Drilling: A Coach’s Best Friend

Drills help athletes learn and refine technique, but drilling is a skill, too. Here’s how to use one of the most valuable tools in your coaching arsenal.
By Logan Gelbrich, CCFT,

Drilling is one of the strategies we teach in our Coach’s Prep program at Deuce Gym to develop a student coach. Of course, developing an understanding of the movements, training their vision to recognize movement and growing our student coaches’ arsenal of cues are all vital elements to their growth as coaches, but drilling is a skill in and of itself.

Drilling, which generally takes an individual or group of individuals through movements via short commands, is useful in a few ways. Naturally, it’s quite efficient. It doesn’t matter whether you have all the knowledge in the world, if you don’t have an understanding of drilling, you’ll be spinning your wheels trying to corral the group to get a point across.

In addition, drilling means bodies are moving, and they’re moving now. One of the best coaching cues I got as a young coach came from Adrian Bosman. He said, “Less talk, more rock.” Get people moving!

Coaches who are proficient at drilling also can comb through common faults in the group effortlessly. When a class has 10, 12 or even 20 athletes in it, this is a big help.

What, then, makes for good drilling?

At the end of the day, you need a good progression. Drilling doesn’t make sense without clear-cut steps. These steps don’t even need to be mapped out for extremely complex movements, either. Remember, drilling creates organization, allows athletes to acquire more reps and allows the coach to comb through a room full of common faults together.

Language is huge. The cues must be simple and short. The biggest mistake I see young coaches make, however, is not using the same language. In drilling, you set a precedent. “When I say [this], I want to see you do [that].” The words you use must be exact. For example, if you decide to cue the first two reps with “Bar above the knee and jump shrug!” only to tell them “Bar above the knee and GO!” on the third rep, you’re destroying the opportunity for clear-cut movement and instruction found in drilling.

In addition to the words that you use, the way that you say them is critical, as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve critiqued young coaches in our program who are drilling a group through something explosive, say the snatch, and they sound like their instructing a sewing class. Voice inflection can demand certain action from your audience. Don’t forget that. You can say, “Ready. GO!” a million different ways.

Of course, there are a million pieces to this puzzle, but the last major one I’d like to address is volume. In most instances, a coach will drill a group through a movement with little to no load. In that way, reps are your best friend. If you are drilling a group of students, don’t be afraid to ask them to “jump shrug” a few more times to see more movement, to comb through more athletes faults and to allow students to fine-tune movement.

I’ve found that in CrossFit, we can be in a rush to move through progressions. It doesn’t need to be three of “these,” three of “those,” and three of the full movement and cut them loose. As a baseball player, I relate this to reps on the batting tee. Hitters take a million reps, even at the highest level. Don’t forget that most of your athletes haven’t power-snatched a barbell 10,000 times yet. In that way, you can help your athletes trade learn-as-you-go reps in the WOD for more empty-bar practice reps in your drills.

No matter how long you’ve been coaching or how much you think you know, drilling is a separate skill in and of itself, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t ace it right away. Practice it. It could be one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal.

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