Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The BEST drill for players at all levels

There are a handful of drills that I frequently use while coaching but none of them do I use more frequently and that have a higher return on time spent than the three-person marking drill.

There are a handful of criteria that drills need to meet to be great. The best drills:
- replicate an element of your team's offense or defense
- provide for a high number of touches to all players
- serve to also condition players
- can be challenging to players at different points in their development
- emphasize solid fundamentals

It is difficult for a drill to meet all of these criteria. When you are drilling a full team tactic that requires a full team or defense there may be only one disc for 7 or more players. When drilling some skills or strategies where you are trying to limit uncontrollables (particularly with players that haven't developed strong throwing skills) you may not even have a disc at all. When drilling a brand new skill or strategy you should probably limit the amount of conditioning as the focus of the drill should be squarely on the new skill or strategy.

Any drill that does not emphasize solid fundamentals should be thrown out immediately. Drills that encourage players to turn the wrong way when receiving a disc, throw to tight spaces, or make bad cuts (like short away cuts or horizontal cuts) should be immediately eliminated from a teams repertoire. I know this is going to come of as elitist, but anytime I see a team running the box drill (where players make short away cuts starting from right next to a thrower) I know that they are being poorly coached. This drill runs counter to every one of the criteria listed above. It shocks me that this drill is still being used. I'm sure if it has any impact at all it is negative.

So back to the three-person marking drill. The drill is straight-forward. Two players (one with a disc) stand 12-15 yards apart. Marker marks the thrower with the disc straight up with a stall coming in at 4. The thrower breaks the mark to the other player. The marker runs to mark the new thrower. This continues for a minute and half (time can be varied) at which point the marker switches out with one of the throwers.

The focus should be on the mark:
- Getting the butt low
- staying balanced: feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and able to move in both directions at any time
- taking away throws with the feet and body by short, quick shuffling (not lunging) to get into position

And the thrower:
- Pivoting
- Faking
- Staying balanced
- Increasing extension/varying release points
- Not travelling

To increase focus on the marking aspects, this drill can be done with the mark having their hands behind their back so the only way they can take away throws is by shuffling in front of the thrower. What players will find is that considerably more work is done with their legs than their arms.

To increase focus on the throwing aspects, this drill can be done with the marker fouling the thrower. Throwers can learn about how to appropriately call "disc space" and "foul." More importantly, if a thrower can get comfortable throwing the disc while being fouled, they will be composed when they aren't being fouled and even more so when they are throwing to the open side.

Every practice I run begins with this drill. As soon as warm-ups and stretching is over my team knows to get a disc and a group of three. I usually run through it twice with two of the variations but sometimes will run through it three times. In the beginning of the season I typically run it with no hands and then normal. Towards the end of the season I run it normal and then fouling. In 10-15 minutes the team has broken a sweat and gotten in some conditioning and put in quality time on the most fundamental aspects of both offense and defense.

By the end of the season even the newest players feel comfortable with the disc and a mark and are fundamentally sound markers. The more experienced players have expanded their repertoire of breaks on both the backhand and forehand side and have developed additional release points and extended their release points away from their bodies. All players are able to instinctively call "disc space" and "foul" at appropriate times.

A significant part of the Paideia Girls success over the past two years is directly a result of this drill and how productive it is for the time that is invested into it.

The drill is not just good for HS Girls (although I would argue that it is particularly productive here), the Brown men used to run this drill at most every practice back in the early 2000s. It's also a great drill for small groups of players doing work-outs in the off-season as you only need 3 people to get the maximum out of it.



Bill Mill said...

I did this drill at every practice as a player for medicine men, and I did it at every practice as a coach for UMBC. I totally agree with your assessment.

gcooke said...


You? Elitist? Never.....

So the drill in the link works a bit differently in that the thrower becomes the new marker. I have always run it the way you describe, but the version in the Skills and Drills page does promote throw and go. Thoughts?

I guess I should delete the post that I was working on entitled "Why the box drill is awesome".


Martin said...

I tend to prefer the version where the thrower becomes the next marker (rather than the same person marking over and over). You can use it to work on a person's mobility right after the throw, and it increases the tempo of the drill.

I too agree that this drill is key. Especially at the high school level (but really at all levels) the state of marking is pretty weak. A good mark is the lynch-pin of a good defense.

FJR said...

I completely agree with you on the box drill. It's one of the worst drills ever, especially considering how often people run it. There is a way to run it that reinforces good cuts and good fundamentals (running the continuations from the diagonal corner for something akin to a 45 degree angle swing), but nobody runs it this way.

I think another variation on the 3 person mark that is even better is a 3 person break mark kill drill with an alternating mark. The cutter runs a series of up-and-under V cuts (either to time or somewhere between 6-10 cuts at high intensity). The marker forces to the side that the cutter is initiating from. The thrower has to break the mark either around or inside. Cutter returns the throw back to thrower and makes the next cut. Marker switches the force and thrower has to throw another break mark throw.

With really good throwers, you can have the cutters run in-and-out V cuts for break mark hucks.

Kyle Weisbrod said...

George and Martin,

I prefer to run it with a constant mark rather than rotating it. I think it is better conditioning and allows players to use immediately put feedback into action. Towards the end of the 1:30 players have to mark while tired which is critical to learn.

FJR, I agree there are ways to vary the box drill so that it's actually useful. Unfortunately, most of the time it's executed as it is shown in the link. I've seen but never run it the way you've described. I've also run a "pin wheel" box drill which incorporates a more applicable cut and throw (I'll describe this in a future post).

luke said...

oh gawd the box drill. i hate it.

here's what i'm doing a lot of at practice:

a 6 line drill with variations.
groups of 4-6, it only takes 2 discs per line.

cut one. person cuts out some arbitrary distance, and checks back straight at thrower. thrower throws. cutter clears. thrower cuts.

cut two: now the lines pair off. and face each other. line one is thrower. line two is now 'the first person in the stack' and cuts dead, then live (dead is assumed to be the area where the other line standers are). short throw to space. on catching the disc, the player who started in line 2 runs back to line one. the thrower from line one, now cuts to dead space and then live so that you cycle through alternating throws.

cut three: same as two, but now you're getting open for the thrower up the line. you just modify the cut slightly. still working on facing the mark, but now a bit more of a lead pass. i often don't distinguish between the two drills, it's a subtlety lost on players, but i mention it.

cut 4: same as 2/3, but you don't throw the lead pass, you fake it, and come back for a short gainer up the line.

cut 5: we slow it down, only run it from one side at a time, with 'd', and a mark. you can break it, throw a lead pass, or hit them checking under.

cut 6. spread the lines. cut out, and either throw a long throw, or with fake, hand signal, or verbal call in, bring the cutter back for the under. the goal is to throw completions.

good set. drill 1 is great to then set up cones 20 yards down field, and run it as a relay race. 10-15 passes in a row with no turnovers is the winner.

gapoole said...

If you DO have the marker rotate (thrower becomes new mark) then the drill works best with 4 people, so that the drill naturally rotates each player to face a new mark.

Personally, I like the throw-and-go version. There are other ways to simulate marking while tired, and it can be fairly exhausting even with rotating marks, if you keep the energy up.

I also started doing this drill at 40-50yds apart as well, to practice hucking past a straight-up mark and marking to stop hucks. Here you can either include the sprint or just have two pairs that take turns marking each other.

Hh said...

Kyle, the drill is called Lucky Pierre. You know this.


Gambler said...

The 3 man marking drill is great for working on footwork as a marker and fakes and breaks as a thrower. However, the fact that it's throwing to a stationary target reduces the ability of the drill to truly "replicate an element of your team's offense or defense." There are very few times when you're breaking a mark to a stationary target or when you're marking and there is no feedback from the sideline as to which type of break is the biggest threat at any given moment.

With as few as 5 people, you can adjust the drill to include a cut. If you stagger two lines so they're facing each other but offset by 10-15 yards, the cutter from one line can cut out away from the other line, then plant hard and come back to the disc at an angle. The thrower is still breaking a straight up mark, but in a much more game-like situation where she has to be more deliberate about what type of throw she uses when (i.e., where's the throwing window?). The marker can also practice her straight up mark while receiving cues from the next person in line acting like the sideline.

Fury used this drill much more frequently than the standard 3-man drill to good effect.

Kyle Weisbrod said...

Who is Fury?

Seriously though, I agree that there are ways to modify the drill to better "replicate an element of your teams offense or defense." There are just trade-offs with those.

The trade-off in your drill is that the number of touches is reduced by a full 67%. I would (and do) run that drill in specific practices where we are doing additional focused work on marking and breaking the mark.

parinella said...

With any of these drills, you can more closely simulate real offense or defense by visualizing lines on the field and a cutter. Are you trapped on the line trying to break it across the field? Are you on the line being forced middle trying to get an upline pass? Are you in the middle of the field trying to get a quick i/o to start the flow? Picturing one of those will enable you to throw to a "cutter" even if the receiver isn't moving. (You should do the same thing when you are just throwing.)

But if you want a variant that has an actual cutter, run it inside a 10-15 yard box. The orientation of the field changes by 90 degrees after each pass (this can be tricky the first few times). Start with thrower and marker on the south side of the box, facing north, slight backhand force. Cutter starts west and cuts east (if you prefer, he fakes northeast and comes back southeast). This is a typical break pass in front of the disc. The disc is now on the east side. New thrower faces west. Whoever is marking runs over and again does a slight backhand force. Whoever is cutting cuts to the north side. Continue. It's important that the cutter reorients himself after catching the disc and sets up facing the proper way so the marker can come over and get a good mark on and the new cutter knows where to go.

SHark said...

Personally a fan of the box drill for these reasons. (the version where cutter starts from one corner to the middle, makes 45 degree cut out, receiving disc nearly inside box.) If taught right.

- quick reps for accel and decel.
- Good chance to teach chopping steps and getting low to slow down to a speed where you can change direction IE 45degree angle.
- Chance to work on change of speed to make separation from defense.
I think too often youth are taught to cut at 100% speed at all times, where this drill teaches to cut into the box at a slower than 100% speed (slow enough to change direction fast) and explode out at 100%. It's a great step towards learning how to make defenders move at 100% the wrong way, and making some explosive separation.
- Good reps in turning and assessing a leading pass out to space to an active cutter immediately.

Not all players would consider these fundamentals, however teaching this stuff early can give players new tools, and probably save some injuries the way.


Tarr said...

My team frequently ran the version of the box drill where the cutter comes from the opposite corner of the box from the thrower. Once people get over whining about how it's confusing, it works well and actually simulates basic swing passes fairly well. As an added bonus, the risk of collisions is significantly reduced.

Mike said...

A stepped-up version of this drill that I've done simply involves putting a defender on the receiver so they have to cut to get open, simulating a game situation where the handler is trapped on the sideline and trying to make a dump. I found that it worked pretty well without making things needless complicated.

That said, I prefer the simple 3-man version when developing skills for inexperienced players. If you are trying to coach up good athletes on their handling skills, I find that just getting them used to throwing against a mark is harder than making the adjustment to hitting somebody on the move.

The 3-man marking drill is simple and effective. I know that it has helped my game immensely.

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