Complete Weight Training Program (used with Chinese National Team)

By: Ricardo Azevedo

Weight training is an important part of any program. It is vital to the development of a water polo athlete, but you also have to be careful not to overdo it– instead collaborating with a strength coach to design a program that best fits your team.

By clicking on the downloadable link below, you can access an example of a weight training program used by the Chinese National Team this past year. Our goal was to introduce a more complete training regimen, as in the past a very old fashioned program was in place—most of the exercises were based on maximum effort, creating too many injuries.

The program is designed to cover all aspects of player development including back, torso, core, legs, and injury prevention. The frequency of execution was 3 times per week for 1:1 minutes.

Coaches must also remember that weights and dryland training are complementary workouts—meaning you need to take into consideration the water time and effort (a common problem with young coaches is the “more is better” attitude). For example, if you have a strong session in the weight room that concentrates on legs, then water time should be geared towards the back or upper body—remember that muscles need recovery to achieve good results.

Downloadable Chinese Weight Lifting Program

Strength Training for Young Water Polo Athletes

Me with the guys at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Me with the guys at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

By: Kenny Schroeder

As the trainer for US water polo from 1993 to 2008, I’ve seen many changes in the sport regarding injury prevention and strength conditioning in both the men and women’s programs. Today there is more of a focus on dry land conditioning—this recent combination of dry and wet training has been developed in order to optimize the athlete’s ability to excel in the sport.

Traveling the world with the US team over that 15 year period and being exposed to the techniques of various other countries has given me the opportunity to see how the most successful teams approach the sport in regards to training.

In Eastern European countries, athletes begin to build a foundation in wellness and fitness at a much earlier age. It is not uncommon to see children as young as 7 years old involved in a comprehensive fitness program designed to create a solid base for their progression in the world of sport.

The exercises at an early age are generally low impact in nature– they involve elements of static and ballistic stretching, cardiovascular endurance and strength conditioning. At an early age the children are lead through exercise routines by their age group instructors which involve exercises that utilize gravity and the child’s body weight as the main element of resistance. This can be achieved by a combination of activities that make the training less boring and more exciting for the younger athlete. The lower impact exercises are performed at a high repetition and include a variety of exercises to make the overall training more enjoyable.

They may also involve elements of competition to further enhance the element compliance. For instance, the kids may be split into groups of 5 at the edge of the pool. The first participant may perform 10 pushups, 10 situps and 10 jumping jacks and then sprint a lap. When he or she touches the wall the next kid will perform the same routine. The whole time there is a lot of cheering, screaming and encouragement until the 5th and final participant touches the wall. The teams may be changed up and repeated 5 times.

To add a higher level of difficulty, the children are asked to wear cotton sweat pants with a speedo type swim trunk over the sweats to add additional drag in the water. This is one example of training for the younger athlete that makes it fun and competitive as well.

Me and the some of the USA guys climbing the Great Wall.
Me and the some of the USA guys climbing the Great Wall.

When Tony was a 15-year-old sophomore in high school, he approached me at the dinner table at his family’s house and asked if I could train him. He said he was going to try out for the National Team and needed to get more fit. I agreed and we began to work out in the gym 6 days a week, 80 minutes a day. The program included abdominal work, stretching, cardiovascular and strength work.

I felt I didn’t want him to be the strongest kid in the pool, I wanted him to be the fittest. If there was an emphasis I would have to say it was to strengthen his legs. Over the years I had seen many international athletes with large upper bodies and little thin legs. With my background in Kinesiology, I believed that the legs were most important element to enable the water polo athlete to remain stable in an unstable environment (the water).

Our program has lasted through Tony’s HS, College and international career. He still emails me to ask questions about his exercise program or how he should tailor it for upcoming games or tournaments. The game has grown and so should the athlete. Staying stagnant in the sport will only grow barnacles. Stay ahead of the game. Keep progressing so you can become the player you want to be.

AWP Note: This summer, Tony and Kenny will be co-publishing a book titled ‘Strength Training for the High School Olympian’. It will include a comprehensive fitness training regimen for high school aged water polo athletes, complemented by over 100 pictures of Tony in the gym, as well as supplemental material on diet, cross-training and more. The book will be available in both print form and as an e-book and sold directly through this website. To get updates about new content posted to this site, please sign up for our AWP Newsletter.



“Drive, Drive”: The Proper Technique for Training your Drivers

If you go to any water polo game in the USA, you will most likely hear the words “drive, drive” being screamed by a coach or sometimes even by the crowd, often throughout the entire game. Bystanders often wonder what this means, but I’ll go as far as to say that oftentimes players and coaches don’t actually fully understand the meaning of this phrase either.

The word “drive” was borrowed from basketball in the late 50s, when water polo began to use movement as a way to attack the goal. Before that time, water polo was a static game and very little movement took place– it was more about posting up or 1 on 1 individual attacks. Games were typically low scoring, both because of the lack of a shot clock, but also because the leather ball was heavy and did not allow for many perimeter shots.

In the rest of the world, various different terms are used in place of the word “drive”, including  “attack”, “penetrate”, and “enter”. Regardless of the terminology, the “driver” position in water polo is extremely important for the game. Unfortunately in the US, we often consider drivers to be a ‘dime a dozen’ and instead choose to emphasize goalie, center and defender training. The drivers are often left out there to fend for themselves, based on the idea that driving is a skill everyone is born with.

Let’s take look at this position: to begin, there are 3 different types of drivers and these are named according to the position they play and their strength and characteristics:

1-   1 or 2 drivers (USA Right hander side) are usually the best shooters on the team; they are fast and quick; the 2 driver is usually more offensive than the 1 driver.

2-   4 or 5 drivers (USA Left hander side) should be good defenders and able to shoot across their bodies; your best passers should play this position; left-handed players will play this position as well.

3-   3 drivers (USA Point) are usually defenders or strong shooters; some teams also use this position for a quick player to create movement.

Besides the different types of drivers there are also different drives that are and should be dictated according to the time, defense and tactics used by different teams:

1-   Perimeter driving (when a player drives from positions 2, 3, 4).

2-   Wing driving (also known in the USA as “back door” or “baseline”, both terms adopted from basketball).

3-   Post up driving (when a player looks to muscle a smaller player by playing as a second center).

4-   Picking or Screening (“picks” were very popular in the 70s and 80s until they were deemed illegal; coaches adapted by creating moving picks now known as screens; these are when 2 or more players use a drive as a way to create and open a player or to exchange defenders).

5-   Other types of drives are double or diagonal (double is when synchronized or timed 2 players initiate drives for tactical purposes; diagonal is when players 2 or 4 exchange sides– widely used for creating motion and attacking zones).

Following all this comes the most important part of driving—the skills required to play the position successfully that in my opinion are often not taught and worked on sufficiently. The specific training for drivers is very varied: they require quick hands and fast strokes; they must be able to react with quick explosive movements when going from the horizontal to the vertical position; they should be able and must be able to pass under pressure and shoot the quick shots; movement to the right or the left should be worked on during training, allowing for the driver to be of multi-use.

Drivers should also be able to control the game and call offenses (defenders call defenses). In the last few Olympics, the leading scorers (for the most part) have been drivers, examples include: Sukno and Boskovic from Croatia, Prlainovic and Sapic from Serbia, Perrone from Spain, Azevedo from the USA, Biros from Hungary, Kasas from Hungary and Felugo from Italy, just to name a few.

Here are a few of the drills that I use to train the driver position:

1-   Ball handling skills (remember that drivers will handle the ball on offense 80% of the time; precision and accurate passing are very important; drivers should be able to deliver a pass from any body position and under pressure).

2-   Leg strength and explosive movement upwards (both defensively and offensively the driver is often used to create lanes or intercept plays; high body position on passing and shooting is a very important tool for success).

3-   Hand speed (I use a wrist hand weight that I created weighing 250 grams; I have players pass, lunge and stroke with the weigh to help build strength and not only speed; but this also helps with power).

4-   Stroke speed (using the wrist weight and some resistance bands will develop quickness and explosive movement).

5-   Heavy ball (using this while following a shooting motion will strengthen the core and legs and at the same time work on the vertical game).

The final piece of the puzzle is to work on the mind of the player– this might be the most difficult part, but nonetheless a must.  A good driver must possess a strong awareness of his/her surroundings and an in-depth knowledge of tactics. An analog I use with my players to emphasize these skills is as follows:

D – Decode the defense

R –  React according to the situation

I  –  Intelligence; read the clock and situation

V – Vision; be aware of teammates and score

E  – Execution of the drive needed

In conclusion, driving is very important for the game of water polo today. But one must also take into consideration that with a 30-second clock, highly defensive schemes, and the physicality of the game, driving should be used intelligently with specific needs in mind. Make sure to go over with each driver his/her strengths and weaknesses, allowing him or her to be positioned in the right place. The most common mistake in high school water polo is players playing in the wrong position.

At the higher level there are specific positions that need to be filled. If my 2 player is very offensive, I will make sure to pair him up at position 1 with a more defensive-minded player. Players will also change their positions for different teams — a center in high school might become a driver in college, so make sure to evaluate the true position of a player to help him/her succeed at the higher level.

AWP Hosting Chinese Teams in Italy

rari nantes

Azevedo Water Polo Italy, run by Cassandra Azevedo Maggiolo and Stefano Maggiolo, is scheduled to host a whole roster of new teams this year, including several from China. As a sport, water polo in China is quickly gaining momentum, and the Chinese Team hopes to make a strong showing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It doesn’t hurt that Ricardo Azevedo has been Head Coach of the Chinese National Team since 2011, creating a liaison between clubs and athletes in China, the US, Italy and beyond.

The following Press Release (translated into English) discusses the Shanghai Team currently training in Italy this week. Next week, yet another Chinese team from Guangzhou will arrive in Italy to practice with Rari Nantes Camogli.

The Azevedo Water Polo team is excited to be hosting so many new and interesting teams this year, and we only plan to continue expanding from here on out. Don’t forget to sign up for our Email Newsletter for future updates!


The Chinese Shanghai water polo team trained yesterday night at the Zanelli Pool with the Blu Shelf Carissa Savona Team. The Shanghai team had already traveled to Italy last year to train, and wanted to return again this year to practice at this notable Savona water polo school. The Shanghai team includes several members of the current Chinese National Team as well as a few former members. “Physically, they are very talented and well-prepared ”, said Savona Coach Andrea Pisano. “We have experienced a good level of training both physically and tactically.”

Next Wednesday Rari Nantes Camogli will host yet another Chinese Team—this time from Guangzhou.

Laura Sicco

20022012 savona rari nantes


La squadra cinese dello Shangai si è allenata ieri sera nella piscina Zanelli con la Blu Shelf Carisa Savona. Lo Shangai era già venuto lo scorso anno ed ha voluto ritornare ad allenarsi all’ombra della Torretta vista la bontà della scuola savonese di pallanuoto. Nella formazione cinese militano diversi giocatori facenti parte della Nazionale attuale ed alcuni che ne hanno fatto parte nel recente passato. “Fisicamente sono molto dotati e ben preparati – commenta l’allenatore savonese Andrea Pisano – E’ stato un allenamento di buon livello sia dal punto di vista fisico che tattico”.

Mercoledì prossimo la Rari ospiterà un’altra squadra cinese: lo Guangzhou.

Laura Sicco

Time and Effort: Rethinking Water Polo in the USA

By Ricardo Azevedo


In general, the sporting world has undergone a major transformation in the last 23 years. Sports used to be a young man’s game played during the High School and College years. But following the professional ruling of 1989 (allowing professional athletes to participate in the Olympics) things began to change. This ruling not only allowed athletes to receive the financial and institutional support needed to train at the highest levels, but also led to “sports” becoming one of the biggest businesses in the world. Since this change, some federations have embraced the opportunity to grow and others have fallen back due to a lack of vision.

For example, in early Olympics, USA Basketball sent college teams to the Games and usually won the Gold Medal fairly easily. But if the USA did this now, not only would they probably not win the Pan-American games, they wouldn’t even be a contender at the Olympics. Basketball seized upon the opportunity to grow worldwide and market their marquee players, and the USA now sends a group of veterans to the Games each four years. Not surprisingly, Olympic Basketball is at an all-time high.

On the other hand, water polo in the US has not capitalized on the new trends and is diminishing in strength and visibility on the global scene. In order to make water polo into a nationally recognized and popular sport like the big ones (basketball, football etc.) we need to re-evaluate how our Federation works and how we plan to develop water polo in the coming years.

The Changing World of Sports: Can We Keep Up?

The reality is that is that a new perspective on sports is here to stay and we can either embrace the trend or fall behind. For example, today Masters programs are at an all-time high. More and more former athletes miss the competition and many feel as though they stopped playing too soon or for the wrong reason. This year’s World Masters Championships for water polo in Riccione, Italy was comprised of more than 200 teams from around the world. 30 years ago these individuals would have been called, “frustrated athletes” and would not have been taken seriously. But today Masters are a strong component of every federation and sports companies have taken notice– it’s a big business and leagues and competitions are popping up globally. Federations all around the world are doing everything they can to keep these athletes in the fold. Multiple level Championships are developing everywhere– Division I, II, III, combined leagues and corporate challenges.

In the United States, every University and High School sport facility seems to be booked after hours with different sports leagues. But unlike many organizations in Europe or abroad, our Federation is not doing much to take care of our post-college players. And because of this, we are the only water polo country without a real National League. Our Federations instead chooses to concentrate on the “National Junior Olympics” but even this name is misleading, as this group only exists in California. The highest priority of a Federation should not be age group development, but instead the general state of the sport around the country. Today in the USA very little emphasis is placed on National Programs, post-college leagues and international competition, all three which are essential to building the sport.

College programs are now being forced to rely on foreign players for their Championship runs –this past year the top athlete in every position was a foreign player. Foreign players have always been a factor but never at this rate. In the past, strong Junior Programs allowed athletes to travel internationally and gain experience by playing and training with the world’s best. Junior teams were funded by the Federation, and only the final selection group had any real expenses. Coaches were tracked by the Federation and were trained to develop in merit and strength. Examples of coaches from these programs include Bill Barnett, Steve Heaston and Rich Corso– they were all at one time Junior Coaches, Assistant National Coaches and Head Coaches. Top Collegiate and High School Coaches were all involved in the National programs, and the ones that merited were selected.

If we are to compete and succeed domestically and internationally we need to develop Coaches at every level. But again, we have fallen behind: without coaching certification and professional training, how can we expect coaches to develop their skills to the next level? This should be considered an investment in the sport and funded in part by the federation, and in part by the club and the individual.

Three Points to Consider for Rebuilding Water Polo in the USA

As with any competition, many factors are involved in the make-up of professional water polo. These include, among others, training, physical condition, dedication, age, experience, financial responsibility and institutional support. Unlike individual competition, team sports rely on unity and chemistry, skills that develop over time and through experience.

The three points below illustrate the pressing need to reform the water polo Federation in the US as well as create a viable Professional League that can compete on a global scale.

1) The Age Factor
Due to more advanced training programs, a better understanding of nutrition, and more opportunities in general, many athletes are playing longer and achieving success much later in their careers than before. The ideal typical age for water polo in the 70’s and 80’s was 23 to 25, and that was a global standard. Some of the Eastern bloc countries had a slightly older median age, but it was still a young man’s game. Today the average age of national teams has soared to 27 – 29, and it’s not uncommon to see athletes in their mid-thirties achieving great success. Great water polo players in their late 30’s include Hinic (Cro), Bailey (USA), Perez (Ita) and Kasas (Hun), just to name a few. There are even strong players in their 40’s such as Tshigir (Ger), Perez (Spain), Maximov (Kazakhstan), Martz (Ita). This age median is common in professional sports like baseball, basketball and football. But the difference between these sports and water polo is that those Federations understood that with newfound athlete longevity comes the need to establish professional leagues and events around the world, essentially eliminating age as a factor.

2) Financial hardships
Decades ago the majority of criticism directed at the idea of the “career athlete” came from a society that felt that after college, athletes should look for “REAL JOBS”. It wasn’t uncommon to hear or read phrases like “When are you going to grow up?” or “You can’t be a kid all your life”—back then being an athlete was not an acceptable way to make money and support a family, and by these standards the individual who did not follow the norm was considered irresponsible. It was not uncommon for great American athletes, who were at the top of their careers at 27 to 30, to say, “I love the Game” but I have to get a job.

Today most athletes can make a decent living playing sports around the world. Even in water polo (in the last two decades) some players were making as much as $200,000 a year plus housing, car, trips and sometimes given businesses as form of payment. Many federations added to the monthly salary and subsidized the training expenses, thereby permitting athletes to focus on training while remaining financially stable. But with no professional league here in the USA, our athletes are forced to look overseas, where a volatile economy and strict limits on the number of foreign players make it difficult to find decent salaries.

3) Sports Marketing
It takes time to develop a good product and the “product” of athletics is not an exception. Showcasing and following athletes as they pursue their Olympic dreams has become a big business–who doesn’t like to hear the uplifting stories of how athletes overcome misfortune, illness, injury, and other social hardships to achieve their goals? These types of narratives sell, and sponsorships and brand representation have become ubiquitous in advertising today. It is no longer just a game– what American isn’t familiar with Michael Phelps and his quest for eight Gold Medals? Athletes today are stars and they have come to influence the proceeding of our everyday lives. Nike’s “Just Do It” or Addidas’s “Play Hard” have become everyday phrases commonly used even by non-sportsmen. Our lives are often organized around the sporting world: for example, recently here in Los Angeles the LA Kings dominated the press and the city for two months. Ticket sales, merchandise revenue and television advertising have been a major source of income for the city and its residents.

What are we doing in the world of water polo to develop this idea? We need to create a National League with state participation and in conjunction with local organizations, clinics and sport villages (to include the commercial world). Over the past few years we have had modest success with our Men’s team and great success with the Women’s team, but have we benefited from that? Most young players in America could not name the National Team members. Do we have posters? Do we have national visibility for these teams or do we say, “We can only play in California”? Enough excuses– we have more athletes starting and playing at the age group level than any where in the world.

How to Build and Develop Water Polo in the USA

Not long ago US Water Polo was sponsored by major corporations including Alamo Rent-A-Car, UPS and Kodak, just to name a few. The organization was highly visible and received press on a regular basis. But today that is not in place.

Why not create a national league as Ratko Rudic attempted to do with the “Premier League” but failed because of the personal interests of the Collegiate games? We could use the same basic idea but not with collegiate athletes, instead concentrating on post-collegiate, Junior College and high school players. We should contact the water polo community, including Masters Programs, and create divisions that would play on Thursday evenings (allowing for these athletes to have a life on weekends) and concentrating on marketing each team with a sponsor (we could ask Tru-west, Turbo, Zumo, Speedo, etc. just to name a few). The cost would be reasonable as players would receive small stipends but would be able to maintain jobs. The fees for a coach, equipment and the facility could be split with existing programs and refereeing could be paid by the federation at a fair cost. Websites and press would encourage participation of commercial outlets and sponsors.

In contrast to the way things are run today, age-group athletes should be the priority of regions, states and clubs, and local regional participation should be encouraged and supported by the Federation. Does it really make sense to have a “National Championship” with a group of 10-year-olds? Children at that young age should be playing locally with few expenses. They should be growing up loving the sport and having fun– emphasis should be placed on participation and not on results. Leading water polo countries like Italy and Hungary don’t even keep score in most games at the youth level.

Instead of wasting resources and money on events such as the National Junior Olympics, the Federation should concentrate on the 15 and 17 & under Championships because these age groups are comprised of athletes that have decided to be serious about the sport. Why should parents be forced to spend thousands of dollars on tryouts and ODP programs when the selection for National and Junior programs can be made without them?

The Federation should also not involve itself with college players, who are under the guidance and protection of the NCAA. Collegiate water polo is the strongest piece of American water polo– college athletes play over 60 games between seasons, preseason and spring leagues. They are well trained and have the best facilities and programs currently available.

The National Programs can select future athletes by following the college league and encouraging participation, but in order to build a serious program that can contend on a global level, the Federation must create viable post-college leagues and Championships.

NYAC, the Newport Foundation and the Olympic Club have done what I mentioned above by partnering with existing community clubs. Why not make that a requirement instead of having a pseudo-collegiate Championships act as a Nationals tournament with college teams? The Collegiate game has support, the coaches are well paid they have championships like every other sport– what we need is to develop the game of WATER POLO itself. In 1977 we created USWP for the same reason, as AAU only took care of the Junior Olympics and did not have the vision. Are we revisiting the past?

We should be striving for the following timetable:

15 to 17 years old – Athlete is selected to be part of the Junior Team
17 to 19 years old – Athlete is selected to be part of the Senior Team
20 to 22 years old – Athlete is selected to attend a “National Team Event”

By following this timeframe, we can build and develop numerous 3 or 4 time Olympians. Of course there will be athletes who take longer to mature or encounter tough competition in their positions and end up joining the National Team at a later age. But this is exactly why it is important to form post-college professional leagues—to allow athletes to develop their skills and make careers out of playing water polo.

In conclusion, we need our athletes to be given the same opportunity that everyone else has around the world , if you give them support , there is no reason that we are not in the Podium at every Olympics , and at the end have a healthy sports programs that if an athlete chooses he can achieve.


A Checklist: 21 Must Have Points for Coaches

by: Ricardo Azevedo

Physical Training Points

Should be mastered by 12 years of age

  • Eggbeater kick: fundamental for development of a water polo player (more so than swimming).
  • Scissor kick: necessary for changing directions, stopping and starting, moving from horizontal to vertical position.
  • Without this kick, player is dead in the water.
  • Swimming with head on a swivel: player must always be aware of his/her surroundings, and be able to absorb information while moving gracefully.
  • Raise hands as a mirror: this is not waving, move from a vertical position.
  • Be able to swim well and change speed on a dime: includes change of direction, countering and driving from a vertical position.

Technical Training points

Should be mastered by 12 years of age

  • Passing the ball with the correct posture: elbows above the ear, left leg in front (for right handers) and hands facing the target.
  • Passing the ball on a move: leg thrust, sliding and dolphing.
  • Catch the ball with ease from any side: both straight forward or cross face.
  • Power: at 10 years of age a player should be able to throw the ball 15 yards.
  • Turn over their own hips for defensive purposes: sculling knowledge.
  • Understanding of shot blocking: mirrors hands and hip over techniques.
  • Shooting the ball with accuracy and consistency.

Tactical Training points

Should be mastered by 14 years of age

  • Be able to press and understand the concept of denying the ball to the player without holding: instead anticipation should be the skill involved.
  • Understand the rules and regulations of the game: a test is a good idea.
  • Position knowledge and beginning of specialization: position drills should be done by all, but with selection in mind.
  • Driving skills:  D-direction and timing, R-read the situation, I-intensity of purpose, V-vision of the field of play, E-execution of the decision)
  • Maintaining the ball as a perimeter player: both protecting and passing.
  • Holding position in any part of the pool without holding.

Tactical Training Skills

Should be at a Youth/ Junior level by 14 years of age

  • Knowledge of defensive and offensive schemes (press, drops, zones and special situations).
  • Ability to play position water polo (center, defender, R driver, L driver, goalie and special positions).
  • Knowledge of counter attack defense and offense (releasing, spacing, zone responsibilities and zippering)