Here’s a question I came across that I know probably every coach deals with at some point.

How long should you keep your team in a ball control drill? My kids were aiming for 10 balls in a row in a continuous butterfly drill (not hitting down balls, just setting/passing the ball over) and it took them 45 minutes to an hour to do. I’ve heard some coaches say they continue the drill until the players get it but at a certain point I think it would lose its productivity.

First, I have some thoughts on butterfly drills. But we can put that aside for the moment.

Second, we have to consider the complexity of the exercise. Is it possible that you put the target too high and that’s why it’s taking so long? If so, find a way to cut the requirement and gracefully move on.

Assuming the target is within the team’s capability, the next consideration is focus and priority. What is the drill’s focus and how does it tie in with the priorities you’ve set for that practice?

I think it’s pretty stupid to run a drill for a long time if it doesn’t contribute meaningfully to what you’re trying to accomplish that session. For example, let’s say your big focus for the day is serve reception. How much does the drill described in the question achieve in that regard? Very little, right? So while it might be fine as a warm-up exercise, to let it become a big chunk of your available practice time is a massive waste. Put a time limit on it, so you can move on to the important stuff.

It’s a completely different situation if that drill is about the main focus of your practice. Here’s an example.

I will, from time to time, intentionally run practices I know are likely to induce frustration in the players. I plan them that way. It’s about giving them the opportunity to develop coping skills for the inevitable times they experience those situations in matches. In situations like this, one of my go-tos is the Hard Drill, a cooperative back-court attacking exercise which puts a premium both on execution and decision-making. It takes as long as it takes. I work in breaks if it goes for a while, but we don’t move on until we reach the goal.

This then brings up the question of whether you carry a drill over from one practice to the next. If it’s an important developmental focus, then I say yes. And let the players know it’s going to happen. If it isn’t developmentally your top priority, then maybe come back and try again some other time, but don’t fixate on it.

Note, it’s not a good idea to turn a drill into something it wasn’t meant to be. If you have a target based drill that you planned to go for a certain amount of time, after which you’d move on to something else, stick to that unless you have a REALLY good reason to change the plan. Don’t suddenly decide you’re working on mental toughness when the plan was to focus on something else. If you do a good job identifying your priorities and developing practices based on them, then you’re better of sticking to your plan. Make note of what you see in the problem exercise, then think about addressing it in a future session.

Those are my thoughts. Agree? Disagree?

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

    1 Response to "How long should I stay with a drill?"

    • Avatar Kelly Daniels

      John,
      Back in my young days before we had the sharing community we have today, I learned one thing about drills longevity. If it’s not working, sure limit the goal (successful reps/time) or STOP and come back to it later. I found out stop and return later works for me. Athletes learn that they can just think since they are not successful we just move on. To me this defeats the purpose of learning. Knowing regardless we will come back to the drill seem to put emphasis on working to get it done the first time.
      This is just my experience.

      Koach Kelly…

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