Basic Water Polo Passing Drills
Quick, accurate passes are something every water polo player should strive to master. Whether you're new to water polo and learning these skills for the first time, or a seasoned player reviewing the basics, these drills will help you maintain proper form and cement good passing practices. Each group of drills outlined in this guide targets a different aspect of passing, meaning that the more variety you add to your practice, the better-rounded you will become.
Drills that Improve Passing Distance
It's not enough to pass accurately; players must also be able to pass the ball long distances. This requires arm and shoulder strength, proper form, and plenty of practice. The following drills will help you develop long, precise passes.
Slowly Increasing Distance
Start making dry passes with a partner at a distance of five feet. If the ball touches the water, start over. After 20 consecutive dry passes, move two to three feet farther away. Make another 20 dry passes. After every 20 successful passes, move a few more feet farther apart until you find yourselves at either end of the pool.
Note that not all players — most notably beginners — will be able to throw the ball the full length of the pool. Coaches can modify the drill to their needs, by lowering or increasing the number of dry passes required, by adding distance markers to the pool deck, and by specifying which hands their athletes may use to pass the ball.
Passing with a Weight Ball
Instead of a regular water polo ball, practice normal passing with a weighted ball. This will add a lot of resistance and specifically targets the arm and shoulder muscles required to throw the ball. Start out with short passes, since it is easy to strain your shoulder with a weight ball. This added resistance also highlights any deficiencies you might have in your throwing technique, such an elbow that bends too much or a sidespin. Make a pass with a normal ball right after passing with a weighted one and you'll be amazed at how light it feels.
Weighted water polo balls have been designed specifically for this task in that they are evenly weighted, as well as water and chlorine resistant. Stick with weighted balls specifically designed for water polo use, as they will best replicate the balls you’ll be using in actual games.
Hot Tip: Pick the Ball up on the Bottom
It's inevitable that you'll drop the ball at some point. When you go to pick it up again, do so from the bottom. Picking it up on top is a very bad habit that is often acquired during passing practice.
Drills that Improve Dexterity
The ability to make different kinds of passes requires a good feel for the ball. The following drills will help you develop familiarity and control.
Cross-face passes involve catching the ball when it comes from the direction of your weak side, meaning it travels across your face before it ends up in your hand. This pass is more awkward to receive than a strong side pass, so get ready to absorb the ball and work your hips into position. It will require a little extra effort to get into the proper body position — torso perpendicular to your partner, strong side facing away from them — once you have the ball in hand. These are easier to practice in groups of three or four.
Treading just a few feet from your partner, practice tip passing. That means quick passes using just the tips of your fingers. The idea is not to catch or cradle the ball, but rather to push it back up into the air as fast as possible. Keep both arms out of the water and try to use them equally. This drill can be done in groups of two to four people.
Pump Fake Passing
Practice regular passing, but before each pass pump fake the ball two or three times. Tread high, keep your elbow out of the water, and really sell the "shot." Practicing a weak pump fake is as ineffective as not doing one at all, so use aggressive body movements.
Facing a partner, tread to the other side of the pool while passing the ball back and forth. Forcing yourselves to move while passing is surprisingly challenging, and will really highlight weaknesses in your form. That's a good thing: Now you know what you need to work on! Other variations of the drill include practicing off-the-water passes while swimming to the other side of the pool, or instead of side-to-side, taking turns facing forward and backwards.
Wet Passing Drills
Dry passes aren't the only kind of passes that you'll have to make during a water polo game. The next sets of drills mimic game situations that require wet passes.
Practice your wet pass placement by passing a wet shot to your partner. The ball should land about an arm's length in front of them. Your partner can splash the water in front of them as a visual aid initially. When receiving the wet pass, pick it up on the bounce as quickly as possible. Remember that wet shots don't require a lot of power. Ideally, they will land and stay in one place, not skip or bounce further away.
It's rare that you'll have all the time and space you want to make a pass during a game. Working on pressure passes beforehand is a good way to prepare. One way to work on pressure passing is to practice passing with a dummy defender. Dummy defenders function only as a body in the water where a defender would normally be. They don't make contact or try to steal the ball. This will help you learn how to accurately pass around and over their arms. The dummy defender should be between you and your passing partner, with one arm up to block the ball. Pass over or around them, with a wet shot that lands as close to your partner as possible.
Moving beyond dummy defense, you can also practice passing with a defender guarding you more aggressively. Keep one shoulder pressed into the defender, and guard the ball with your other. Press into the defender, and then tread back to create space. Quickly make a wet pass to your partner. Take turns playing defense and passing. Both of these drills require at least three players.
Off-the-water & Backhand Passes
With a partner or two, practice some of the more atypical passes. Pass the ball several feet away from your partner. They should have to swim a few strokes to get to the ball. Then they can either flip it off the water to pass mid-stroke, or position themselves to make a backhand pass. This drill requires a fair amount of space (seeing as you will be swimming).
Don't Forget Passing Basics
No matter the drill, remember that good passes come from players with proper body position, a stable eggbeater, and accuracy. After mastering how to throw the ball, it's important to branch out from the standard facing-each-other, back-and-forth passing. The drills described above will give you the skills you need to make good passes in a variety of situations.