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  • Jack Fleming

It’s Not About Drills

I love drills. I do. But we can become obsessed with finding or stealing the magic drill from our favourite coach or team. Everybody is looking for the newest “Decision Making Drill” or the “Steve Nash Finishing Series” — maybe we are missing the point? We see more and more cones, goggles, fancy toys and suddenly the court looks like a road works. But the kid doing 66 crossovers around all those cones does not have his eyes up? If you haven’t seen this already, you will enjoy it.

A quote to live by.

“ The man who grasps principles can successfully handle his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” — Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Are we taking becoming obsessed with the methods and missing the principles? Consider the following questions when you see a drill.

  1. Is it RELEVANT to my team and playing level?

  • If you are a cutting motion offensive team, ask the question is there relevance to me running side ball screen breakdowns from the Boston Celtics?

2. Do the TEACHING POINTS of the drill tie into my philosophy as a coach?

  • If you strongly believe in accountability when guarding the ball, are you going to teach your rotations to be “early, hard and aggressive” on baseline drives and forget about the defender getting beat?

3. What are my TEACHING POINTS that I will not let go during the drill?

  • You can take a great drill and make it your own and make it fit. But if you do not have priority and emphasis, that you will stop and correct this is where we can potentially fall down.

Chris Mack on Rebounding — An Example

  • This is a nice drill, but it is not the METHOD (1v1 Rebounding Drill) it is the PRINCIPLES behind it.

Principles of 1v1 Rebounding for Chris Mack

  • “Hit and Seal” on your box out.

  • “Go and get the damn ball” — do not let it hit the ground.

If I put this drill in with my Under 16 Boys, maybe my teaching points would be:

  • If you rebound, keep it on your chin and finish.

  • “Hit, Find and Get” on your rebound.

Great, I have a new drill and I have made it my own. Now when Johnny, boxes his guy out to the back wall and let’s the ball drop three times it is my RESPONSIBILITY to hold him accountable and give him feedback. That is what makes a great drill, the teaching within it.

A Recipe for Great Feedback

  1. Ensure the athlete is ready and receptive to feedback.

  2. Immediate

  3. Specific

  4. Congruent

  5. Corrective

Ensure the Athlete is Ready and Receptive What is their body language telling you before you correct them? Sometimes the athlete who blew a wide open lay up is not mentally ready for feedback while he is punching the wall. Sometimes they need to hear it anyway. Consider and where necessary ask “can I give you some feedback?” Chris Oliver of Basketball Immersion always talks about creating an agreement with his players that feedback is part of learning.

Immediate In a study on delayed vs. immediate feedback, researchers found that participants who were given immediate feedback showed a significantly larger increase in performance than those who had received delayed feedback. Your summary feedback at the end of a scrimmage or drill might not be as useful as you think, “in the moment” feedback as the athlete is running to the back of the line is great!

Specific The more advanced the athlete, the more specific the feedback needs to be to refine their skill performance. General feedback can help to motivate and keep athletes on task, but serves a different purpose from specific feedback aimed at providing information to the learner on performance (Rink, 2003). The less your players are reliant on general feedback to keep them going, the more resilient and self sufficient they will be. Below provides an example of the general to specific feedback continuum. Congruent As much possible the feedback given must be aligned with the instructions and cues you provided when presenting the drill. You cannot provide feedback and on everything you know and observe, but if you have asked for “great passes, show hands on every catch” you are within your right to hold players accountable to that. Narrow your teaching points to 2–3 and ensure your feedback is congruent with what you have asked.

Corrective “Casey, what a terrible decision! That was just awful.” Live in the solution, not the problem. “Casey, what did you see when you came off that pick and roll” or “Casey, your order or thinking is rim, roller and then release remember?”. I will not get into questioning today but it can be a great feedback tool.

Praise, Prompt and Leave Method This method was popularised by Madeline Hunter’s Model of Mastery Learning. Provide praise to the athlete, correct or give corrective feedback and then leave it alone. “Casey, good job with your eyes up. Next play see the rim first. Then go coach somebody else!” I hope this article has given you an opportunity to ask questions about your use of drills and some suggestions for how to make them more effective. By no means am I giving stick to skill trainers — we are all trying to achieve the same thing, help players.

Do not get too caught up in the latest funky drills, if you teach and correct that is where the magic happens.

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