Drills vs Games
We often get asked this question by kids and parents,
‘Why aren’t we doing any drills?’
The science of Skill Acquisition has evolved.
Traditionally, football coaching wisdom has led us to believe that to improve a skill we need to break it down into small chunks, perfect the technique through explicit instructional feedback and then practice that skill for thousands of repetitions in a controlled environment. Once that skill has been mastered, we can then take that skill into a game situation and apply it. This dogma is still alive and kicking amongst ‘prehistoric’ coaches today. Unfortunately, this concept is fundamentally flawed.
Without wanting to bore you, let’s look at some of the science.
Human learning is highly task specific. So the task of Striking the Ball in a pre-planned way in a drill, (without opposition or decision making), is a very different task from Striking the Ball in response to positioning and movement of teammates/defenders in a real game. The less these tasks resemble each other in terms of perceptual information the less likely it is that there will be transfer from one to another.
So the notion that young players must learn skills through drills in isolation is flawed.
“Techniques learned by the player in isolation, (drills), usually do not transfer to the game because the player has to essentially re-learn the skill, (almost from scratch), within the ever-changing context of the game. As a result, it makes you wonder whether the skill would have been better taught within the game context in the first place.”Rick Fenoglio
Drills also encourage a coach-driven explicit instruction as to how to perform a skill and the use of demonstrations often accompanies the drills with expectations that it will be imitated by the player. This ‘teaching’ as quoted above by the great Jean Piaget, can neglect the power of self-discovery through implicit learning.
And another from Perception-Action expert Dr Andrew Wilson:
“The old-school way of thinking about learning is as you describe; the learner has to acquire some core competence, a motor programme that they can then roll out on demand and tweak to fit the current context. This, frankly, isn’t true at all. Learning really requires that you spend time learning to perceive the relevant information which will support your action selection and control, and this information is only created by the task as it unfolds. So learning to kick in drills is not learning to kick in the game and there really will be relearning required.”
Pirlo says it all here in how valuable game intelligence is.
And as obvious as it may seem, it needs to be said that game intelligence or game sense is best developed in a game situation. Drills give limited opportunity for this when in isolation. A player standing on a cone, for example, is immediately removed from making a decision in relation to their positioning and spacial awareness. The solution is already given, “Stand here!”.
So why is their so much focus on improving skills through drills when we can design games that can best develop skill AND game intelligence all at once?!
This is why the GAME PLAY LEARN Approach will rarely use ‘drills’ within practice sessions. We prefer a game based approach, upholding the game’s integrity and utilising carefully manipulated constraints to achieve our objectives within a session.
The next time you see a coach utilising drills in a football session, let them know,
‘Drills are for dentists, not sport!’