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There are many advantages to drills

This is an excerpt from Rugby Games & Drills eBook by Rugby Football Union & Simon Worsnop.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Drills

Simple drills have the following advantages:

  • They are easy to set up and organise in terms of numbers and equipment.
  • They are easy to monitor.
  • Many can be used as purely fitness activities.
  • Players are unable to hide in many of them because they are quite structured and tightly-controlled.

Because of the ease of set-up and the closed nature of simple drills, they can often be combined. You can also combine them in such a way that players go from a very closed activity to progressively more open ones and finally finish with a game. For example, when concentrating on defensive decision making, you can have a group of players move progressively from a repeated static situation in which the attacking players hold shields to the same activity in which the attacking players use the ball and finally to an open modified game (see chapter 10 for more information).

You can also use drills with a fitness emphasis to exhaust players prior to a skill drill to test a particular skill under fatigue. An example of this would be to have the players do some up-and-down shuttles up a grid for one minute and then immediately go into a continuous 3v2+2 in which their attacking, passing, and decision-making skills are pressurised. You can combine attack and defence to test the players' ability to switch from one to the other (e.g., four players could tackle opponents, shields, or bags for a set time or number of tackles and then immediately pick up a ball and work on 4v2+2 for one minute). Skill drills can also be adapted to create technical and physical pressure. Using the work-to-rest principles discussed in chapter 9, you can match these drills to simple interval sessions for conditioning (e.g., repeat a combined skill drill and fitness drill sequence three times).

However, when mixing technical skill and fitness drills, you need to know whether a particular drill develops skill or fitness. In volleyball, Gabbett and colleagues (2006) found that skill-based training improves spiking, setting, and passing accuracy and spiking and passing technique, but has little effect on the physiological and anthropometric characteristics of players. However, the introduction of skill-based games provided the necessary fitness improvements. The results of this study show that skill-based conditioning games offer a specific training stimulus to simulate the physiological demands in junior elite volleyball players. Although the improvements in physical fitness after training were greater with skill-based conditioning games, instructional training resulted in greater improvements in technical skill in these athletes. These findings suggest that a combination of instructional training and skill-based conditioning games is likely to result in the greatest improvements in fitness and skill in junior elite volleyball players (Gabbett 2008).

To receive the benefits of skill-based conditioning games, athletes must perform multiple high-intensity sprint activities using sport-specific movement patterns. The intermittent nature of these games promotes the development of aerobic power as well as sport-specific speed and agility. Your role is to plan skill-based conditioning games accordingly so that the right goals are achieved in terms of rugby and fitness (see chapter 10), and to ensure that they are relevant and applicable to the age and ability of your players. Although there is a place within the field-based conditioning framework for drills, if you see players for a small amount of time each week or deal with children, you must be aware of the potential drawbacks.

Typically what happens is that the coach demonstrates the skill and then provides a large amount of instruction and correction during the drills, but teaches very little during the game. (In a recent study by the Australian Rugby League and the Australian Rugby Union, U10 coaches spent nearly half of their sessions talking!) This method has a number of drawbacks, including the following (Martens 2004):

Over-Emphasis on Technical Skills

In the traditional approach, an over-emphasis on the practice of technique is used at the expense of teaching and practising decision-making skills (i.e., game understanding) and results in drills that require no thinking and often have very little relevance to the game.

Over-Emphasis on Direct Instruction

The traditional approach relies on direct instruction which normally involves the coach telling the players what to do, rather than the players being given situations in which they must solve problems and discover the best method of success.

Away from the backyard, a novice's first introduction to sport in a club or school environment is generally through the traditional route of a purely skill-based approach of technique to cognition. A number of researchers have questioned this approach (Pill 2006). A game understanding approach, which will be discussed in more detail later, is much better for developing players who can think and act for themselves; in that way, it is also a model of player empowerment. Rather than set up an artificial 3v2 situation and tell the players in advance what attacking lines to run, you could ask the players to beat the opposition by exploring space and options, and then ask them about their successes or failures.

Mindless Factor

The traditional approach often takes the skill out of the context of the game by using a number of drills that are not related to the actual game. The principle should be, practise the way you play, and you're more likely to play the way you practised. Is tackling a tackle bag the same as tackling a nimble halfback? Is running unopposed through predetermined plays the same as running against a well-organised and reactive defence? It is one thing to practise a technique in a drill when decisions are minimal; it is quite another thing to perform it well in the pressure of a match. Technical approaches to coaching tend to develop skills out of context, whereas game-sense coaching strives to provide opportunities for learning how skills are applied in the complex and changing conditions encountered in matches (Launder 2003).

The use of rigid, structured drills with very little relevance to the game often leads to boredom, a lack of motivation, and drop-out.

Coaches studied by Richard Light in 2004 suggested that to develop player autonomy, training must place them in situations in which they are required to make decisions independent of the coach. The closer training is to the game, the more motivation there is. The further you get from the game, the less players are motivated. Actual games provide low repetition and high motivation, whereas drills offer high repetition and low motivation. Coaching via “game sense” allows for increased repetition within game contexts, which provides motivation for the players (Light 2004).

Read more about Rugby Games & Drills by Rugby Football Union, Simon Worsnop.

More Excerpts From Rugby Games & Drills eBook