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Just doing drills ad nauseum doesn’t necessarily transfer to skill improvement. In fact it can retard skill development and disturb technique. Just being able to do part of a skill broken out into a drill does not transfer to the actual skill or activity. Regardless of the sport or training venue I see drills predominate but you must remember similar is not the same! Certainly some of the drills look really cool, but are they a waste of time? Are they really doing what you think they are doing? That is a question you must ask yourself. I understand you must do more than just the skill of the sport or event itself but is what you are doing making you athletes better at the skill or making you better at the drill? When you ask coaches why they are doing a drill often the stock answer is that so and so does it and he or she is the best so it must be good. In fact drills are often named after the originator the drill. Here we go monkey see, monkey do again. Do you know why you are using the drill? Is it a skill drill or a conditioning drill? I have watched thousands of kids taught intricate soccer drills with no idea or concept of how the drill fit into the game. The same in basketball, and track and field the list is never ending. I doubt Messi grew up doing drills. The same with so-called sprint drills I doubt Usain Bolt was taught drills first. Teach them to sprint not to drill.

If you want to create robotic looking athletes then break your skill into small intricate parts, but if you want them to flow then let them discover the skills. Give them increasingly complex movements problems to solve. They will figure it out and the solutions they find may not fit the norm or look just the way you think it should be. It is acceptable to allow the athlete freedom to create and express their motor ability, don’t take away rhythm, flow and individual expression. Give them the colors, a brush and empty canvas and let them paint their own picture. Some will be masterpieces and others will not. They will have ownership and the movements will be more meaningful to them.

The longer I have coached the less drills I use. I have my “go to” drills that fit certain activities or skills, but more importantly fit the needs of the individual. I have learned what those drills mean within my system. I am very prescriptive in applying the drills. I will problem solve with the athlete and decide if a drill is warranted and they can relate to it. I want to know if they can relate the drill to what they are trying to improve, if they can feel it or it is just another task to get done. Remember coaching is not something you do to the athlete it is something you do with the athlete. Engage them in the process and they will get better with some help from you. Skill them don’t drill them.

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Comment by Justin Frandson on June 6, 2011 at 3:00pm
Agreed.  This is an area that is missed so frequently and truly defines performance.  Who can take an athlete and make them more coordinated, aware, rhythmic and creative?  Drill of bigger, faster, stronger does not always transfer into facilitating an athlete to perform at a higher level.  Creating athleticism is our niche and it is lot's of fun!
Comment by Jason Roe on May 31, 2011 at 10:53pm

Mr Gambetta,

You are a big influence on my coaching. The "give them increasingly complex movement problems to solve" concept is a common theme in your book and blog. I agree that overly technical, rehearshed, closed drills can make athletes very robotic and these drills have very little transfer to sport performance. Given the open skilled, reaction based nature of many sports it makes sense to progress an athlete's movement skill development toward these types of activities. Yet some movement strategies are more effective than others. Could you give a more specific example of how you would structure a movement challenge for your athletes in this paradigm? Thank you. 

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