Hole defenders have two options when it comes to guarding the hole set: They can either front the set (positioning themselves between the hole set and the field), or they can play regular (positioning themselves between the hole set and the cage). Both tactics have benefits and challenges that are explained below.

Hot Tip: Keep Your Hips Up

Whether fronting or guarding regular, it is very important for the hole defender to keep their hips close to the surface of the water. If their hips drop, there is a strong chance that the hole set will grab them or their suit, making it nearly impossible to be an effective defender.

Fronting the Hole Set

While fronting the set gives the offense fewer options, it also requires awareness, strength, and the ability to quickly react to changes in the offensive strategy. You will need to be aware of where the ball is at all times, constantly shifting to cut off passes from one side or the other.

In order to front, position yourself between the hole set and the rest of the perimeter players. Keep your head between the ball and the set at all times. This leaves no one between the set and the goalie, but if done correctly, your front will effectively cut them off from any passes. The set will try their best to maneuver out of this position, so be prepared to work hard.

[insert pic of someone being fronted]

Playing Regular

Playing regular requires the ability to foul without getting ejected, excellent wrestling skills, and good communication with the rest of the team. As a hole defender playing “regular” defense, position yourself between the hole set and the goal. Keep your chest against the back or side of the hole set, your hips up (to prevent the hole from grabbing their suit or legs), and rest your head to the side of the set’s. While keeping your hands where the ref can see them, be prepared to foul if the ball comes into set or to knock the ball away.

What to Expect from the Hole Set

Hole sets will fight hard for position and once they get the ball, either draw a foul or shoot. If defending the hole set, it is important to know what kind of shots to expect, as well as how to foul the hole set to prevent those shots.

Common Grabs

It’s normal for the hole set to grab the hole defender’s hands, suit, or legs. The point of these holds is to get the defender to drop their hips, which gives the set far more control over their defender and therefore better access to the goal. Keep your hips at the surface of the water and be sure to practice twisting out of holds.

Common Shots

The most common shots from set are sweep or scoop shots. Stay as close as possible to the hole set to anticipate which way they will shoot. Know the hole set’s dominant hand. Be prepared to block or grab their shooting arm before it can gather momentum.


If the hole gets a decent pass, it’s likely better to foul them than to let them shoot. To avoid an ejection but still get a foul called, play the ball and not the player. Foul by going for the ball, but avoid reaching over the player’s neck and shoulders or climbing over them in any way. As soon as the hole set drops the ball, the refs will call the foul. If the hole set continues to hold the ball, you may get a steal! If a foul is called, the hole set will have about three seconds for their free throw, after which you may start guarding them again.

Hole Defender Is a Tough Job

There are a lot of reasons hole defender is a challenging position: The responsibility of guarding the opposing teams strongest player, the underwater wrestling, the need for quick reflexes and ball-stealing skills… but with these challenges come special rewards. There are few things more gratifying than blocking a shot, stealing a ball, or shutting down your opponent’s offense. Whether you choose to specialize in this position or not, knowing the basics of hole defender will make you a more versatile player and strengthen your team’s defense.

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