Solo Water Polo Ball Handling Drills
Ball handling skills in water polo usually develop after long hours spent in the pool passing, shooting, and scrimmaging with teammates. However, there are a handful of exercises designed to help players speed up the process of improving their familiarity with a water polo ball.
Nearly all water polo players — whether with years of experience behind them or brand new to the sport — can benefit from working on their ball handling skills. The drills explained in this guide target the most basic skills. They serve as a good introduction for new players, or a refresher for those with more experience.
During these drills, each player will need their own ball and plenty of space. Most drills start out in 30-second intervals, but the time can be lengthened or shortened according to skill level.
Tamas Farago, member of the 1976 Olympic Gold-winning Hungarian Team
For 30 seconds, ask players to pick the ball up, put it down, and pick it up again in a variety of ways. The idea is to keep the ball continually moving, yet under control the entire time. Movements can include:
- Pressing down on the ball and lifting it up.
- Pressing down on the ball and then picking it up on the bounce.
- Picking the ball up and sweeping it into their other hand.
- Picking up the ball and spinning 360 degrees.
- Kicking the ball with their foot into their hand.
To make a transfer, players begin holding the ball in a throwing position. Next, they sweep the ball in front of them and transfer it to their other hand. The hand that now holds the ball should swing up behind the player’s head into a throwing position to complete the movement. Transfers should be as smooth as possible and ideally, the ball will move from hand-to-hand in one uninterrupted movement. Players keep sweeping the ball back and forth in this drill until time is up.
Squeeze the Banana
Ask the players to eggbeater and simultaneously "squeeze" the ball out of the fingertips of one hand, up into the air, and to catch it with their other hand. Using one hand and then the other, the players should squeeze the ball up into the air and catch it until time runs out. Their elbows should stay out of the water, and their eggbeater should stay strong.
Spins & Wheels
Spins and wheels involve simply spinning around while holding the ball... but are still challenging as a balance and leg exercise. For spins, ask the players to pick the ball up and — holding their arm out from their body — spin 360 degrees. After one revolution they should set the ball down, pick it up, and spin again. They can continue doing this for 30 seconds or more, depending on their skill level (and how dizzy they're getting).
Spins are counterclockwise, while wheels are clockwise. Make sure players keep their torsos high and upright, their elbows out of the water, and that they are making a full circle during wheels (which tend to get cut short).
Which direction? Spins bring the ball across the body, which means towards the pinkie finger for right-handers. Wheels take the ball in the other direction, toward the thumb. These are reversed for left-handed players.
To practice the around-the-world drill, players tread up as high as they can and — using both hands — pass the ball around their torso before dropping back down. This teaches them how to control the ball without looking at it and conditions their legs at the same time. Coaches can require a set number of around-the-worlds, or have players do them for a certain amount of time.
Dry Land Ball Handling
Another convenient way to improve familiarity with a water polo ball is to play with it out of the water. Dry land drills are perfect for players who want to practice at home.
Using a solid wall, players should stand a few feet away and "pass" with themselves by bouncing the ball off the wall and catching it. Players can vary the drill by moving closer to the wall, further from the wall, speeding up the passes, and by using different hands.
Because this drill targets wrist movement, players' shoulders should stay square to the board and the ball should never go behind their head. Players can also practice transfers, tossing the ball back and forth, or work on their pump fakes while watching television or walking.
Ball Handling Can Always Be Improved
Picking up a ball and throwing it sounds simple, but in the ever-changing environment of a water polo game, it can be quite a challenge. The surface of the water, the bounce of the ball, and the presence of other players all make a smooth pick up or an accurate pass difficult. Getting familiar with the different ways of lifting a ball out of the water and getting it ready for a shot or pass is the first step to better control.