Drills With No Defense Are Pointless? Use Small-Sided Games Or Drills With Defenders Instead?!?

In regards to this recent drill Partner Pass and Pivot we posted, a coach replied with this.

"There's no defense, so this really is a pointless drill. They need to learn to pass and pivot with defense as that's what's going to happen in game."

Here is the video of the drill.

The coach actually has a great point! Early in my coaching career, I spent way too much time on drills with no defense. So what happened when our teams went and played games... we didn't know how to play when a defender was there! We didn't know how to attack the defense.

Using drills with defenders or small-sided games has tremendous value and should be a staple of everybody's practices!

And it's something we've been preaching in our newsletters and on our website for years.

However, I don't think the drills without defenders are pointless. It all depends on your objective.

So in this article, we're going to discuss a few important things...

  • 3 Reasons to Use Drills Without Defenders.
  • Critical Mistake Often Made by Coaches When Adding Defenders!
  • Important Reason to Use Different Teaching Methods.
  • The Best of Both Worlds!? The Sandwich Approach Using Drills with Defenders!

Reason #1 - Teaching a Skill First Without the Defense May Remove Stress and Speed Up Learning!

When you add stress when first teaching a concept or skill, it can slow down the learning process. In this situation, adding defenders can potentially add stress. So one way to teach is to...

1 - Teach the skills or habits without a defense in a drill setting.

2 - Progress to a game-like situation with defenders that practice the same skills and habits.

So you could use the partner and pivot drill without defenders to teach the skills of pivoting and passing.

To add defenders, an example would be 3 on 3 where you do not allow dribbling. When you don't allow the dribble and play 3 on 3, this is a great way to work on pivoting, passing, and moving without the ball in game-like situation!

Not saying this is the only way, but it's another way to teach and have success.

Age level, skill level, and experience, among other potential things, can also affect what kind of teaching approach you use.

Reason #2- Isolate and Improve a Specific Skill with Even Advanced Players!

Also, you could take this basic drill with advanced players to elevate a particular skill set even more.

Say for example, you want your high school or college players to improve the quickness of the pivot. By doing this, you can face the basket more quickly. This enables you to get more open shots. It also puts more pressure on the defense, forces them to rush at you, which creates driving lanes.

You can also quickly pivot into a better passing angle before the defense can react to deflect, deter, or pressure a pass.

You could use a drill like this for a few different reasons.

One, you get a bunch of reps in a short amount of time.

If you're using competitive drills with three or four offensive players, there is no way you are getting as many repetitions! Even in a 1 on 1 drill, it would be nearly impossible to get as many reps!

Two, it removes fear of failure from the equation.

They're not worrying about what a defender is doing or how they're going to attack a situation. They're not worried about making a mistake in a competitive situation and losing playing time. They're just focusing on developing the skill of pivoting quicker.

By going faster and getting outside their comfort zone, they're probably going to fall over the place, lose their balance, and travel at first. However, in just a short time, they will quickly adapt and get better at the skill.

And it's not like you have to spend a bunch of time. You might spend two or three minutes ramping up the intensity or focusing on a specific skill before progressing.

Then you can move to a shooting drill that replicates the footwork. Then you can progress to a game-like drill where you have to attack the defense.

Reason #3 - Warm Up!

Using a drill like the partner pivot and pass can also be a great way to get the body warmed at the beginning of practice or before a game. Before going full speed or attacking a defender, this gets the joints loose and your body ready for a higher intensity of play.

Critical Mistake Often Made by Coaches - Waiting Too Long to Add Defenders to Drills!

Also, here is another mistake you might make. I know that I did at the beginning of my coaching career.

You wait too long to introduce drills against defenders. You do so because you want ALL of the skills to be perfected first. That way, the players are successful when placed in a competitive situation.

This is a huge mistake... even with players that are beginners!

You should apply the skills taught or practiced to a game situation almost immediately, as in a few minutes later directly after the drill or later in the practice. You don't need to practice all of the skills. You don't need to perfect the skills. Your players don't need to be aware of all of the skills.

How did you learn to play? Did you learn to play via drills in a practice setting only?

There is a lot of research showing implicit learning, learning through experience and learning skills naturally without specifically being taught, can have tremendous benefits. The learning is unconscious in a way. So don't feel like you need to teach a bunch of skills before progressing to a drill with defenders.

Also, we can't forget the fun aspect. You want your players to enjoy the game, so they actually want to practice and improve on their own. Sometimes, being too serious and doing drills that can become boring can have the opposite impact!

And from a big picture perspective, we want them to enjoy the game, so they can use it as a tool to stay fit and healthy as adults!

But don't forget....

Important Reason to Use Different Teaching Methods - Everybody Learns Differently!

Due to a person's environment and genetics, there are so many factors that affect how each individual learns. Most of these things are not controllable by you. And the ability to teach in different ways can speed up your team's learning and be a huge advantage for a coach!

You could have a player that is very hesitant and scared when first learning a skill in a competitive situation. So starting with a skill in a non-competitive way might be better for this player.

Another player may just find isolation drills without defense boring. It's almost impossible to get them fully engaged. The repetitions aren't providing any benefit. So they might respond better to drills with defenders.

Because of this, maybe using this hybrid approach is another great alternative for team settings...

The Best of Both Worlds!? The Sandwich Approach Using Drills with Defenders!

Here is another teaching method that is slightly different. It's kind of like a sandwich approach. And it might be the best of both worlds!

1 - Without teaching the skills, you introduce a drill with defenders.

2 - Remove the defense then isolate and practice the necessary skills.

3 - Go back to the drill with defenders.

So rather than starting the segment teaching anything, you would just introduce the drill.

So now, you would start with the 3 on 3 drill with no dribbling allowed. Then you would progress to the partner and pivot drill to focus on a specific skill. Then you would go back to 3 on 3 with no dribbling allowed.

Starting with the small-sided game first can work great for a few reasons!

  • You can see what skills your players are deficient in and you don't waste time!

    So rather than wasting your time progressing through skills that your players don't need to practice, you can skip them and focus on specific skills that need more attention.

  • It provides immediate context for the player that improves skill development!

    When you start with a small-sided game that focuses on particular skills, when you progress to isolate and practice the particular skills, you might not even need to tell them why you're practicing it because they can immediately put it into context. They already had to use the skills. They already experienced the situation.

    This can improve engagement and effort because they fully understand why the skill is important which leads to better skill development!

  • Variation is fun!

    Mixing things up and doing things differently keeps players engaged. That's just a simple fact. To mix up drills every so often or the way that you teach is a great way to better your team's skill development!

    Let Us Know Your Thoughts! Do You Agree? Are There Other Teaching Methods You Like To Use?

    Well, those are some of my thoughts on the topic and hopefully they helped you in some way. We'd love to hear your thoughts as well below!


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    Doug says:
    12/9/2018 at 11:23:03 AM

    I really enjoyed the article. A solidly supported reasoning of why you coach the way you do.


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