How to Steal the Ball in Water Polo

There are more than a few ways to steal the ball during a water polo game. Sometimes it is possible to steal the ball from the player you are defending, while other times you may be able to nab a bad pass or wayward shot before the other team gets to it.

Every steal is made with a combination of fast reflexes and finesse; without either, your attempted steal will probably get called as a foul instead. If you are able to successfully steal the ball, it means a turnover and an extra chance for your team to score. This guide explains both how to execute a steal as well as the most common times to attempt one.

The Sweep Steal

If you are guarding a weaker player who has the ball, you may be able to take advantage of their poor body position to steal it from them. The sweep steal works best if the player you are guarding is holding the ball on the surface of the water, their hips are down, and their back is to you. To perform the sweep steal:

  1. Position yourself so that your chest is parallel to the other player's back.
  2. Place your right hand on the right hip of the player you are guarding (underwater).
  3. Use your right hand (now underwater) to push past them.
  4. Simultaneously lift your left hand out of the water as if to take a stroke.
  5. As your left hand comes out, slide it towards the ball and scoop it out of the other player's hand.
  6. Take a couple of quick strokes to swim the ball to safety.

The steps above work best if the player you are guarding is holding the ball with their right hand. Simply reverse which hand does what to perform a sweet steal on a player who is holding the ball with their left hand.

Hot Tip: Announce Your Steal

Once you've stolen the ball, make sure your team knows there has been a turnover. Many of them may not have realized the ball changed possession, so announce that fact as loudly as possible to start the counterattack.

The Pop Steal

This tactic of stealing the ball is designed for when the player you’re guarding has possession of the ball, but is not holding it with their hand. Rather, they are letting it float on the surface of the water, but protecting it with their body. The idea of the pop steal is to slide a hand under the ball, then flip it to the side using your fingertips. As soon as the ball has been flipped away from your player, quickly get control of the ball.

Since this can be done with either hand and to either side, the best way to master the pop steal is with lots of practice. The faster this move is, the better it works. This is because as soon as your player feels you moving towards the ball, they will rush to better protect it.

Hot Tip: Draw a Foul

One downside to stealing the ball is that you will be very close to a player from the other team who wants to get it back. One good way to ensure possession of the ball is to draw a foul. If you had a clean steal, there is a good chance the referee will award you a foul.

The Swim Steal

The swim steal is basically the pop steal, but is executed while swimming down the pool. As the player next to you dribbles the ball, slide your arm nearest to them under the ball and flick it out from between their arms. Quickly establish possession by swimming away, passing it, or protecting the ball with your body.

The Crash Steal

The crash steal takes advantage of a bad pass into the hole set. Always knowing where the ball is while playing defense will allow you to capitalize on bad passes or oblivious players on the other team. If a pass to the hole set is out of their immediate reach, you may be able to drop in and steal the ball.

Since this means leaving your player briefly unguarded, make sure another teammate knows you are dropping and can move in to help cover your player. This is an important element of dropback defense, which is explained in more detail in the Understanding Dropback Defense in Water Polo guide.

Be Careful

It is important to remember that every steal is also a risk. If the steal fails, you are opening up the possibility of getting a foul (or even ejection) called, or letting a player you're guarding get better access to the goal. Going for every possible steal will not only be to your disadvantage, it will also probably make your teammates pretty angry as they constantly cover for you. That is why stealing the ball is a skill that should be honed during practice and used wisely to preserve the element of surprise. The thrill of a good steal is worth all the work that goes into it.

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