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Drills are the drugs of coaching (from a recovering addict!)

Unopposed drills are the drugs of coaching...

...a lot of coaches are addicted to them...

they are like alcoholics or maybe 'drill-aholics'...they just can't get away from the lure of the drill.

Deep down, they know that the drill is not doing their athletes any good but they keep getting called back to makes them feel offers warm is safe...they can feel good about themselves.

Why are they so addicted to drills? If you ask a 'drill-aholic' why they use them then they will say the following

  • Drills give lots of repetitions

  • Drills let participants gain a feeling of success and build confidence

  • Drills allow for movements to be embedded into 'muscle memory'

  • Drills are the grounding for techniques that can then be built upon in games.

But if they are really honest with themselves...they would probably have to admit that the real reason they like drills is because:

  • They are structured and organised.

  • It makes the parents think that the coach knows what they are doing

  • They love creating them and working out the movement and the choreography.

  • It's comfortable and easy

  • It's what they have always done.

I know this because...I was one of them...I was one of the biggest drill addicts out there!

At the end of a session that involved a load of drills, I would feel that I had delivered a good session. Parents were smiling at me, the kids had moved around a lot, they even have got better at the drill itself and were pretty pleased with themselves.

Everyone was feeling pretty good about the situation...everyone was happy...everyone was on a high.

I got that euphoric 'hit' of dopamine and the feel good factor that I had done my job...I have delivered a session...I am a good coach...

Happy customers and happy coach...what's not to like?

But I was deluding myself....worse, I was poisoning myself!

Just like alcohol or drugs ...if they are used too much, they become toxic.

They destroyed my coaching creativity, they killed my ability to think critically, innovate and improve...drills are numbing...they dull the senses...they reduce the user to a limited version of themselves.

I had box files full of drills that I had painstakingly drawn out and described. I would have my favourites and would go to them time and again. It was tried and tested, it worked...

Except it didn't...

If the players couldn't perform the drill I would get frustrated at their lack of application or lack of attention to detail. If they weren't focused or engaged by the activity I would demand better application. It wasn't the drill was boring, it was their lack of application and it was my job to get them to apply themselves.

My addiction made me behave in ways that disconnected me from the participants...I lost sight of what they wanted or needed and focused on designing even more elaborate and well crafted drills. The more complicated the better.

If it only impacted me then that would be one thing...the parents...they were just as addicted....

They wanted to see structure, order, it needed to be neat and tidy...they couldn't abide chaos...disorder...untidiness.

A coach that doesn't have lots of cones and players running around them or from cone to cone doesn't know what they are doing, right?

If the players aren't doing lots of neat and tidy moves and repeating them over and over again then they aren't getting enough practice time, they need to get their 10,000 hours, right?

Wrong and wrong again!

Drills are not very useful as a means to help people learn and develop. Essentially a drill is a rehearsal of a movement pattern, this is fine if the activity that you are undertaking is just about rehearsing and repeating a movement pattern and there isn't an opponent trying to stop you from performing that movement pattern.

If we won games of football or netball by a panel of judges deciding which team had the best looking running patterns or passing moves then drills would be great...

If we won games of tennis or badminton by having the most visually appealing shots then drills could work just fine...

If we did any sport in a sterile environment with no variables from the environment then a drill could be just the ticket.

But we don't...

We succeed in sports by finding ways to overcome an opponent that is trying to stop you from achieveing your goal. That opponent moves...they react to you...they have ways of stopping you from scoring...they are unpredictable...they don't stand still...

Even in sports where there isn't a direct opponent their are people trying to distract you, there is the crowd, there is the pressure of expectation, there is weather, there are variations in surface, equipment, space...

Our interaction with the elements around us are critical to the development of skill.

Trying to learn how to play a sport in isolation of these variables is like learning to drive by sitting in a car and operating the pedals and turning the steering wheel without seeing the road in front and having to avoid other road users.

It's quite easy to spot a player that has been coached by a drill-aholic. They are the ones who 'do a move' whether it the right time to do the move or not.. They will keep doing it until they get some success and that will validate the move in their minds. They are the ones that will keep doing this move regardless of whether it works or not. They don't seem to learn a different way even when they aren't getting success.

This is a phenomenon that Abraham Kaplan famously called 'the law of the instrument' which he formulated as...

"Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding."

This was later amended by Abraham Maslow who famously said...

"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail"

If you present a player that has been coached by a 'drill-aholic' with a problem that challenges their abilities, they will not be able to come up with a way to solve the problem. They say things like..."what do I do in this situation?"..."how do I do it?" They want you to give them the answers.

In a match or competition environment they look for the coach to tell them what to do. Under pressure they 'revert to type' and do things that they may have been explicitly instructed otherwise.

A player that can't adapt and can't think for themselves is not going to go very far in the cut throat world of elite sport.

From a talent development perspective we are in the business of maximising potential and developing the attributes and qualities that are going to give the young people the best opportunity to succeed.

Treating kids like robots and asking them to perform in a robotic way in the belief that this will help them in the future is at best misguided at worst it is horrifically negligent.

We need to be using methodologies that place the player at the centre of the decision making process and help players to adapt.

As the brilliant guys at myfastestmile recently said...

"we believe people are not machines…

…so we take an ecological approach …and resist the urge to employ the reductionary....methods and production line processes of the industrial age"

So we need to move away from drills because they are part of a development approach that attempts to mechanise the development of people.

Adopting this methodology haemorrhages our humanity with every repetition.

Just like the alcohol awareness campaign 'Drink Aware' I think we should have something similar in coaching...'Drill Aware'!


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