There are two approaches I often take when coaching shooting. One I refer to as the antithesis to the Golden Rule: Do unto goalies as I least like done to me. As I’ve taken copious notes in my 30 years of being a goalie, there are things some shooters do which just make my job excruciatingly challenging. More on that in a future article.
Today I want to focus on the second effective approach to coaching shooters: sharing with them the things they do which make the goalie’s job easy, allow us to be in control of the shooter-goalie interaction and, in turn, make it very difficult for shooters to score. In understanding these “gifts” a shooter provides to goalies, a shooter can more consciously work to break these bad habits and avoid helping us goalies out.
Gifts to goalies from shooters:
Not setting the goalie prior to a pass.
This error is immensely helpful to goalies. Because, here’s the problem: that ball flies through the air much faster than humans can move through water. So, if the player with the ball hasn’t convinced the goalie they’re going to shoot, this means the goalie can sneak their hips away from the player with the ball in anticipation of the ensuing pass and thus “magically” appear in perfect position when your teammate catches the ball and shoots.
Putting the ball in the water at any point in the attack, especially after catching it.
Following a good, crisp pass from a teammate who properly set the goalie (see gift (1), above), this means the goalie is likely out of position in the goal. So if the receiver puts the ball in the water for a moment to set their legs, this announces to the goalie they can’t possibly shoot the ball. With the goalie now not needing to be in their base/spring position, they can instead focus on moving laterally through the water more quickly in order to get into position once the shooter is ready to shoot. While it can sometimes be advantageous to use the ball to boost your shot, you don't want to rely on it.
Throwing a high arcing pass when a firm crisp pass is possible.
Goalies need time to get set in the goal. As you’ve noticed already in the first 2 “gifts,” the errors shooters often make involve allowing the goalie more time to get into proper geometric position each time a new shooter has the ball. The more arc on the pass, the more time allotted to the goalie to move across the goal. With that ball high in the air the goalie can do the more efficient “slide” move, as opposed to the less efficient base-position lateral move when the shooter has the ball in hand.
Waiving the ball side to side in a non-shooting motion.
This is one of my favorite gifts from shooters. When you wave the ball side to side as if you are “faking” the ball, you’re essentially announcing to the goalie not only, “I’m not going to shoot,” but, worse (for the shooter), “I can’t possibly shoot.” Not only that, but when you do start to shoot it you’re announcing, “Here comes the shot.” I often say that a player in perfect balanced shooting position is much more of a threat than one waiving the ball side to side as the former can shoot the ball at any moment in any direction without announcing the shot.
Announcing your shot.
Along with (4), shooters commonly tip off the inception of a shot in various ways, typically not even consciously known to them. Many younger shooters begin their shot motion with a quick hitch: as if they’re winding up to shoot. Another common tip-off is the elevation of a shooter immediately prior to a shot. Oftentimes a shooter sets the goalie at one level and then, when they know they’re about to shoot, they increase their leg speed and their body elevates: all signaling to the goalie the shot is coming.
Changing your release for the lob shot.
First off, a bit of insight for shooters. For the past 24 years, at my Post-Season Goalie Combines, goalies fill out a self-evaluation. The most common answer to, “What’s your biggest weakness?” every year has been Lob Shots. So it’s a huge gift to goalies when your lob release dictates the lob is coming. This typically manifests in 1 of 2 ways: either the shooter starts in good base position and then prior to the lob moves their base hand to the side and leans backward, or, in other cases, they drop their elbow as if to “shot put” the ball. A lob shot released in exactly the same manner as a hard shot is what makes this particular shot the winner for goalies’ “Biggest Weakness Award.”
Have just one release point and one fake.
Baseball pitchers have more than one good pitch: if they only threw one type of pitch, no matter how good, batters would eventually catch on and time the pitch and hit it with great success (see (6) regarding the “change up” pitch). Likewise shooters. Once a goalie has seen your fake and knows you have just one release point, it allows the goalie to time your shot effectively resulting in the goalkeeper equivalent of a baseball home run: a two-handed pull down of your shot.
Not moving laterally with (and without) the ball.
A lot of the work goalies do relies on being in geometric position. One thing that makes this very difficult to do is when shooters attack laterally. With a shooter in balanced shooting positionandattacking laterally, the goalie must perform this geometric alignment all while facing the shooter and worried about an ensuing shot. So, it’s a huge gift to the goalie when shooters remain in place or even just attack the goalie directly, without changing the angle.
In short, goalies are really trying to ascertain two bits of data:whenwill the shot come, and,wherewill it go? All the while, they are looking to be in position bothgeometrically—i.e. taking off the proper angle regarding the shooter and the goal—andpositionally—i.e. being in their spring-like, base position with high leg speed. Anything shooters do to help goalies solve this equation is a huge gift to the goalie. And the good news is, with proper focus on fundamentals with your passing and shooting, all of this is in the shooter’s control.
By, Jack Bowen
Menlo School Water Polo Coach, Author, & Head of Bowen Goalie Combines