How to Run a Water Polo Drive

Drives are a fundamental part of any water polo offense. From basic to complex, there’s hardly a better way to get open for a pass or shot. Drives are also used to move defenders out of key shooting or passing areas. Learning the timing, body position, and strategies of driving is a big step forward in your development as a water polo player.

What is a Drive?

In its simplest from, a drive happens when an offensive player swims toward the goal. Drives are usually initiated by one of the top three perimeter players (offensive positions two, three, or four). The player running the drive swims to one side of the goal in order to get open for a shot. 

What Drives Accomplish

Depending on the side they drive to and where their defender is, drivers can pop up for shot, get a wet pass and take a wet shot, or simply help clear away a defender camping out in front of the hole set. Drives force the defender dropping in on the hole to guard them as they approach the goal, thereby clearing out the hole set and opening them up for a pass.

How to Run a Drive

Drives are usually run after a foul had been called in the hole. The hole set has three seconds to take their free throw which means good drives begin as soon as the foul is called. As you drive, stay aware of your defender’s position and what is going on with the offense around you. These factors will determine your next actions.

1. Position Your Body for a Drive

Face the goal and defender. Your hips should be up, and your hands sculling. This body position makes it easier to initiate a drive quickly, as well as to maneuver around a defender. Being prepared to immediately take off once the foul is called gives the drive a much higher chance of success, and will likely take the defense by surprise.

2. Get Around Your Defender

There are a few ways to get around a defender. If their hips are down, simply put on a burst of speed to swim by them. Another option is to lunge one direction, and — after they react — swim to the other. You can also reach across your body to grab your defender’s hand — right grabs right, left grabs left — then to pull them to the side and behind you. Note that this is technically an offensive foul, but is also a very common move. The ref will only call it if they see it.

3. Drive to the Goal

Swimming heads-up freestyle, move quickly to the goal. Take short, choppy strokes and shift left or right to keep your defender on your back. Use eggbeater if necessary. If you’re trying to keep your defender behind you, worry less about speed and more about body position.

4. Call for the Ball

Make sure the person with the free throw knows you are open and call for the type of pass you want. Different sides of goal call for different types of shots. If driving to your strong side (left side for right-handers, right for left-handers), call for a dry pass. If driving to the weak side (right side for right-handers, left for left handers), call for a wet pass since a wet shot is the safer decision when catching the ball across your body. If your defender has managed to get in front of you, stop quickly and pop up for a rear-back shot (RB).

5. Take the Shot

If there is a lot of room between you and your defender, pop up to take a shot. If they are right on your back, keep them there while you take a wet shot. Shoot hard: If the goalie blocks a hard shot instead of just catching the ball, chances are it will go out of bounds, giving your team possession of the ball and another shot clock.

Hot Tip: Run More than One Drive

It is not uncommon for several drives to happen over the course of a single shot clock. Drives can be run on both sides of the goal simultaneously and take just seconds to complete. Running multiple drives in quick succession is a great way to confuse the defense and create shooting opportunities.


Types of Drives

There are a few types of drives that every player should know. Since free throws don’t always come from the hole set, and defenders don’t always guard man-to-man, it’s important to know which drive to run according to the situation.

Standard Drive

The most common drive is from a flat (position two or four) down to the goal. Drivers from the right side of the goal may be able to pop up for an RB or dry shot (assuming they’re right-handed). Drivers from the left should call for and expect a wet shot (unless they are left-handed). These drives are run when the hole set has a free throw and regular defense.

Cross Drive

When one of the flats drive to the opposite side of the goal, this is called a cross drive. Cross drives happen when a foul has been called at the one or five, rather than the set. Drives across the goal and in front of the hole set can clear out defenders, open up the hole, and help the point and other flat balance into open water.

Stick with It

Not every drive is perfect, but any movement is better than doing nothing. Remember: It may be necessary to run multiple drives on a single offense, and driving is the most effective way to make something happen. If you aren’t able to score off a drive, there is a good chance a fellow perimeter player will get open or that the defense has been distracted enough to allow a pass into the hole set. Get used to practicing drives with your teammates so that come game time, you will be able to to run quick, effective drives several times during an offense.

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