When part practice goes wrong

Over the last few weekends, I refereed the end of the season tournaments for youth soccer; most teams were club teams, whatever that means, and some have professional (i.e. paid) coaches. These teams dutifully performed the FIBA11+ warmup or something similar prior to their first game of the day (rarely do they perform the same warmup prior to their second game, as they typically warmed up with passing or dribbling drills between fields).

As I watched the teams warm up, there were two problems that I noticed. First, the players often ran or jumped over small cones. This is normal, and everyone accepts this as a typical training exercise. However, what happens to your posture when you are looking at small cones to run or jump over? Does your posture change? Does the performance of the run or jump change because of the change in posture?

I touched on this subject in a paper that I wrote about jump landings: In practice/training, players look at the ground when jumping and landing, but in games, they look at the ball or the backboard. Their posture changes, but also the information that they receive from the environment. In training, when I look at the cone and the ground, I anticipate the landing; I plan. In a game, I cannot use my visual system to anticipate the landing. Therefore, the activity that I practice and the one that I perform in a game differ, and it is debatable how much transfer there is from these warmup activities to game situations.

Second, when players jogged through the warmups, they jogged with poor running technique. They ran like a distance runner, not a sprinter or invasion-game athlete. As they ran, their legs trailed behind them, rather than driving their knees in front of them. As rugby S&C coach John Pryor said:

We want to consistently run well and have all options available (i.e. step, pass, carry into contact). If I am running with my legs trailing behind me, for example, I don’t have those options. All I can do is make a loose pass to the outside and the defense can anticipate that, or carry weakly into contact.

When I teach my dynamic warmup now, I do not include jogging because I do not want to reinforce these movements with the legs trailing behind. I use other low intensity exercises with the goal to move away from these patterns.

Ankling is one of the exercises that I use instead of jogging to practice the front-side mechanics.

These exercises are examples of part practice. They are not the same as the game movements (whole practice). Instead, they are used to teach or develop game movements, but, in these instances, they failed. This failure may be because of the exercises, the instruction, the feedback, the players’ lack of diligence, or other factors, but these exercises did not practice game movements or something that would transfer positively to game performance.

How many other exercises or drills that we use fail in this manner?

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

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