How to Run a Water Polo Pick

A water polo pick is an offensive play performed by two (usually perimeter) players. One drives and positions their body between a teammate’s defender and the goal, while their teammate slides into open water and pops up for a pass. If performed correctly, a pick has two possible outcomes:

  1. If both defenders try to stay with their original players, the teammate of the offensive player setting the pick will be briefly open for a pass or shot.
  2. If the defenders switch, the player setting the pick will have open water for a moment before their teammate’s defender can get between them and the goal.

For a pick to be effective, both teammates must know exactly what is going on. Each has to be prepared to get open and to shoot on goal. The pick also has to be executed in fairly close quarters. The player setting the pick needs to make physical contact with their teammate’s defender, and both offensive players need to be comfortable being very close to their defenders throughout the pick.

If a teammate is picking off your defender, don’t swim to get open. Those few strokes will take too long. Rather, eggbeat out, maintain good body position, and get ready for a pass. The higher you can tread out of the water, the better your chances of getting an unobstructed pass and making a shot.


Hot Tip: Face the Goal

Each time you set a pick, you should finish facing the goal. Set a pick facing somewhere else and you’re no longer a shooting threat. Since each participant in a pick has the potential to get open, not facing the goal will give the pick — at best — a 50 percent chance of success.

When to Pick

Picks are offensive plays and are usually run after the set has drawn a foul and has a free throw. They can also be run if a perimeter player on the opposite side of the cage has the ball. Run a pick during any stagnant offense to stir things up, when the set is having trouble getting open, or to take advantage of a weak defender.

Different Types of Picks

There are a few different types of picks. Factors like where the ball is and which players are open will help determine which type of pick will be most effective. Listed below are the three kinds of water polo picks.


Hot Tip: Name Picks Correctly

Picks are usually named according to the positions involved, with the number of the position that initiates the pick first, and the number of the position that reacts to the pick second. For example: A down-pick that sees position two drive down to position one would be called a “two-one pick.” An up-pick with the same two players would be a “one-two pick.”


The most common type of pick is a down-pick. In a down pick, a player from the two, three, or four position drives down towards the goal to pick off the defender of one of the flats (either the one or five position). Wing players should only run a down-pick to the position directly below them, not across the goal (equipment). If setting a pick from the point, that player has the option to drive to either side.


Also known as a “reverse pick,” the up-pick is just what it sounds like: A pick that is initiated by a wing who drives up to help a flat in the two or four position get open. Just before that wing reaches the defender, they swing their body around so that they are facing the goal. This way, if their teammate is unable to receive a pass, there is an opportunity for them to drive again with open water.


A cross-pick — also known as a “squeeze pick” — is initiated by the point and is executed with one of the flats (players in the two or four positions). In this case, the point-as-picker will not drive straight to the goal, but will drive to the left or right. The flat on that side will then swim over the point’s legs towards center-cage, scraping off their defender. In this scenario, either the flat will become open or the point will continue their drive to the goal and become open themselves.

Be Prepared

Get used to running a variety of picks with your teammates from every position until they become automatic in a game. Be ready for a pass and shot, regardless of whether you’re the one setting the pick. If a pick isn’t successful, don’t worry: Just set up and run another one as soon as possible. Your defender will not be thanking you.

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