CREATING EFFECTIVE DRILLS
Every “drill” that you use in practice should have a clear purpose and a direct impact on improving areas or individual and/or group performance. The first task in creating an effective drill is to identify what the goal is.
The goal/purpose of a drill is likely to depend on the time of the season, the focus of a particular practice, and the role the drill plays in practice. The purpose can be as simple as “improving effectiveness of receiving a pass from the left”, and turning to make a pass to the right. It can be as complex as “improving decision-making with varying numbers in the midfield”. The important thing is that the purpose is specific, clear and understood by the coaches and players.
Keeping it simple: it is tempting for coaches to create elaborate drills that focus on a number of different areas, and to try to solve a number of problems at once. To keep the training focused and productive, direct the players to focus on one or two specific goals for each drill. This will avoid overcomplicating things and diluting the most important messages.
IDENTIFYING AND CREATING DRILLS FROM GAME SITUATIONS
Every team and every individual has different needs in terms of what needs to be practiced and trained. The most effective way to analyze who needs what, is to look at game situations and see where the team/player’s strengths and weaknesses are. If a team is struggling with leaving opposing attackers open in the circle, work on a drill for defensive organisation. If a player is having trouble receiving a ball under pressure, simulate this situation in practice. It is not easy to re-create game situations exactly, but if you can provide the opportunity for a player to train skills with some game pressures involved (limited space, time, and other variables), he will learn to be more comfortable executing the skills and making decisions in a game.
In this sense, there is no limit to the number and type of drills that can be created. This will all depend on your team, combinations of players, level of skill, development and age, training space, etc.
Explain the specific purpose of the drill to the players beforehand. It can be helpful to show video prior to practice of how a skill is important in context, game footage of a skill or situation as an example. If this is not possible, the drill can be explained on a dry-erase board, and then demonstrated if necessary.
Flexibility/Adaptability: Despite a coach’s vision and careful preparation, a drill or exercise rarely goes exactly as planned! It is important to be ready to adjust once the drill is in progress. This is where a coach’s analytic skills and communication skills are valuable. The coach must observe how the players are handling a particular skill or decision-making situation, and adjust the exercise accordingly. It may be that the players succeed quickly and achieve the goal of the drill, or it may be a struggle. During a drill designed for one purpose, other areas can often appear that need work, so the purpose of the drill can be altered. The ability to be flexible and adapt during a drill is critical.
If possible, build at least one break into any drill for the purpose of feedback. After running the drill for a short period, ask the players how they think it is going. Coaches should then offer input and give the players a chance to go out and improve on execution. It is also helpful to wrap up the drill with a short feedback session at the end of the drill.
An effective practice can involve a progression of drills that build on each other, starting from an isolated skill, building into a more game-like situation. For example:
1. Passing drill that emphasizes keeping the ball in option position
2. 2-on-1 grids in a specific area of the field (going into attacking circle)
3. Intercept-and-Counter drill: defender hits ball into a pressing forward/midfield line, who intercept and look to counter-attack with numbers-up to goal (looking for 2-on-1’s within the larger numbers).
This approach can help players to have success at one stage, then build forward to a more challenging context, and finally simulating a game situation.
If there are several different areas that you want to cover in practice that are not related (eg defensive footwork, passing and receiving, quick release shooting), splitting the squad into smaller training groups can be efffective, and running smaller conditioned games or drills to focus on isolating skills for a shorter time, before rotating. This can allow you to separate specific groups of players to train together as desired (eg right side players, defenders, etc). The tempo of these sequences of shorter training “pods” can be higher and create good energy in the training session.
REPETITION vs VARIETY
For each team, find the right balance between repetition of key drills, and ensuring there is enough variety to keep it interesting. The value of repeating a drill is that the players understand the purpose, know how the drill runs, and it takes less set-up and preparation time. Repetition will help players to master a particular skill or set of skills.
On the other side, repetitive use of the same drills can sometimes become tedious for athletes, and it is valuable to stimulate their thinking and decision-making with different drills. This could mean adding small rule changes or adjustments to the same drill, or to create an entirely new drill with different conditions.
It is the coach’s role to recognise how much repetition is needed, and how much change and creativity is needed for the players and team to thrive.
Other key elements to consider when planning a drill: