Bad Drills

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Practice is the central activity of a coach’s work.  It is the time and place where the game and its elements are taught.  Therefore, the coach’s training methodology is key to defining him and his coaching.  Like everything else, there is are debates about training methodology.  The science of motor learning seems to be pretty clear that distributed practice and specificity are key ideas.  Likewise differential learning has scientific underpinnings.  Tradition also strongly influences training methodology, especially in countries with a long and successful volleyball history.

Drills are the central activity of practice.  Drills should follow the coach’s training methodology and be logically sequenced to optimise the benefits of each drill and practice as a whole.  All drills must have a purpose, both primary and secondary.  And they must make sense with regards to the skills and techniques of volleyball and the game itself.

Every so often one comes across drills that are more or less inexplicable, that don’t follow any logic or obvious training methodology.  In short, they don’t make sense.  Last week I came across two such drills.

The first is a very famous warm up drill.  The video is short and explains it well.  The first part of the explanation I am happy to get on board with.  Performing volleyball specific movements in the warm up makes sense.  Sadly, after that the logic gets very imaginative indeed.  Rhythm is absolutely essential in volleyball.  But rhythm in volleyball is not all players doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time nor is it some kind of call and response activity.  Rhythm in volleyball is all players responding to the ball and each other at the appropriate moment, acting in concert rather than in unison.  Seen in this way, the efficacy of the drill for volleyball is far more questionable.  When performed by a team, it is doubtless an impressive feat of discipline*, but so are displays by North Korean schoolchildren.  Neither make you better at playing volleyball.

The second drill can be seen here**.

To summarise, it is a normal set of volleyball, except at the end of each point the server runs back to position and serve as soon as they are ready.  This is one of those drills that seams like a reasonable idea until you think about it for 15 or 20 seconds.  Anything longer than that and you have to ask yourself some serious questions.  For example, ‘how is this related to the game of volleyball?’  In volleyball, there is only one activity that is totally under the control of the player and occurs in the complete absence of time pressure.  This drill serves (no pun intended) to add time stress to a situation in which none exists.  Ever.  By all means add extra balls to shorten the breaks between rallies, but NOT with a serve.  All that does is practice serving badly***.

Just because a drill is used by a famous coach does not mean it is a good drill.  Just because a drill is complex or difficult or imaginative does not mean it is a good drill****.  A good drill helps players get better at playing volleyball.  And these two drills do nothing to achieve that goal.  When watching a training or a drill on YouTube, it is important for all coaches to ask why any drill is being used, does it follow an obvious training methodology and is it part of the game.  If the answer is no to these questions, then it is not a good drill. It is a bad drill.

* …and makes the coach feels like he has achieved something.

** I could easily have chosen the second drill shown in the facebook post as an example.

*** I have actually seen this drill performed with the instruction to serve as fast as possible. The team would have been better served by playing soccer for practice. At least then they wouldn’t have practiced anything actively counter productive.

**** In fact the more complicated the drill was, the more I would question it.


  1. You mention “discipline” which is in many ways part of a team sport, as we all know. Often times, however, team discipline becomes POWER DISCOURSE as the French philosopher Michel Foucault described in Discipline and Punish, the goal being the creation of “docile bodies” (as Foucault puts it). Just look at I would argue that this type of footwork performed just anywhere on the court is not very helpful, but mostly, seeing a whole team move in sync, just for the sync’s sake (same move done at the same time and calling “mine” at the end of it, i.e. too late, in a choir) … this upsets me. This takes the concept of bad drill to the next level – blind obedience to stupid rules.


  2. I do not think any coach should waste time, but for sure a coach who has limited gym time with his team should be very concerned about creating/choosing drills that work. If one has the possibility and wants to train his players 6h a day and wastes 10 minutes, ok, it might not be that much of a problem. But a European non-professional coach has between 3 and 8 hours training time per week, so do most American club coaches, and NCAA coaches have the biggest time issues (relative to their level of competition) among all coaches in the world. AND yes, people like and copy.


  3. As always, the opportunities to learn useful things must be balanced with the total time available to learn required skills and abilities.

    I’ve actually done a ‘rhythm’ passing and setting drill as per the video and found it really interesting. The rhythm itself isn’t the challenging thing, what was challenging for the athletes was to control both the location and the height of the play AND have this in sync with that of their teammates.

    I quite liked the drill as a ‘fun’ different drill as part of a warmup. Having said that, I wouldn’t use it regularly because I believe there are more important uses of time.


  4. Not sure, if it really should make us feel not so bad, but it seems that bad drills is nothing particular to volleyball. Ironically this drill (used in football, though it has nothing to do with it) is named “sense ball”: The caoch is on records with claiming, that it has made his team better.


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