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'3 Phase Drills'

By Bill Winfrey

I don't think anything I ever write is new... just new to me.. or maybe finally making sense. Quite a few coaches do this naturally, or very thoughtfully, but I've experienced many who do not. So, for that reason it's an important topic to me to discuss.

Skill building is a process. Just because i have told them does not in any way mean they now have a new skill or habit! Amazingly, even YELLING doesnt create habits (sic). But repitition does in time, and that means hard and smart work... which starts with the coach. Here's some things to consider in this process.

Think of creating your Drills in 3 Phases

  1. Technique

  2. Pace

  3. Competition

  • Technique... This type drill isolates a particular skill or part of a skill. It has a slower, more deliberate pace that allows for precision. Minimize distractions that come from speed or competition and give them the mental space to make a clumsy activity more familiar. Immediate and detailed feedback is key.

  • Pace... Here the drill challenges a skill by increasing speed, movement, and/or options. Players have more to think about and less time to respond. Expect performance to drop as they get used to a faster pace. They’ll need many reps and constant reminders, but resist the urge to lecture. Adjust the level of complexity to fit their current ability.

  • Competition... This third phase applies the pressure to win. This is not simply having someone to play against, you can have that in Pace. This going a step further and keeping score, determining a clear winner and a loser, and creating consequences. The pressure to win creates an important challenge to skill development. When we keep score we rely on our strengths, not our weaknesses. But in these drills you’re asking them to win, but to do so with a new technique.

Why It's Important

When we compete, we play to win. That's natural and a good thing... but it's not so good for building new skills or for developing weaknesses (hence the whole AAU play vs develop skills debate). Playing to win means we go with our strengths, our second nature, our already established habits. Creating a new second nature takes time, and how we design drills and what we emphasize will either help or hinder that.

The Flow

In the Technique drill (Phase 1) we create the space and pace that allows players to 'think' before they act... to try something new with no consequences... to get familiar with this new and awkward movement. The emphasis is on technique and getting lots of reps in.

Then we introduce some Pace (Phase 2) which adds new challenge to the skill. Still no consequences, plenty of instruction / feedback, but less stopping and talking. We're offering more instruction as they play. Allow them to make mistakes, don't stop play everything you see something you want different. We all learn from doing, let them do... and do plenty of it.

It may be in one day or a week or more before you put the new drill into Competition (Phase 3). Create competitions that reward and punish according to the new skill you want to see. Keep instructing verbally... but as they play... or after they play (here, down, and back... then stop to talk). Keep your talks brief. Let them learn through action.

Sample 3 Phase Drills ... Teaching Contain

phase 1 / Technique .. Zig Zag drill, in groups of 2 each with 1 ball, defender has hands behind back... ball handler zig zags to half (or full court) with sharp changes of direction and slow enough to have good step slide technique and to improve retreat angle, repeat as necessary

phase 2 / Pace ... Zig Zag with increased pace... the ball handler tries to beat the defender 3x, (but stops each time to let the defender catch up).

phase 3 / Competition... Half court 1 on 1 drill... 5 dribbles / 5 seconds to score. Defender starts 2 steps away and has to contain, block penetration into lane, close out on shot, box out. Offensive player attacks hard and quick. 1 point per bucket... and also make it point to offense (and possession next time) for any poor defense you choose to emphasize (for example poor step slide technique, or poor angle, or hands on the ball handler, or a foul, etc). After a shot, the player who recovers ball (make or miss) is the one on offense next (forces them to block out and fight hard for rebounds). 1 point per scored bucket.

The trick here is to create ‘games that teach’ by designing a scoring system that rewards the good and punishes the bad. There are many ways to score a drill. Be creative.

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