6. Drill Without The Ball First: The Dance of the Drill—On the one hand, this seems obvious and is something we’ve done throughout the course of our goalie training with our less dynamic moves.. But it’s not something we’ve done consistently with drills really needing this focus: the more complex, high order, multi-movement drills.
But this following simple adage should help inform all drills moving forward: Make sure you can do the move itself before increasing the complexity by adding a high speed object (i.e. the ball).
I recognized this over the summer when having goalies perform the drill we call, “Lightening Lobs.” With no shared objects, we did the drill without a ball: what I referred to as the “dance” of the drill.
In short, Lightening Lobs typically has the goalie facing a rebounder with a partner throwing 4 shots off the rebounder which lob over the head of the working goalie who, immediately after blocking the lob shot, recovers back over their hips and repeats. If done without the ball—and by the coach on land—it really does look like a dance!
When we do return to the time of shared objects, I will now have goalies do the drill at least once without a ball before inserting the ball into the drill, to maximize learning and mastery.
7. Low Corner Focus—About 10 years ago, I had a goalie at Menlo who was very tall and probably the strongest legs of any goalie I’d coached. It was almost impossible to score a high corner shot against him and this continued as he went on to start for Stanford.
Then, I saw a game photo of him: he was out way past the bottom of his suit, head above the bar, yet with the ball going in just inches away from him on the surface of the water. It was then I realized the wrongheadedness of common goalie training: if you train to block a shot all the way in the high corner, then you will certainly block all other shots below that corner.
This is wrong for a number of reasons, the short story being, A. low shots require a slightly different set of fundamentals and, B. this mentality creates the poor habit of always going up for a shot, regardless of where it’s headed.
This summer, we committed to not letting shooters off the hook on low shots any more. Part of this involved our giving low shots the exact level of priority as high shots. Along with continuing with low shots in our Estep and Corners drills, we added the following which, until this summer, had always been reserved for high corners only:
a. Hands Focus: focusing on maximizing the force from our hands to block shots;
b. RPM Focus: connecting our RPMs and explosiveness to low corners;
c. Test Set: From here on out, along with our high corners test set, we will also have a low corner test set which we will implement and track.
8. In Water Visualization—Goalies who have attended our Summer Goalie Focus or Playoff Prep Goalie Combines have done our pre-game visualization. I lead the goalies through a version of what we did with our Sports Psychologist, Ken Ravizza, leading up to the 1996 Olympics. It is part relaxation, part meditation, and part game visualization: it’s a real highlight as goalies near the end of an intense season and prepare to enter end-of-season tournaments.
This year, though, we couldn’t be inside in our Team Room where we usually run these. Nor could we use the adjacent grass settings. I felt that the hot concrete pool deck wouldn’t be optimal and so we tried something new: visualizing in the water.
In short: this was awesome.
In retrospect, it seems totally obvious: have the goalies visualize in the very liquid they’ve trained. In addition, instead of having the floor take the weight of the athlete the water allows them to truly be weightless! So goalies got in comfortable positions—draped over lane lines, hanging on/in gutters, floating on balls or on their backs—and we visualized, in water, with me leading the visualization from the stands with a microphone and Enya playing through the speakers.
9. Sculling for Goalies: It’s common knowledge as to the importance of reverse-sculling for field players as they implement this in every facet of the game. But not so much for goalies: in fact, it’s rarely practiced, taught, or conditioned. This is shortsighted for a few reasons.
During our Covid training, I recognized this as we deconstructed the lob shot: in the moment midway through a lob block move, when the goalie transitions from the first part of the move to the second, there’s a moment of reverse sculling which many goalies were getting wrong or, worse, completely missing out on.
Secondly, as I mention repeatedly, just as ice hockey goalies should be the best skaters on the team—needing to move in all directions, stopping on a dime, with both precision and grace—goalies need to be the most ‘fluid’. As goalies move in the goal mouth, coming out to deter a pass into set, coming back as they begin to defend an ensuing counter attack, and myriad other instances, backward sculling is actually an integral part of the goalkeeper’s game. As such, it must be taught, conditioned, and improved upon just as all other skills.
10. Stealing The Ball: The steal-move for the goalie is a move to be practiced and honed, just like any other. And there are a few variations, all of which the goalie needs to feel comfortable with as, very often, the game dictates what we do in the goal as opposed to us choosing—yet another part of what makes goalkeeping interesting.
So goalies must practice stealing the ball with each hand: typically, with goalies coming out for a steal, it’s a tight situation in which every inch counts. As such, the goalie needs to steal the ball with whichever hand arrives first, not just their favored-hand.
In addition, goalies need to be comfortable with each hand stealing the ball in both directions: i.e. sweeping the ball toward their torso and sweeping it away from their body in a backhand motion.
And lastly, goalies should be well versed in the two methods of exploding out from the goal: both in the exaggerated-hips-up-behind position (i.e. hips like a boat motor) and the lead hip-up-in-front position (i.e. starting the steal-move with a hip-over).
Finally, goalies need to become comfortable with that adage drilled into the head of every field player—as certainly was the case by my high school coach, Randy Burgess—position before possession. While the goalie position typically doesn’t involve much contact—thanks to our guardian and protector, the 2-meter line—when we leave the confines of the goal for a steal, we should expect and even welcome contact, all for the sake of protecting the ball…and goal.
Bonus. A Fun 3-for-1:
a. All along, the boys have claimed they just can’t avoid deck changing: it’s part of the culture and part of their training process. But with the new Covid regulations—athletes required to be on deck for as short a time as possible, arriving in their suits and leaving with suits on—I saw that it was actually possible to train well without the ceremonial deck change!
b. Girls can cap themselves. They said it couldn’t be done. But, with the strict 6-feel physical distancing—and at our pool, we implement 8!—they were forced to don the swim caps themselves…and did so flawlessly.
c. Going into our Covid training, the only bonus I could perceive was my vastly diminished sun exposure, as I take skin care quite seriously given how much time I spend in and near pools. I coached in what we called the “Bear Bryant” model (from the late, great football coach who coached from a tower) so as to maintain maximum distance from the athletes. I was in the top row of the stands on the pool deck, using a microphone, tucked under a shade canopy, and I installed a reflective shield for added sun protection. In addition, I wore my wide brimmed hat and double-layers of SPF 50 sunscreen just in case. And yet, I still managed to get darker, as evidenced by my friends’ repeated comments, “Well, looks like Jack had a real vacation during his quarantine.”
The lesson being, the sun for water polo players is simply unavoidable.
And the action item on that lesson: be diligent about your own sun protection applying sunscreen at least 20 minutes prior to getting in the water, reapplying, and staying in the shade when possible.
Coaches and goalies, there you have the most up-to-date areas of training focus, all of which can be done without a ball, a team to train with, or even a pool to train in (bays and lakes work just as well)! I’m excited to share this with you and am excited, too, to be back to Fall training with all of my goalies to implement our core fundamentals and technique in order to be fully prepared for shared objects—shooting!—and water polo being played.
Have fun and stay safe out there!