Drills, Games, and Problem Solving

My topic for the B.C. Basketball Youth Coaching Summit was games to use for skill development with children. The summit was geared for the coaches of 8-14 year-olds. Fortunately, I have a decent number of games and drills that I use for skill development that I developed or borrowed over the last 15+ years of coaching. However, initially, many of the drills or games that I use today were developed as solutions to problems.

Some of the games that I demonstrated, like 2v2 Rabbit, are borrowed. We played Rabbit tournaments at the camp, Sly Park Basketball School, that I attended as a teen. I have used the game since I started to coach, as it is a fast-moving game that involves a number of players without a lot of standing in line, and it creates more realistic game scenarios.

Other drills that I use, like 2v2 Rugby, started as solutions to problems. When I coached an u9 boys team, the club director insisted that we spent more practice time playing as opposed to doing drills. 2v2 Rugby fit our goals, as we wanted to develop ball handling skills, lay-ups, individual defense, and competitiveness. Also, since most teams pressed, the game worked on the initial trap and the initial pass out of the trap, while creating numerous transition opportunities, like youth games.

The first time that we played 2v2 Rugby, it had no name. It was something that we made up at the start of a practice to keep the early arrivers active. The only time that we had a full court to use for practice was when the other teams stretched (we shared a high school gym with 3-4 other teams from the club); while they stretched, we played. As soon as players arrived, they started with full court games. This was our conditioning. This was our ball-handling practice. This was our transition drill. This was our press break.

Rather than break into various segments, we played. We came up with a solution within our practice constraints based on the number of baskets, number of players, timing, and skills that we wanted to develop and needed to practice.

A drill is just a drill. It has very little meaning in and of itself. The drill’s utility comes when it is used to solve a problem (or to present a problem for solving). Therefore, the best drills often develop organically within a practice to solve a very specific problem, but are not necessarily generalizable from situation to situation.

For instance, I once trained a player who struggled to stop in a good position when he shot. I had him do bounds into his shot. I had another player who struggled to link the various movements in her shot, so we did medicine ball shots. These were developed for very specific purposes, but they are not drills that I do with every player. They are ideas in the back of my head that I can draw upon if presented a player with similar needs, but not something I would introduce to coaches as a shooting drill.

Sometimes, when you create a solution to a problem, it has universal adaptability, like the 2v2 Rugby game. Sometimes, the drill has a singular purpose and the coach may never use it again.

The ability to identify a problem and create a solution is coaching. That’s the purpose of drills. Too often, coaches scribble down drills or watch youtube clips and copy someone else’s drills without understanding the purpose. Without a purpose, a drill is a means of passing time. The purpose turns a drill or game into a means for skill development.

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