I can understand how some Coaches are amazed when I broach the topic that doing drills at training is not an effective way to improve our players. For a major part of my life I too believed that drills were essential to improving as a footballer.
Looking back I can see how I thought this way. Most training I did as a player was very much drills, drills, drills and a little game at the end if all went well. I cannot remember any adult or Coach placing any particular importance on the game at the end either.
So how did I start thinking differently?
When I first started coaching the first thing that I noticed was that I disliked coaching drills almost as much as I disliked doing them when I was a player. I found them very boring and when players asked about when they were going to play a game I really sympathised with them.
Everything I read or heard about coaching at this point seemed to have two common themes we need to make sure the players get as many touches of the ball as possible and the players need to enjoy the sessions.
The perfect answer for me at the time seemed to be juggling the ball and learning moves with a ball. The players would get lots of touches and the majority of them seemed to really enjoy it. Plus I enjoyed this far more than coaching drills.
Next I got told about playing small sided games such as Line Football or 4 Goal Football and this seemed to meet the criteria as well plus it placated my lingering worries that the players were not passing the ball enough in my sessions.
There were two major turning points for me that I can look back and think that affected my thinking towards doing even more Games Based Training and gradually using less juggling or practicing moves in my sessions.
One was when I was involved in selecting a representative squad to compete at a National Championship. The trials started out with possibly 150+ players and when we had whittled this down to just 25-30 players I wrote out my opinion on each player and whether I thought they should be selected or not. I noticed that regularly I was assessing players as having a very high technical level but then not recommending they be picked.
It stayed in the back of my mind for months that how could a player get to have a high technical level but wasn’t really that good at playing football.
The second turning point came when I was coaching my daughter’s team. The team had an influx of about 4/5 players who had never played before. It became very apparent that they literally had ‘never played before’ and I had a lot of work to do to find a way to do sessions with these new players and the existing players.
I decided to do the majority of the training using small sided games so that I can improve their ‘game sense’ if nothing else while still keeping the better players happy. By the end of the season it was obvious that doing the training this way the new player’s technical level plus their ‘game sense’ had improved massively.
At this stage I was thinking more that Games Based Training worked because the players got lots of touches and enjoyed playing games. I thought as the players were enjoying themselves they simply learnt how to play football quicker.
Then I started to look into the theory behind Skill Acquisition and for the first time understood why Games Based Training actually worked. The amount of times the players touched the ball helped plus the players enjoying themselves helped enormously. However the essence of its success was that the players were practicing everything they needed to improve at football. They were practicing assessing the football situation, making a decision based on that assessment and then executing that decision all at the same time.
Now I totally understand how a player can have high technical ability but not be a good footballer.
If I look at my coaching career I think if I had enjoyed doing drills as a player or coaching drills as a Coach would I still be doing them. The answer is probably yes.
Also something for me to remember is that I never stopped doing drills because I realised they were inefficient so that isn’t something that I should expect other Coaches to realise either.
It took me many years of trial and error and plenty of research to realise that Games Based Training worked better so I shouldn’t expect Coaches to accept this within a few minutes of discussing the topic.
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Till next time