How do we determine a “great drill”?

This drill was posted on Linkedin as a “Great Drill.” Why? What makes the drill great? What is the purpose of the drill?

After posing these questions on the Linkedin page, the response centered on activity and making players tired. To me, that’s the easiest thing to do. You know what else will make players tired? Play a game!

In this drill, I see unopposed passing. I see undefended post moves. I see the coach telling the players what to do. I see a small amount of running (from three-point line to half-court). I see a constant, block drill, as the players perform one version of one skill at a time.

I don’t see any decision making. I don’t see any defense. I don’t see any variability. Basically, I don’t see anything that looks anything like what happens in the game. I don’t even agree that all the players are active; personally, I think three players are not doing much of anything, while the fourth player works on his undefended post moves.

How is this drill better than playing 2v2 on one side of the court with an emphasis on post touches? How is this drill better than using a passer on each wing and playing 1v1 in the post? Heck, how is this drill better than splitting up the four players to different baskets and doing the Mikan Drill?

What makes a drill great? First, I would say that the drill needs a purpose, and the drill must align with its purpose. For example, if you use the three-mean weave to improve passing in a game, I do not think that the drill aligns with your purpose. If you use the three-man weave for conditioning, I think there is better alignment.

Second, the purpose must be appropriate. Doing a drill simply because it involves activity, to me, is not a worthwhile purpose. Heed the advice of John Wooden: “Do not mistake activity with achievement.”

Third, the drill should be age- and skill-appropriate. Coaches or players should not do a drill because an NBA or NCAA coach does the drill; a 10-year-old has different needs than an NBA player.

Fourth, players should have to make some form of decision, ideally based on game context. Not every drill has to be a small-sided game. However, every drill should require some form of decision. Even in the drill above, if the rebounder stood on one of the post’s shoulders, and the post had to read the side of the defense, the drill would be better. Instead, the coach tells the player the exact shot and the direction. An easy, small improvement would be to work on a single move (drop step), but force the finisher to read the stationary defender to determine the direction of the move. It still would not be a great drill, in my mind, but the simple addition of the player making a decision would improve the drill.

Fifth, add some randomness or variability. With four players, why have one player shoot 20 consecutive shots? Why not have the passer cut to the opposite block to be the one who finishes the next shot? This maintains the activity (the small amount of running), gives the activity a purpose (I always want a cut by the passer when we pass into the post, and this reinforces that idea), and adds randomness, as players move from passer to finisher rather than practicing one technique for 20 straight repetitions. Again, I don’t think that would make it a great drill, but it would improve the drill.

With four players, how would I make this into a great drill? Personally, I would play 2v2 on the 1/4 court. Maybe score the game 2 points for shots with two feet in the key, and 1 point for shots outside the key. Depending on my purpose, I might make the ball live on all shots – make or miss – to increase rebounding opportunities and focus more attention on boxing out close to the basket.

If I wanted to replicate the drill, and have it be more of a drill, I would start with the two passers, and offensive post player (P1) and a defensive post player (P2). The defensive player would be instructed to play about 50%; the purpose is to defend in different ways to work on the offensive player’s reading of the defender and making the appropriate move, rather than seeing if the defender can stop the offense. After passing, the first passer (P3) cuts to the opposite block to become the next post player. After finishing his or her move, P1 becomes the next defender, defending P3. P2, after playing 50% defense, rebounds the ball and dribbles to the wing to replace P3. Once P1 is ready to play defense, P4, the other wing, passes to P3 in the post and cuts to the opposite block. Something like this.

I rarely do these kinds of drills, but this is a continuous drill that keeps everyone active, adds purpose to the activity, forces offensive players to make decisions, and adds randomness to the drill, as each player rotates from finisher to defender to passer.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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