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How to Change Directions in Water Polo

Because water polo players are not allowed to push off the bottom or sides of the pool, changing direction requires special effort. Each time there is a turnover, your defender drives, or you wing out on a counterattack, you will have to maneuver in the water to change your course. This guide explains the most efficient way to change directions in the water.

180-Degree Turn

A 180-degree turn is a complete reversal of direction. To quickly get your body pointed the opposite way, first pull your legs underneath you. This gives you less drag underwater and will speed up the turn. Next swing an arm over the surface of the water in the direction you want to go. This will help to pull your torso along. At the same time, thrust your head and shoulders towards your new target.

With a big scissor kick, swing your other arm around and take your first stroke. Your legs should now be behind you as you start swimming heads-up freestyle. Kick hard to get your momentum up. This move can also incorporate a backstroke stroke as part of the transition, which makes sense especially if you need to look back as you change direction.

90-Degree Turn

Sometimes you will need to quickly swim to one side, either on a counterattack, to get to a wayward ball, or to get to a player you need to defend. Since these situations are usually urgent, mastering a fast 90-degree turn is important.

To make this abrupt change in direction while swimming, first pull your legs under you. Without pausing your stroke, twist your torso to face the side of the pool you are winging out to. The outside arm will have to take an especially wide stroke and should be used to help pull your body into its new course and your inner arm should have an exaggerated pull underwater across your body. With an explosive kick, propel yourself forward to finish changing direction.

When to Change Direction

Often, a change in direction is a reaction to an unexpected event: A steal, a missed shot, etc. However, there are several times during a water polo game when you can predict a change in direction. Keeping the upcoming change in mind will help you prepare body position. Practice changing direction in as many different scenarios as possible. You need to be able to execute a fast direction change regardless of your position in a game. The following situations are the most common ones that require a change in direction.

After a Turnover

Once the ball gets turned over — when possession changes to other team — you will need to swim to the other end of the pool regardless of whether you are on offense or defense. If you aren't already facing the correct direction, you need to get your hips under you and start moving to the other end of the pool as fast as possible. Don't let the arms, legs, and inevitable splashing of the players around you prevent you from performing the motions of a 180-degree turn correctly. It's okay to make physical contact with the other players as you transition from offense to defense (or vice versa).

Defending a Driver

There is a good chance that if you are guarding a perimeter player, they are going to drive to the cage. In the event that they do drive, you will need to flip over your hips in order to follow them. Keeping your hips at the surface and your arms ready will help you stay on your player without any gaps in coverage.

Hot Tip: Glance at the Referee

It takes a lot of effort to change body position and swim in a new direction, so quickly look at the referee after a call to avoid wasting time or energy. The referee should point their arm towards to cage of the team with the ball after each call.

Winging Out

Winging out on a counterattack requires making a 90-degree turn without losing speed. It is important for the turn to be sharp, since a gradual turn that is more of a curve makes it easy for defenders to stay close. Practice winging out on your own and with a defender to refine the move.

Learn it Early, Practice it Often

It is important for beginning water polo players to learn how to change direction early on in their careers. Because transitioning from one direction to another is such a common movement, the sooner you master it, the less time and energy you will waste laboriously turning around in the water during a game or scrimmage.

Being able to change direction quickly in the water is a valuable skill in water polo. This guide explains how to alter your course quickly and with minimal effort.
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