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Understanding Water Polo Positions

Each position in water polo comes with specific responsibilities and caters to a different skill set. Left handed? You should play on the right side while on offense. Have a great eggbeater and long arms? Consider goal keeper. Faster than anyone else in the water? You’re going to make an excellent driver.

That being said, positions in the pool are extremely fluid and each member of the team should be comfortable playing them all. Yes, even goalie (they can get kicked out too!). As your skills develop and personal strengths come to light, work with everyone in the water to get to the best position possible during games.

Goalie

Goalies stay within or very near the goal for the entirety of the game. Their responsibilities include blocking shots, making long passes on counter attacks, and communicating with and directing their team during defense. They are the only player that is allowed to touch the ball with two hands and — in pools with a shallow end — stand on the bottom. While they swim far less than field players, goalies should still have a quick stroke in the event that they need to swim a ball away from a defender.

Important Skills

  • Strong eggbeater
  • Quick reflexes
  • Ability to make long, accurate passes
  • Loud voice and good sense of the game
Faces of water Polo ...
Merrill Moses
Position: Goal Keeper
Team: U.S. Men's National Team
Date of Birth: 8/13/1977
Resides: United States
Getting to know Merrill Moses: A silver medalist in the 2008 Olympics, Moses is known for his vocal leadership of the team in and out of the water. His explosive reflexes and incredible number of saves per game have labeled him one of the most exciting goalkeepers in the game today.

Hole Set

The hole set is one of the most crucial players in the offensive set up. Positioned directly in front of the goal, they are often guarded by the best opposing defender. Hole sets need to draw lots of fouls, have an excellent eggbeater, and be ready to take quick shots. The hole will also be responsible for making good passes to perimeter players and communicating with the team.

Important Skills

  • Strong legs
  • Toughness and endurance
  • Reliable sweep shots and backhands
  • Ability to draw fouls
  • Ability to spot open teammates on both sides of the goal
  • Ability to make good pressure passes
  • Loud voice and good sense of the game
Faces of Water Polo ...
Igo Milanovic
Position: Hole Set
Team: VK Partizan
Date of Birth: 12/18/1965
Resides: Serbia
Getting to know Igo Milanovic: Considered by many to be one of the greatest water polo players of all time, Milanovic’s pro career lasted 20 years. The two-time Olympic gold medalist prefers hole set because while other positions have limited shots, the hole set has a huge range of possibilities.

Perimeter Players

Wings, flats, and the point are positioned around the hole set in a semicircle. They are also known as perimeter players and drivers. Wings play on either side of the goal along or near the two-meter line. Flats are above the wings, on or near the five-meter line. The point is between the two flats, usually a little outside the five-meter line. Because of their place in the water, the point will often be the first one back on defense and therefore the opposing hole set’s defender. The job of all these perimeter players is to set the ball, initiate drives or picks, and to get open for passes and shots.

Important Skills

  • Knowledge of drives and picks
  • Shooting, including wet shots and dry shots
  • Speed
  • Excellent passing, especially under pressure
  • Communicating plays and changes in defensive coverage
Faces of Water Polo ...
Brenda Villa
Position: Driver
Team: U.S. Women's National Team
Date of Birth: 4/18/1980
Resides: United States
Getting to know Brenda Villa: Getting to know Brenda Villa: Being the shortest player on the US National and Olympic teams hasn’t stopped Villa from being a top scorer. She was a silver medalist in the 2008 Olympics and has played professionally in Italy. She is currently one of the best female water polo players in the world.

Defensive Positions

The only defensive position (somewhat) set in stone is that of the hole set’s defender, also known as the “hole D.” This player should be skilled at stealing the ball and strong enough to defend the other team’s hole set. The rest of the field players will match up with an offender as they swim down the pool. As the other team sets up their offense, it may be necessary to for defenders to switch players, to put two defenders on one person, or to play in zones.

Don’t Pigeonhole Yourself

Knowing the positions of water polo is essential to understanding the game. Transitioning from defense to offense — and back — becomes infinitely smoother once it’s clear which gaps need to be filled. It also makes drills and plays far easier to grasp. Practice all the positions — both on offense and defense — to round out your skills as a player, and understand where you can be the most effective in the pool.

Seven players per team are in the pool during a game of water polo. This guide explains each player's role in the water.
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