How to Play Defense During a Five-meter in Water Polo
Although a five-meter call is one of the least desirable outcomes for a team while on defense, there are several ways to capitalize on the offensive team's possible mistakes. Preventing a goal on a five-meter depends largely on the skill of the goalkeeper (or the shooter's lack of skill), but there are measures that can be taken to eliminate potential scoring situations after the shot is taken. This guide explains what goalkeepers and field players on defense can do to best prevent a goal on a five-meter shot.
The official rules for a five-meter shot dictate that the goalkeeper must position their body between the goal posts, with no part of their body extending past the goal over the water. That means that while hands can be sculling and legs treading in front of the goal, the goalkeeper's limbs have to be underwater.
Set up to One Side
As the main line of defense against the five-meter shot, the goalkeeper must do their best to anticipate the type and direction of the shot, and move simultaneously to block it. Some goalkeepers set up to one side of the goal, assuming that it will force the shooter to shoot to the open corner. In some cases, this can be effective, but it is a risky move. If the shooter has a fast and accurate shot, the ball may very well reach the far corner of the goal before the goalkeeper can get all the way across the cage.
The best (and often only) thing most goalkeepers can do to block a five-meter shot is keep their hands light at the surface and prepare their legs for exploding out of the water. Coming up and slightly forward as the ball is fired will block the widest area of the cage, but goalkeepers also need to watch the ball for which direction it is traveling and whether they are blocking a skip shot.
Goalkeepers shouldn't concede a goal before a shot has been taken. Chances are, the shooter is just as nervous for the shot, which can lead them to miss or shoot straight to the goalkeeper. Staying alert and blocking the shot if the shooter flubs will make any goalkeeper a hero.
The field players who are on defense after the five-meter call need to prepare for two things: A missed shot, and an immediate counterattack. The positions immediately to either side of the shooter are reserved for the defense, if they want players there. It's a good idea to do so, because if the ball rebounds or the goalkeeper blocks the shot, the defensive field players will be first in line to capture the rebound or help the goalie defend the ball.
The remaining four players should position themselves in the middle of the pool, ready to counterattack in case their team gets possession of the ball. Since no one is allowed to be in front of the player shooting the five-meter, they will be grouped behind the shooter.
The defending players need to strike a balance between getting an advantage on the potential counterattack, and retaining the ability to get back on defense (not a common outcome, but it is possible). To maintain control for both situations, defensive field players usually match up with an opposing player and watch the shot so that they can react as needed, whether to start a counterattack or get back on defense.
Don't Just Watch
A five-meter shot can seem like a futile situation for the defense. Not only does the goalie have to block a shot from an unguarded player in the center of the cage, but the field players have to be ready to react quickly to the shot, both defensively and offensively. Since most five-meter shots tend to result in goals, it is tempting for the defense to simply float for a moment in the water and watch, rather than spend energy getting in to position. Never let another team get a second chance at a five-meter because your team was unprepared.