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Why an obsession with new drills could be hindering performance.

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Preps and drills ... why are we so magnetised to them, like a moth to a lightbulb?

You'd think that the paparazzi has arrived in the gym when introducing a new drill; phones and cameras everywhere making sure every moment is captured.

Who doesn't like new shiny objects eh? smile

I'm not being judgemental as I understand the appeal; I love a good drill too, and would also film it to add to my archive of options BUT I do recognise that a drill is just an ingredient within an extremely important recipe, which never seems to get half as much attention or thought.

A significant amount of the things we do with our athletes probably don't matter, and I'm always looking for ways to reduce the number of steps or processes to teach something.

Like a good caddy advising a golfer, there's usually only a few good options when it comes to the best choice of club to use next, and there's not many to choose from in total.

For the context of this blog, let's use a back flick (AKA 'back handspring' for my USA readers) as an example.

There are literally thousands of drills and exercises which can be used to teach a flick, and some fantastic ones too.

But how many do you need?

I would say most skills can be taught in just a handful of stages, say 4-5 steps, assuming the pre-requisite skills are refined already.

4-5 drills, all with specific performance and learning benefits is ample for teaching a skill and too many more could actually hinder learning rate and retention.

It's possible to teach an exceptionally good 'flick' with just this number, leaving out the 'impressive' or 'glamorous' drills we scour to find on YouTube, and instead focusing on teaching high quality, basic movement.

Whilst the internet is FANTASTIC for sharing content and getting ideas, it has poor quality control, and before implementing a new idea into my program I would first stop to think of the following:

1. Is it what the athlete needs?
2. Is it simple enough to implement?
3. Can my athlete already perform the pre-requisites?
4. Is the video from a credible source, with someone of experience?
5. Do I know what the learning outcomes are of the drill?

There's a difference between what your athlete needs, and what we like the look of as coaches ...

I like the look of the new 'Range Rover Sport', but it won’t actually improve performance against my Nissan X-Trail of getting from A-B in the UK. It’s a nice new shiny object which i’m attracted towards BUT there are far better things to spend my money on.

There are often far better ways that YOU can improve performance than some of the preps and drills that you may be spending your time doing with your athletes.

I've failed to see significant improvements in the athletes of many coaches who spend hours online every week looking for more drills and exercises to used. The internet hasn’t really helped them at all. Again, it’s not better ingredients they should be searching for it’s the best recipe instead.

Technique hasn't changed that much over time, although innovation has. 30 years ago saw gymnasts performing many of the highest complexity acrobatic elements of today without the modern day equipment luxuries.

How?

Attention to detail on technique, using simple methods and exercises. Nothing fancy. Much of innovation wasn't there yet and the virality of sharing ideas certainly wasn't.

Let's use a chef baking a dessert as an analogy here.

If an experienced chef was given the basic yet quality ingredients of sugar, eggs, flour, butter and chocolate how many recipes do you think they could make?

The list is endless and with the right love and attention they could create a masterpiece too.

The message here is that you don't need many ingredients, you just need the right recipe and attention to detail.

More important areas to be obsessive over would be in the top three areas I see high performing coaches excelling in:

1. Being PRODUCTIVE.
2. Being ACCOUNTABLE.
3. Having exceptionally HIGH STANDARDS.

Without those qualities you’re not going places in the high performance world, irrespective of how awesome your drills are.


Take a moment to reflect on your program, and before looking for more drills to use consider these questions:


1. Are my athletes able to perform the current drills with great execution (if not then a new drill won't suddenly help them to perform it better either.)
2. Are the drills the problem, or is it the ratio of drills to practice?
3. Do I have clarity on exactly what the finished skill should look like?
4. Are the athletes physically prepared for the elements?

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback on this blog post.

Right got to go, off to YouTube ...

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Comments (5)

   
AndyS

An interesting piece Nick, and an approach I've come to find works well for me as a rugby coach.

Primarily I coach my son's U8's group as well as helping coach U16's and Colts as they're low on coaching staff (plus gives me an opportunity to practise my new relatively new Level2 knowledge).

It's interesting that the same mindset works for all of these age groups. Planning drills that the group can understand and perform soon gets them performing them well, and allows you to gently progress the difficulty level or add a new dimension to improve the technique until it's performed perfectly subconsciously.

We only use a handful of core drills, with variations available to allow me to progress (or regress depending on how it's going) the session. The great thing I find about this approach is when I say "Auckland Square" all the players know what's coming and what's expected and set themselves up. They might not know how it will finish, but they're running the start of the drill themselves and self-reflecting on what's working well - or what isn't!

I used to take my son to another sport (he does a few)! The coaches were very well intentioned, but 15mins to set up an overly complicated drill just lost the kids time after time.

10/03/17
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dpwatts44

An England Hockey coach developer told me to think of drills as the white sauce in the lasagne. You have to start with it but that is all it is...a place to start from. A single drill or game can be used to develop lots of different coaching points. It is how the session is designed around them and how you use them to question and let the kids experiment and find solutions and skills that is important. It's reminded me to really cut back on new games/drills so the kids know the game and can focus on the learning more.

12/03/17
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NickRuddock

Thanks for sharing David, nice analogy :)

17/03/17
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CLEVER-Archey

Being an archery coach process to repeat what we do is the lifeblood and even our Olympians will spend hours a day using an elastic band to master the drills and skill that make up their shot routine. While learning our skills and drills we have a baseline of six elements that are physically based. From this baseline we can build psychological process that over lays this process it is practiced so that it becomes a completely controlled, but entirely subconscious activity with great rhythm. Without drills and skills we could not progress our athletes it is completely the life blood of our sport.

15/03/17
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NickRuddock

Thanks Jock. Agreed, drills really are the lifeblood of gymnastics too, however they need not be complicated, they just need to serve a basic purpose, and in my sport, coaches often over complicate drills as they are magnetised by how 'trendy' they are as opposed to their function. What looks great might not be what is required, and in addition, coaches often copy and paste drills into their programme without understanding their value or the key coaching points.

17/03/17
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CLEVER-Archey

I have spent the last two years simplifying our drills and skills making them into packages that are programmable to everyone and exactly as you said simple. I use a structured baseline called CLEVER Archery that absolute beginners can use but its basic principles work right up to Olympians (with additions). Its only the determined language and volume that changes over the abilities. I think that as balanced and open coaches we need to cross reference to other sports, practices, structures and coaching practices. So its great to read well written pieces such as the piece above that's content cross references what we are developing in Archery

17/03/17
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AndyP

Great tweet from legendary jumps coach Boo Schexnayder:
" Common question 'my athlete does this wrong, I need a drill to fix it.' Drills are sold in aisle 6 at Lowes. Coaches fix wrong."

10/05/17
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DavidJohn

I agree they don't have to be complicated. I too have reviewed my drills over the years simplifying them. I assessed whether it worked or not when watching them swim and often wondered why the drill didn't morph into the stroke or vice versa.
Drills have their place to learn a movement or action however these are now simplified and part of the swim set. Otherwise it can become too complicated losing the enjoyment. Also what works for one maybe doesn't work for another.
I do like scouring the Internet for drills, however it is not done to find answers. It is to find a fun drill to use at the end of a session to learn movement or how to use the water better, which my swimmers enjoy. Also I use this method to introduce a drill or particular movement to a future set.
Many of my swimmers enjoy the challenge of trying out a drill or trying to do the 'challenge' of actually doing it.

04/07/17
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