Water Polo Positions: Offense
There is no sitting still in water polo. Within the 28 minutes of playing time there is constant movement. None of the six utility players are idle.
The object of the game is to get the ball past the other team’s defense and into the net. In Water Polo, the more physical you are, the better; and if you’re not getting scrapes and bruises, you’re doing something wrong. This sport requires thinking before you act: Strategy is a huge part of the game, and going into a game without one rarely sets the stage for a positive outcome. All players are responsible for familiarizing themselves with every position, as there is constant cutting and driving from all directions. Therefore, not one player will remain in the position in which they begin the game.
In this guide, you’re going to learn the basics of each offensive position in water polo. With these basics, you’ll learn the priorities for each position and how a water polo team is only as strong as its weakest player.
The most common formation for an offense is a 3-3, where three players line up at the 2-meter line, and three set up just outside the 5-meter line. The middle position within the top three is the point person, and the middle position in the bottom three is the hole set. The remaining top two positions are drivers, and the remaining bottom two are wings. Later on in this guide you’ll learn that wings and drivers are interchangeable and they rarely stay in their starting positions.
Another popular offensive formation is the umbrella formation. Similar to the previous strategy, the perimeter players position themselves around the hole set, but in an umbrella-like shape instead of straight lines.
Both of these formations have different benefits. You’ll understand these better once you understand the individual positions and each of their roles.
This person starts with the ball after a goal is scored and is responsible for setting a play in motion. When this player, or any other for that matter, yells “top, top, top,” he is referring to the top of the formation, or the point person. The point position is not always played by the same person, although it may be played by one person more than others due to the strengths and weaknesses of each player. The point position is set directly in front of the hole set position. A player at this position needs to have the following traits:
- Quick thinking skills
- Speed and agility in order to drive down to the post
- Great communication (i.e. a loud voice!) in order to implement plays
This person at this position should be the team’s best goal scorer. The hole set position is where most shots are taken at the goal. The outer positions (such as points, wings and drivers) are responsible for getting the ball into the hole set. Balls are usually passed into the hole set using a wet pass. There, the hole set will either take the ball and shoot at the goal or draw a foul (more on this technique later). Similar to the point position, the hole set will usually be played by one person more than any other due to strengths and weaknesses. The ideal player for this position has:
- Relatively large body mass so as not to be turned by a defending player
- An accurate arm for shots on goal
- Strong legs in order to rise high out of the water
Wings and Drivers
These positions do the most swimming and often change positions several times during a single play. Whether you are running a 3-3 offense or an umbrella offense, these positions are constantly creating movement by either driving down to the goal post and rotating around, or creating screens in order to free teammates of their defenders. Their main job is to get the ball into the hole set .Their proximity to the goal and their position relative to the hole set make them invaluable components for scoring goals. After the hole set, wings and drivers often end up with the second most goals during a game. It’s important that these players:
- Are quick and nimble in order to change swimming directions instantly
- Have knowledge of all other playing positions, because it is rare that these players stay in their starting positions for very long
- Have upper- and lower-body strength so that they don’t get pushed around by their defenders
In higher levels of competition, the hole set is not always a team’s leading scorer. At the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, U.S. Men’s player Tony Azevedo was the tournament's leading scorer with 19 goals – as a driver.
The person playing this position has a vital role on defense while still having to support their teammates when on the offensive attack. Often times, the goalkeeper will start out with the ball on a play such as a counter attack.
In a situation like this, the keeper would be responsible for distributing the ball down the pool. Once a pass is made from the keeper to another player on his team, the keeper will often egg beater to about the 5-meter mark and be ready for a potential return pass. Goalkeepers must always be aware of their position relative to the ball, so being conscience of where the ball is even when it is on the other side of the pool is important. When it comes back down your way, you’ll want to be ready and in an optimal position.
It’s important for goalkeepers to stay engaged, even when the ball is not on their half of the pool. Goalkeepers often have the best vision of the entire pool. Therefore, it’s important for them to tell their teammates what they see. If there is a player open down pool that the ball-handler does not see, then it is the goalkeeper’s responsibility to yell it out and keep teammates informed and aware. Goalkeepers need to stay engaged with their teammates at all times.
All For One
Water polo is a team sport and the outcome of the game depends on every player fulfilling their role. The point, hole set, wings, drivers and goalkeeper need to be on top of their game individually before the team can perform as one unit.