Ask the Coach: Roles of Perimeter Players


What are the roles of perimter players in the halfcourt and how can I break training into specific pieces to address those roles?


In today’s modern form of water polo, participation of the perimeter player has greatly increased.

A perimeter player is responsible for ball movement, the entry pass into the center position, but more important, they must control the offense. Perimeter players are divided into 3 categories:

1- Position #3 or the point man – this player is responsible for calling the offense, controlling clock management and must be a smart shooter; it is paramount that this player understand defense and transition.
2- Position #2 and #4 – on most teams these are shooters and drivers (offense by moving and creating angles for passing and shooting); #2 is often a defensive player with great passing skills; in transition this player will guard the other team’s best shooter.
3- Position #1 and #5 or wings – these players are used mainly for balance, they must work with the drivers in transition and balancing their drives or shots; in many offenses these players are also utility and can be used as second centers.

As you prepare to field your team, a careful look at the perimeter is important—place a shooter that has leadership skills at position #3 – this will result in opponents giving up many counter attack goals against your team.

Submitted by:

Randy Galza

Ask the Coach: Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Training in Water Polo


What is the difference between aerobic and anaerobic training in water polo?


The terms “aerobic” and “anaerobic” refer to the presence and absence of oxygen, respectively. Most of our cells prefer to get their energy by using oxygen to fuel metabolism. During exercise with adequate oxygen (i.e. aerobic), muscle cells can contract repeatedly without fatigue. During anaerobic or non-oxygen conditions (i.e. higher intensity exercise), muscle cells must rely on other reactions that do not require oxygen to fuel muscle contraction. This anaerobic metabolism can impair muscle contractions and this deterioration in performance is called fatigue.

Fatigue causes you to experience added discomfort and weakening muscles. Eventually you will need to slow down and lower your exercise intensity. Slowing down allows the muscles to once again rely solely on aerobic metabolism.

The problem with the terms “aerobic” and “anaerobic” when applied to water polo is that we actually never switch from total aerobic to total anaerobic metabolic conditions. In reality, the more intensely we train, the greater the need for anaerobic energy production. Consequently, it is best to view the terms aerobic and anaerobic as transitions in metabolism, where the proportion between aerobic and anaerobic metabolism changes depending on exercise intensity.

As training intensity increases, the need for energy release eventually exceeds that which can be supplied by aerobic metabolism. Our muscles simply need more reactions to support the energy demand. Therefore, anaerobic contribution to metabolism increases. When this happens, we refer to this change in metabolism as a metabolic threshold. This metabolic threshold represents the exercise intensity where we start to produce those waste products of anaerobic metabolism that can eventually lead to fatigue.

So how do these terms relate to water polo? Well, it depends on your circumstances and your goals. Aerobic training conditions enable you to exercise for long periods of time, with you potentially benefiting from the sustained energy expenditure (i.e. calories burned). Aerobic exercise tends to be less stressful on muscles, so during the “Base Phase” and early stages of your cycle, most of your training will be aerobic. However, in order to rapidly improve your exercise capacities, tolerance, and performance, anaerobic training is a necessity. Therefore performing anaerobic exercise is typically used more frequently during the competitive and intense phase of your training.

High reliance on anaerobic metabolism is unavoidable for some types of exercise or activities. For instance, lifting weights is an anaerobic exercise (this is why muscles fatigue so rapidly with this type of training). Other types of activities, such as heavy ball training, can also be anaerobic – especially if you are unfit.

Fortunately, we do not need sophisticated equipment to detect when we transition from aerobic to anaerobic exercise. As we approach and pass our metabolic threshold intensity and start to breathe harder, we are forced to rely more on concentration on drills and situations, and training simply becomes uncomfortable. However, a simple heart rate check can help you determine personal thresholds– if the heart rate value is below or above the prior established metabolic threshold of each individual athlete, this reflects an increase of anaerobic contribution.

I hope this helps, just remember to always pay attention to your athletes. Just because a written workout looks professional does not necessarily mean it’s a great workout– the human factor must be taken into consideration at every stage of training. They say there is no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in Fit.

Submitted by:

Daniel Johnson

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

Ask the Coach: How a lightweight can turn against heavier players?


I play top left flat as a driver and I am light weight. How can I work on turning against heavier players?


As a 1 – 2 player you will usually defend the best right-handed player from the other team, so your thoughts and preparation should be defensive in nature. As a play-maker you need to stay free and ready to go, you must use movement both vertically and laterally.

Try to be difficult–most players don’t like when a player keeps moving. Also spend more time developing your legs, as quickness comes from leg strength and also ball handling ability. Do not square out to the defender– that gives him too much of your own exposure body—instead lean with your shoulders, elbows and knees.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to anticipate the defenders, recognize the defense set up, and keep ahead of the defense. They will try to force you outside so position your legs away from the defender– this keeps the defender from grabbing you around the shoulders and getting physical—the opposite can be done for forcing you inside.

Also make sure to read the articles that I post about drivers and get busy becoming a pest! Good luck.

Submitted by:

Joshua Vasquez

Counter Attack Series – 2nd installment (of 4)

By: Ricardo Azevedo

As covered in the first installment, counter attacks are very important for team success. In this second installment, I will outline the top, perimeter or outside positions of the counter attack.

When the ball is shot from these positions, the counter attack takes the form of a fast break, with 1 on 0, 2 on 1, or 3 on 2 , opportunities that have a much higher percentage of success for the offense (as mentioned in the first installment). It is also important to note that offensive players must also remain aware and recognize the needs of the defense.

The success of this type of counter attack is more individual, with anticipation on the part of the perimeter players being the most important. Another major factor is the outlet pass by the goalie, since a mistake of a couple of inches can be the difference of a goal or create a missed opportunity.

As players position themselves for this fast break, it is important to understand the concepts of “time and space”. The angles of passing and quick recognition will determine success, but players must be careful not to have “tunnel vision” and only think about the goal. Sometimes an athlete’s best opportunity is behind him, and he should maintain his head in a swivel and continue to communicate with his teammates.

The number one problem with this type of counter attacks is bad passing. I recommend that a player get his legs below himself, finds his teammate, and executes the pass. It doesn’t pay to be tricky and fancy—players should just focus on the play they have practiced hundreds of times in training.

Last but not least, the players on the back, bottom or first line must remain aware of what is happening, as they are arriving late to the offense and must read and adjust accordingly if the counter attack is not successful.

Basic Counter Attack Chart #3

Basic Counter Attack Chart #4

Basic Counter Attack Chart #5


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

“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.

The Azevedo Workout Series

Azevedo Water Polo Workout Series:

This series is a multi-part comprehensive water polo workout program for coaches. Downloadable individual installments will be available on a bi-tri monthly basis on the bottom of this page.

Most coaches face the challenge of preparing their teams for a competition to take place many weeks in the future. A good methodology for this is to count backwards for a certain number of weeks and determine a yearly plan. Every level is different: a High School coach has 10 weeks until playoffs begin, a University team has the same timeframe but must peak twice, once for a qualifying tournament and once for the Championship. Planning internationally can be even more difficult, as in a period of 10 months in an average year, most National Teams must qualify for at least two tournaments (World Championships, Pan-American games, World League etc.). As a rule there are four periods in International competition,– Qualifications & Finals twice a year. For example, this year in a six -month period, the USA has had to prepare for the World League Super Final and the Olympics. So National Teams need to have a double preparation– not like college when they work all year for the last two weeks of the season.

I won’t bother with the scientific approach of Macro and Micro cycles. Instead, I have created a simple graphic that can be used at every level of the sport. And of course each individual coach should also be aware of their restrictions as far as pool time, NCAA regulations, common sense, etc.
I base my workouts on a 20-hour window, which can increase or decrease by 30% depending on the time of the season or specific needs. Planning and allowing extra time for recovery, stretching and explanation is also a must. Strive to be a positive coach and anticipate the problem; don’t overreact about something you should have seen coming.

Workouts should be written with a common underlying theme. For example: If I am working on counter-attack, my warm up should be diverse, as players will swim plenty during the counter drills. But their legs, turns, passing and shooting should be given the same consideration as swimming–during passing and shooting drills try to simulate counter situations. Creating thoughtful workouts will eliminate confusion and give transparency to your method. Writing a workout is very similar to writing a lesson plan– if I am covering American history and the post-war era, I should not have students work and read about the Civil War—both plans should stay focused within a theme to better guide the student or athlete.

From the date of the most important competition, I go back six cycles (a cycle is a three-week window), which is roughly four and a half months (unless an athlete is coming back from either injury or a long retirement). During each cycle I write a two-week workout, and during the third week I evaluate the results of the first two weeks and add or subtract certain material based on what I find. It is a known fact that it takes 21 days for the body and mind to completely assimilate and gather results, so changing workouts too many times can create both poor physical advancement and confusion in terms of the mental game. Think “one must walk before they run”.

Two common ideas among coaches are that “swimming is the most important part” or “fundamentals are the key”. These are both important factors regarding preparation, but it is also important to remember that as you move on with your cycles, the percentage of time focused on each skill will change accordingly. There are six factors in the preparation of an athlete: Swimming, Conditioning, Passing and Shooting, Tactics, Technique and Land preparation– make sure you give each factor the time needed for success. In the first couple of cycles, Swimming, Conditioning and Technique will have larger percentages, whereas in the last couple of cycles Tactics, Passing and Shooting, and Land preparation might have larger percentages. In the end, all factors will be given ample time for preparation.

This comprehensive workout series will feature a sample workout plan for each cycle of training. I will post the plans in bi or tri monthly installments and they will be available to download on this page. Please sign up for our mailing list to be notified when new information is posted on the site.

Downloadable Workout Series Installment #1

Downloadable Workout Series Installment #2

Downloadable Workout Series Installment #3

Downloadable Workout Series Installment #4