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How to Fake in Water Polo

Mastering a good fake shot or pass is a skill that will help you go from good to great as a water polo player. The ability to throw a goalkeeper or defender off can make the difference between a ball that goes into the cage and one that gets blocked.

Good fakes do, however, take time to develop since they require judgment, ball handling skills, and timing. Many water polo players have ineffective or poorly executed fakes that do nothing but waste time. This guide explains how to fake convincingly, as well as when a good fake can come in handy.

Fake Shot

A fake shot is also known as a "pump fake" since you "pump" the ball back and forth. Pump fakes are useful when you want to get the goalkeeper out of position before taking your shot, whether a power shot, skip shot, or lob.

Start your pump fake by holding the ball in your strong hand as you would before a power shot. Tread up, and point your opposite shoulder at the goal. Bring your arm up and back, mimicking the fast movement before a shot. Swing the ball out into the first part of an overhand throw, and then stop it abruptly. You can stop by quickly halting your torso's turn and also by quickly rotating your hand holding the ball so that your fingers hold the front of the ball instead of the back, keeping it from flying out of your hand. Scull with your weak hand in the water for balance.

Another style of pump faking is simply moving the ball from the position behind your head to a few feet out from your shoulder, incorporating a convincing twist with your shoulders as you do so. Sometimes one good pump fake is all it takes to convince a goalkeeper you are going to shoot, sometimes it takes several. Practice pump fakes in quick succession to get your body used to the movement, and to make them look more natural in a game.

Hot Tip: Make it Convincing

A pump fake that doesn’t look like a real shot is a waste of time and energy. You'll need to use your entire torso — arms, shoulders, head and chest — to make your pump fake convincing. Using just your arm will not likely fool the goalkeeper.

When to Fake a Shot

Successful pump fakes require time and space, so they will probably only be used when your defender has dropped off you to guard another player. The following situations are perfect for using a strong pump fake:

  • If you are positioned on the perimeter and your defender has dropped off you.
  • After a drive or pick when you have room and want to get the goalkeeper to commit.
  • During a six-on-five situation, to either draw a defender out or to encourage the goalkeeper to move a certain direction.

Fake Pass

Being able to fake a pass to a teammate can come in very handy on offense. Perhaps you want your defender to stunt to one side so that you have a clear lane to another perimeter player or the hole set, or maybe you want the goalie to set up to one side of the goal before you make a pass to the opposite side of the cage. Either way, a convincing fake pass can generate the slight advantage you need to make your offense work.

Before you start your fake, make sure that the real recipient of the ball is watching you and knows what is going on. There is no point in passing a ball to a clueless teammate.

Pick the ball up and look at the teammate you'll be pretending to throw to. Point your shoulders at them, cock the ball, and make a quick almost-pass in their direction. Try to maintain good control of the ball. As soon as the defense reacts — whether the field players or the goalkeeper — quickly send the ball to your now-open teammate or drop a wet pass in to the hole set. You can fake passes to a perimeter player or the hole set. In fact, faking a pass into the hole set can get a teammate's defender to drop back, leaving your teammate open for a pass and possibly a shot on goal.

When to Fake a Pass

  • When you want your defender to change their body position before you start a drive.
  • To get the goalkeeper to guard to one side of the cage.
  • To encourage a defender to drop off a teammate.

Fake Look

A fake look means simply looking in the opposite direction of where you throw the ball. A fake look is possibly the simplest of fakes, but has the most potential for error (on your part). Fake looks can be used both when shooting and when passing to make the defense think the ball is going in a different direction.

If you are using a fake look when shooting, look at one corner of the cage while you fire the ball in the other. Goalkeepers instinctively follow your eyes to predict where you're going to shoot. The fake look can be very effective when used on a ****five-meter shot****, especially since pump fakes are not allowed in that situation.

If you are using the fake look while passing — also called a "no-look pass" — look directly at one teammate as you pass to another. Since water polo players usually look where they're going to throw the ball, the defense will instinctively react to the direction of your gaze. This kind of passing requires focus and the attention of your whole team. If you plan on using this tactic in a game, make sure that your teammates (and you, too!) will be ready for a pass even if they haven't made eye contact with you. The only way fake looks can work on offense is if everyone knows where the ball is at all times.

The higher the level of water polo, the more fakes you will see. International level spend lots of time developing a convincing fake shot and perfecting fake or no-look passes. Water polo is a game that combines brute power with subtlety and finesse, and nothing illustrates this like a good fake.

Mix it Up

The different kind of fakes in this guide can be used in nearly any situation. In fact, fake shots don't have to be made only before you shoot! A few strong pump fakes before a pass can be just as effective as a fake look or fake pass. If you mix up the kind of fakes you use — and if they're convincing — the defense will never know exactly how to guard you. Don't expect to master a believable fake quickly, but once you do, you will see how useful they are in a game as well as how much fun they are to use!

Faking a shot or a pass is an excellent way to throw off the defense. Check out this guide for the different kinds of water polo fakes and when to use them.
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