Counter Attack Series – 1st Installment (of 4)

By: Ricardo Azevedo

‘Counter attack’ or ‘fast break’ are terms borrowed from basketball and soccer and, much as in other sports, the maneuver referred to by these terms makes up an intricate part of the tactical game of water polo. I believe that it is necessary to follow a tactical approach to be successful, beginning with an understanding of the philosophy of this specific maneuver.

Over the years, the way to counter has developed along with rule changes. Before 1976, the goalie could not pass the ball past half-court, and there was no time limit on how long a team could hold possession of the ball (with the ball reversing to the other team only for an infraction). During those days, counter attacks were more of an individual-break-away, with the ball having to be handled by 1 or 2 players to reach the open player.

As the rules changed, the water polo counter attack began to morph into what it is today–a transition to offense in an efficient manner to set up an offensive scheme. This transition has also been a work in progress, as the rules concerning possession time clocks have changed 4 times in the last 40 years:

1:00 minute – 1970s
45 seconds – 1980s
35 seconds – 1990s
30 seconds – current

With these time changes, counter attacks have become extremely efficient and characterized by a very strict tactical approach. An important philosophical point to remember is that “ transition goes both ways “, meaning a successful counter attack is not measured by how many goals a team scores, but instead by how quickly and efficiently the team uses the possession clock without creating a turnover that would give the other team an easy-scoring opportunity.

A transition chart goes as follows:

1 – 0 and 2 – 1 around 85% chance of scoring
3 – 2 and 4 – 3 around 35% chance of scoring
5 – 6 and 6 – 5 around 15% chance of scoring– in the case of failure remember that a 1 -0 or 2 -1 will be going the other way with an 85% chance of success!

Taking the last few Olympics as an example, very few teams score on the counter attack, but the teams whose counter attacks are based on efficient time management create more opportunities and therefore win more consistently.

Through a series of downloadable charts, I will attempt to illustrate different counter attacks from around the world. Every counter attack has a starting point that usually begins with a shot, turnover, steal or contra foul (offensive foul). I will try to illustrate how some of the top teams in the world deal with this situation.

Basic Counter Attack Chart #1

Basic Counter Attack Chart #2