As my friend Carl Paoli says, “When a football player goes to practice football, he and his teammates don’t just play a football game. They do drills.” At the end of the day, one of the biggest jobs a coach has is to teach athletes new things. While there are a number of ways to successfully teach movement in others, the use of drilling is key. To use it, we’ll need to know precisely what makes a drill characteristically unique.
A drill is a simulation that highlights a specific, repeatable skill. This is why, according to coach Paoli, football practice isn’t just more football. The linemen go with the other linemen and do linemen-like drills. The receivers do receiver drills that highlight running routes, agility and various types of catching simulations. Not only does the basic chunking down of drilling allow for many reps of exposure, but drills also allow us to exaggerate real life. Drills are where you block movement, create rules, institute boundaries and develop a simulation often more focused than real life or, in this case, a real game.
In football, this might mean a reaction drill in which athletes are only cued verbally, thus challenging and exaggerating the game stimulus (where they can take in not just verbal but visual cues). You can imagine an exaggeration of reality for linemen, to move side to side as if protecting the passer, but in the drill, they are forced to step over barriers to exaggerate demonstrative, quality footwork. In the game, they won’t need to avoid 6-inch-by-6-inch padded hurdles as they move from left to right, but they will benefit from moving like they do.
Once we understand the basic nature of what a drill is, we, as fitness coaches, can institute them in ways that produce faster learning. A snatching drill might not just be performing the snatch but performing the snatch while avoiding a barrier (or PVC pipe) to force a better bar path.
It could also look like instituting a kipping drill, in which athletes kip with a towel or yoga block held between their feet to exaggerate and develop increased compliance in a heels-together-toes-pointed position.
Drills are your friend, coaches. Learn what makes them tick, then create them for functional movement. Your students will get not only more reps but also more productive reps.