Limitation of a drill: How to make a coach more effective

I ran a clinic today for some local basketball coaches and introduced simple ball-handling and passing progressions. The idea was to show drills that could be utilized in a practice environment where 40-60 players could be on one court.

The ball handling progression incorporated Speed Tag (below), Human Foosball (bottom), Swedish Tag (bottom), and the Dribble Gauntlet.

The passing progression incorporated Long Island Passing Drill, 4v2, 7v5, 4v4 Volleyball Passing, 2v2 Gael Passing and 3v3 No-Dribble Full Court.

After watching a brief practice yesterday, my objective was to introduce the idea of more complex and challenging drills as a means of developing skills that transfer to the game environment. I think many coaches fixate on the drill and the mastering of a drill and ignore its impact on game performance.

During the 4v4 Volleyball Passing Drill, many mistakes were made. However, that is the point. Did the players pass perfectly? No. Did they always use a textbook chest pass? No. Did they pivot properly all the time? No. did they make appropriate pass fakes? Occasionally. The drill demonstrated these mistakes, which, if it had been a true practice, would direct me to incorporate a drill focused on one of these mistakes.

If I did a typical two-man passing drill or even a three-man weave, these mistakes would not have presented themselves. If instructed to stand across from a partner and make chest passes, these players likely would have demonstrated a pretty good skill level. I mistakenly may have assumed that under duress this pretty good skill level would transfer and enable the players to make good chest passes. I would have been incorrect.

By starting with a more complex, game-like skill drill, the practice was messy. However, the mistakes provided opportunities for improvement during practice. They illustrated weaknesses rather than waiting for a game to highlight these mistakes.

Furthermore, when playing the ball-handling games, I saw no self-consciousness when players made mistakes. I saw smiles, even when balls rolled out of bounds. In these drills, there is no perfect execution, just as in a game there is no ideal movement. In more routine drills, like straight-line dribbling drills, there is usually embarrassment when a player is last or makes a lot of mistakes. In these drills, there is an ideal movement and when a player fails to execute this ideal, there is often self-consciousness. I cannot tell you how many players pick up a ball five feet from the end of the court because they are self-conscious about the mistakes they are making, especially if they are the last player. In a game like Swedish Tag or Human Foosball, there was no self-consciousness.

Drills are a tool to enhance the learning of a skill which is measured by one’s successful transfer to game performance. The goal is not to master the drill, but to improve the skill. By using more complex tasks, these drills push players to the edge of their current abilities, eliminate some of the self-consciousness from not being able to execute an ideal movement and create more game-like task constraints which point out weaknesses for further practice and enhance transfer to the game.

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

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