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Effective Coaching of Drills

As an intermediate player I used to wonder why our captains and coaches insist on running the same drills over and over again. Frankly, I found it boring! I assumed drills, like warming up and stretching, was a waste of time. I used to be all about the scrimmage at the end of the training session. I slacked off during drills, didn’t really focus on what I was doing. To me, then it was about doing enough reps before the captain/coach let me play ‘actual’ Ultimate.

The link that connected the drills to the game was often missing and it definitely affected my openness towards them. Now I have transitioned due to the lack of experienced ‘Handler’ on the team I play on. I find myself not reaching the bunch of people I’m trying to instruct and sometimes I see the same attitude I carried as an intermediate player.

Here are some things I learnt and issues I had to prepare for:

Connect the Drill to the game – This is probably the most important part. Connect the drill in a way that people would understand. Don’t repeat the same thing again and again if your audience doesn’t respond, rephrase/simplify and show.

Teach the most basic skill needed to execute the drill – Don’t insult our intelligence. (Tank this one is for you). Keep it simple.

Eg: A child doesn’t need to learn the upper cases of the alphabets along with the lower cases. Most letters that the child will need to read will be in lower cases. You’ve removed the pressure on the child to learn 26 x 2 ways of writing the same thing all at once.

Teach the players to teach themselves – Mindless execution of a drill only teaches people to follow instructions. Instructions create dependencies and an inability to function by oneself.  Ideally you would want people to reflect on what is being taught and apply the skill in various game situations.

Eg. Teach to change direction efficiently instead of teaching people how to cut.  We all know there can never be one format for a cut, and it often sponges away the possible creativity.

Teach one thing at a time – It is impossible to give multiple things the same amount of attention and learn all of them equally well. Attention according to multiple psychological theories is defined as a limited capacity resource. You have a definite amount of it that you can divide and assign. So the more the number of item on your list to learn at a given time, the more your attention is divided to incorporate all of them, hence less attention amount of attention gets assigned to the items.

Don’t over do it– one rep of drills done properly is better than repeating it out of form a million times. It’s not only about memorizing a set of movements, it’s about internalizing it so that one can break down the skills and reorganize it elsewhere during a game.

Know when to stop/correct – Early intervention, teach it right the first time. It’s easier to learn it right the first time than to unlearn a ‘bad’ habit and replacing it.

When coaching

  • Create a safe learning environment
  • Make sure there aren’t too many distractions
  • One person talks at a time (preferably the guy trying to replicate the drill for the team, others talk only to clarify doubts. They have no opinions.)
  • Coaches should brush up on the particular subject, it doesn’t matter if you think you know all of it. Pick out the right words to convey the message.
    eg: One of my ex-teammate/coach used to use the word ‘secure the disc’ instead of ‘catch the disc’, which he picked up from Jason Lopez aka JLo (If i’m not mistaken). I consciously try to imitate the phrase when needed because I think it puts the point across better.
  • Be audible/ visible. I know this seems very basic and almost foolish to mention, but it gets looked over often.
    eg: People standing in a circle is a bad idea to demonstrate drills, your voice carries to the side you are going to face and you always show your back to a bunch of people.
  • Keep the players together, make sure they don’t wander off too far. Touch base after every drill set.
  • When breaking off into smaller groups, it might help to have at least one person who is familiar with the drill and is capable of running it.

Remember that each of us tend to learn differently. You might be instructing a fellow mate in a certain way that appeals to the visual learners, what if he/she is a auditory learner or a kinesthetic learner. Fancy terms apart, keep it simple, find out what works for your group/padawan.

For the other intermediates out there, remember to be patient and consistent. You can’t walk before you learn to sit/crawl. Every pro player you see out there has thrown a 1000 forehands to the ground and has dealt with the frustration before getting there. Impatience and performance doesn’t go together in any sport. We all want to write beautiful poetry that melts hearts, but we haven’t spent enough time with the alphabets.

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