Water polo players that do not have a competitive swimming background are at a slight disadvantage. While this may not be a popular opinion among some in the water polo community, let me explain my thinking.
The strokes used for water polo do not focus on streamline, flexibility, or attaining a feel for the water – three goals that are a part of any competitive swimming program. Water polo strokes concentrate on moving as fast as possible over 2 -3 metres (getting to a ball) and over 15 – 20 metres (swimming end-to-end). Another focus for water polo strokes is being high in the water with little concern for stroke efficiency or streamline positioning.
While water polo strokes, such as head-up front crawl, are advantageous while playing the game, mastering regular swim strokes will have a positive impact on the water polo player.
As an example, a regular front crawl can have the following benefits:
- Developing a catch of the water at the front of the player’s stroke (instead of the side or later on in the stroke) will improve speed.
- Learning efficiency leads to a more powerful stroke, i.e. – if you can get down the pool in 10 strokes rather than 20, you’ll be much better off in the 4th quarter. Having a defender cruising alongside barely breaking a sweat as you thrash your way up the pool can be quite nerve-wracking!
- A proper front crawl catch improves forearm and shoulder strength.
- An extended kick with pointed toes improves streamline, again improving speed.
- Improved core strength from keeping taught stomach muscles during the stroke and those dolphin kicks off the wall.
Mastering breaststroke, a stroke that appears simple but is quite difficult to master, also has benefits:
- Improving ankle flexibility improves the ability of the player to push down more water in the egg-beater kick using the length of the lower legs instead of just the heels.
- A powerful breaststroke kick improves a player’s ability to: jump out of the water; move the ball forward in a shooting position; gain advantage in the water by being able to move quickly over short distances; and improve passing and shooting as the whip kick is used at the top of the passing/shooting movement.
- The breaststroke pull is also a great way to build forearm strength – essential to maintaining a high position in the water.
Take a look at the KAP7 video below that talks about water polo fundamentals. The video highlights what’s required as a base to any starting player at the 20 second mark. At the base of the triangle of skills they have Legs and Ball Handling. Swimming may not be in the base of that image — probably because in California everyone swims and it’s like breathing — but it’s inherent. Notice how breaststroke gets mentioned at the 50 second mark.
The practice plan put in place for the Capital Wave Summer Water Polo program includes competitive swimming training alongside traditional water polo drills. We will report back at the end of the program to discuss the benefits we’ve witnessed over the next eight weeks. It is a different way of training for many of our athletes and one that Capital Wave coaches are confident will reap rewards.