Sunday, May 31, 2009

Drill Baby, Drill!

Yesterday I attended the Ozone try-outs. One of the girls I coach during the spring season is on the team and three others were trying out. The first drill the team ran to get everyone going was the standard "Endzone" or "Mushroom" drill. The past two years, we've run this well-known drill on Paideia but with a small variation - the goal thrower after throwing the goal, moves to the sideline to receive the disc back from the goal scorer while the next player from the front line steps out to set up a game-like reset* cut (starting 10-12 yards laterally from the thrower, driving up line and then coming back in order to receive the reset).

While I was watching the drill yesterday, every one of the Paideia Girls after throwing the goal automatically moved to the sideline before remembering that the drill was not the same. Seeing how all of them automatically executed an element of a drill without thinking reinforced the power of drills.

I was talking to Tiina Booth at HS Easterns while watching the Paideia Boys play Columbia HS. We were talking about goal setting for games (the Paideia girls set goals for each half of each game). She said that she used to do this but has stopped because it increases the amount of thinking that players need to do on the field and she doesn't want her players to think.

This to me, is the primary value of drills. Running well-designed drills over and over again eliminates the unnecessary thinking that results in mistakes and miscommunication on the Ultimate field. In order to eliminate thinking all together drills must be run to the point where they become boring and feel repetitive. Teams will often try to run a lot of different drills in order to keep players engaged, but the irony of it is that the keeping players engaged only happens when players think and as long as players have to think think your team will not receive the full benefit of the drill.

So, identify the skills and tactics that your team needs. Design as few drills as possible that train those skills and tactics. And run those drills until everyone gets bored with them- while focusing most on the ones that give you highest value for time spent. If everyone is bored with your drills and can execute them with their eyes closed or while having a conversation (or while trying to run another drill) you'll know that the lessons of your drill have become ingrained.

*Just so everyone is clear, whenever I say "reset" I mean "dump." I prefer the term because it doesn't have the somewhat negative connotation that "dump" has. "Dump" also implies that the disc goes backward when a good reset changes the attacking space of the offense by moving the disc laterally, or in some cases, upfield.

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.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Fundamental Drills for Offense (question)

Growing up in a straight stack (originally with no backfield reset) offense I feel pretty comfortable stating that the 2 drills that I find fundamental to that offense are the mushroom drill and the 3 line drill. Clearly there are more drills that can be done for a vertical offense, and there are many variants of these drills depending on how you want to run your offense. These 2 drills focus on the two main parts of the offense, resetting the disc and cutting downfield. I can easily explain the transition between those drills to play on the field for a young/new player.

I feel like I've been floundering with the horizontal offense. I can run it just fine, but coming up with drills that teach the basics of the offense has been difficult. Just like vertical I'm sure there are tons of variants of drills depending on how each teach specifically runs their H, but I was wondering what some common drills are that teams use to teach players how to cut in a horizontal offense. Especially stuff that people have tried with new players to get them to see the space created in an H-stack and learn how to cut in that space. Thanks.