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How to Turn a Defender in Water Polo

It is not uncommon to find yourself in possession of the ball while being closely guarded by an opponent. If you're unable to make a pass or draw a foul, one of your remaining options is to simply turn your defender. This skill can get you free access to the goal, draw a foul, or even get your defender ejected. It requires power and proper positioning, so practicing it against teammates will teach you both how to turn and how to avoid being turned yourself. This guide walks you through how to turn a defender.

Step 1. Get the Ball

You'll need possession of the ball if you are turning your defender. Without the ball, playing your defender this physically could get you called for an offensive foul. It also doesn't make sense to turn a defender if you don't have the ball: Why not just drive, release, or do a gross-and-go?

Step 2. Get into Position

Position yourself so that the shoulder of your arm that is not holding the ball is perpendicular to and pressing into your defender's chest. Hold the ball at arm's length, away from the defender. Your hips should be at the surface and your legs should be eggbeatering. You are trying to go in the direction of this shoulder, so ideally it will be pointed at the goal.

Step 3. Force Your Defender's Hips Down

An important step in a successful turn is getting your defender to drop their hips. If their hips stay at the surface of the water you won't ever get the leverage that you need to get around your defender.

Wrap your arm that is closest to your defender — the arm not holding the ball — around their waist. If you can, grab your opponent’s suit. Pull their hips down and in, as close to you as possible. If their hips are already down or they have a weak eggbeater, your job will be that much easier.

Hot Tip: Keep Suit Grabbing Underwater

It's important that any suit-grabbing stay well underwater. If a referee spots it, they will call an offensive foul and you will lose the ball. It's technically illegal, but is suit grabbing is common during turns.

Step 4. Make the Turn

Cupping the ball between your wrist and your forearm, swing your arm with the ball out and around your defender. Use a big scissor kick to propel yourself around them. Keep your other arm around their waist as you spin. If your left arm is around their waist, you will spin to the right. If your right arm is around their waist, you will spin to the left.

The turn can be one fast motion or a slow spin, but the longer it takes and the more struggle there is, the odds of an offensive foul rise. Further, the faster you can turn your defender the better, since this will give the rest of the opposing team less time to react. Keep turning your defender until they are behind you. You should now be facing the goal, with the ball in front of you and your defender on your back.

Hot Tip: Consider Drawing a Foul

Sometimes mid-turn, your defender's hips will drop and their hands will go in the water, or they will attempt to steal the ball. Quickly letting go of the ball at this point will almost definitely result in a foul call. Lots of players pretend to try to turn their defender (even though they know they can't) as a way to draw fouls.

Step 5. Decide What to Do Next

After a successful turn, you have a few options (depending on where you and the rest of your team are in the water). If there is no one else between you and the goal, dribble the ball in and take a wet shot. If you have an open teammate, send them a quick off-the-water pass and then swim down to help with any rebounds. You can also dribble the ball in, get your defender on your hips or back, and then get them ejected. This is a great way to get a six-on-five opportunity for your team.

What Turns Accomplish

Turns are a versatile skill. At their most basic, a turn will get you a better position in the water. On a more advanced level, they can also be used as an intimidation tactic —it is impossible to successfully guard someone who can get around you any time they want — as well as a way to draw fouls or ejections.

Because turns offer so many positive outcomes, they are a great skill to work on throughout your water polo career. As you improve in skill level, so will your opponents, so your turning ability will have to advance right along with the opposition. Keep your turning skills sharp by turning players often — in both directions — and by practicing against players of varying skill levels.

Turning an opponent in water polo is an important and versatile skill for players of any level. Check out this guide for a step-by-step tutorial on turning.
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