Practice Structure

Here is an outline of a common practice structure that can be used to keep a consistent culture, while providing leeway for individual coaches to specialize for their groups.

  • Dryland
  • Warmup
  • Core, Legs and Contact
  • Throwing/passing
  • Shooting
  • Fundamentals, using drills, breakout for positions, hole sets, drivers, etc.
  • Game situations
  • Scrimmage

Below for each section in the structure, we provide motivation, the whyas well as a bit more suggestions in guiding how.


Why – properly ready your body and mind for practice and games. Build team trust.

Preferably for a majority of practices, beforehand run a dryland warmup. At beginning of season or term, coach runs it and then hands off to rotating team member. The emphasis is team activity together. Often counting or some other rhythmic vocalization together. This also helps us practice for the common limitations of pool time at tournaments. So by the time we get to games, we are familiar with how to get the body and the mind prepared.

Prefer to wear shorts/sweats over suits, so that after dryland, players can enter water immediately together at start of pool availability. This practice avoids late showups to water work.

Warmup muscle groups in order from legs, to core, to shoulders. Don’t stretch before warm. Prefer dynamic over static stretching, expanding stretch range carefully. See the Dryland page for more specific exercise examples.


Why – avoid injury due to micro-injury build up. Increase mobility with proper technique. Build strength and conditioning of body and mind.

Start exactly the same (eg 10 laps) so there is never a question when first entering water what to do. I like to have exactly the same warmup set as well 6x50s after that. Emphasizing constant kick and long stroke, but now on an interval, warming up the mental side of the practice.

Swim focus after warmup, can vary in amounts:

  • technique, eg emphasizing reduced drag, core-based proper rotation relying on kick
  • strength, eg, water polo IMs with pullouts at walls adding in pushups, squats
  • mental toughness sustained through physical challenge, eg 100s, 200s with tough interval, add in breath control, speed control, and breaks to tune control
    • separate in speed equivalent groups to help tune challenge per player
  • explosive speed, eg half length sprints, over hips, water polo hand-push off walls

For more specific examples to improve aquatic mobility, see the swim technique section of the Mobility page.

One trick to keep this interesting is to be able to do this all with a ball. Technique starting with kicking with two hands on the ball out front, using flutter, dolphin, breastroke, egg-beater kick, adding in off-hand strokes, and lunges, for example.

Legs, Core and Contact

Why – all skill is based on proper legs, core and positioning. In games, these skills have to be comfortable and strong enough through contact to build trust.

Often we just do leg work, but I wanted to ensure core work and contact as well. Examples, include gut busters, change of direction, jumps, overhips, pushing pairs, a good fundamental to always include would be to:

  • eggbeater push hands-to-shoulders a partner who is flutter kicking. More:
  • Cizma, with and without partners.
  • Turn drills, back (postup,set),
  • Turn or other ways to go by defense that is too close and lunging, facing (perimeter)
  • Drive on heavy defense
    • Pulling a partner to learn how to keep going on heavily defended drives
  • Practics separation off the wall, then with partner, back, and front-facing

More examples are in the Legs and Contact sections of the Mobility page.


Why – consistency of proper body position and technique provides better outcomes as players get tired in games or meet better opponents. Bad technique can score goals at the beginning of games. Good technique can score goals at the end of games.

Always start with legs working and wrist passing, sequencing on to full shoulder rotation. Emphasize stepping to catch. Staying high and vertical. See Passing drill details. Keep the sequence moving along quickly to keep players engaged. Older players may be able to focus on specific technique refinement; use coaching judgement.

For younger age groups, break down pieces of leg and body position with 3- and 4- whistle throwing drills together as a team. Do not let lazy legs go on past U12. Emphasize high knees, and especially the off knee (not strong-sided knee), and off-hand-scull, the ones that faces the direction of the throw, the partner.

For older age groups, work into game situation, eg, 8-offense, Cizma, drop attack (passing into post and getting kick out), use either two on post, or can add a third in middle, triangles.


Why – For accuracy, we focus on specific places to shoot in a variety of escalating conditions. We need to build muscle memory to be able to shoot accurately in games. We also prepare the goalie to buildup kinetic memory.

Always start the same, warming up goalie pulldowns, getting up with smooth motion high release to above goalie head (donuts), full speed for tuning accuracy. Gradually move out from pulldowns, and this is where each coach can specialize, choosing two spots to aim at first, for example. Add:

  • attack
  • attack and fakes
  • shoot off rightback pass
  • drive, catch and shoot
  • postup shots, foul shots
  • 8-offense, emphasizing explosion after pass to shoot in lane
  • THE MOVE, inside water drawing ejection or getting great shot
  • off water shots: screw/push, pop, high pop with air
  • Forward moving layout, for right handers, move fprward left away from defender
  • 90 degree angle freeing strong arm with defender on off side
    • bring strong knee up to strong elbow, kick up high, off-hand protecting

See Shooting for more details.

Emphasize learning shots as opposed to just shooting from anywhere. Have awareness of where one is shooting, and how the goalie is responding. The great shooting area is in the box between the posts from 2 meters out to 5 meters.


Why – We want to emphasize fundamental water polo knowledge before setting up and learning plays. This will make understanding the plays better, and help with various play options when defended in different ways. Fundamentals come to the rescue when a play meets unanticipated response. Agility is not possible without a standard menu of options.

  • Balance and spacing – Play in balanced umbrella. A straight line 3-3 will make it easy for defense to double team ball, blind-sided or not. Though moving, stay within a stroke/lunge of your position unless you finish a drive or pick. Release by lunge forward not ball-side, then ball-side continuing forward and sealing defender. This way the ball lands roughly where you started release move, not behind it.
  • Don’t reach, push – When pressing the perimeter player with the ball, don’t reach, ie don’t try to steal the ball. Instead at arms length press hard and physical, with one hand up, make the player take time off the shot clock. Keep your hips up. If you can, control the player’s off elbow under water, sliding down from off-shoulder. Put both hands up only if the player drops ball and turns back to you, or drops head and leans directly forward into you. Sudden swipes at the ball, especially downward, are likely to get you ejected. Think smooth and strong. Waste time so you can counter.H
  • Hole set space – If hole set is clear and facing ball, perimeter players occupy defenders keeping them engaged and away from safe wet pass space. Don’t drive in front of the set facing direction.
  • Move to prevent drops and double teams – Attack when your defender turns head to help, especially from wings
    • make yourself easily available with short passing lane
    • also adjust for shorter shot and better shooting lane
  • Outside-in Extra pass to enter hole facing deep wing or with inside water, eg 2-1-set, or 4-5-set.
  • Cross to clear – Drive to clear hole facing side for empty set pass space
  • Drop Attack, with three or four players: attacker, drop, hole, and optional hole
  • Simple Drive on D from 3, ball-side
  • J hook on hole facing side when ball on off-side. Great outside-in option.
  • Passing lane D
  • Wing press, when pressed or dropped, don’t let wing set inside water holeset. On offense, always take advantage of this if not defended well on wing.
  • Wing Help D on drive
  • Drive to setup 8-offense – attack, draw defender, give and go
  • Drive to clear for dominant post/set shooter – clear space, eg 41 across for right-hander at 5, or 51 across for right-hander at 4, 15 across for holeset space, with 2 setting right-handed holeset
  • Counter atnicipation – When it is apparent a shot will be taken and you are on the perimeter, go directly into counter. It will either score or not. That goes for defense as well as offense. Don’t wait to see what happens after the shot. No need to watch unless you are in a nearby rebounding position.

Game situations


Understand how to take advantage of a poorly defended play

  • D prevent deep wing into hole
  • D not stopping if O stops on counter
  • 2- or 4-drop
  • Press with hole facing
  • Press with hole away
  • Counter to 2 meters, counter patterns, setting up 4-2 or 3-3
  • 2-1 and 4-5 drives to free up open, safe pass, water for the 1 or 5 coming up.
  • 1-2 and 5-4 pick
  • Clear for wing with inside water after a release move with bad defense
    • Make room for any inside water drive, and make a passing lane for an outside outlet, which may come right back into driver
    • Know whan to use THE MOVE when you have ball inside 5 meters with defender on your back


  • Standard offense, 3 to wing drive. flat steps to center shot
  • Standard offense variation, 35/6-41, the flat continues through drive, and wing steps into hole vacated by flat
  • Hook, right hander at 4 hooks around holeset. Or left-hander at 2.


Why – For reiniforcement learning, and teammates learning about each other’s tendencies. Increase game time trust.

Use scrimmages to practice incorporating some of the drills from earlier in practice. Try to keep teammates together, and keep it competitive. Use half court with less than 6-on-6 to retain those values, if necessary. Better to have competitive and physical 3-on-3 than wildly varying skill in 6-on-6. Give 2 points for goals scored using practice-emphasized plays. For example, scoring a catch and shoot. Scoring from the hole, after engaging the perimeter, scoring from 8-offense on a drop. Hole set scoring a particularly practiced shot, like the layout.

Controlled scrimmage options

  • Counter attack after shot, training response
  • Counter to 6-on-5s after third attempt no matter if score or not
  • Player-up counter, 11 players with one player always offense
  • 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 with set that cannot stay longer than 10 seconds
  • 3-on-3 using only half the field
  • 2-meter free throw with 6-on-6. Same side offense for 5 tries.
  • Repeat iterations of After-goal plays