With practice getting underway, let’s looks at a few common drills that you can find coaches all over the U.S. using in youth practices, and why they shouldn’t be used! A lot of drills were created a long time ago without much thought to what, if anything the drill teaches and whether it instills more bad habits than it teaches productive skills. For each drill, I’ll also suggest an alternative that should teach the same skill, but with fewer unintended consequences!
1. Dribble Through Cones
This is an oldie but a goodie. I did it as a kid. If you played as a youth player, you surely did it as well. But let’s think what it teaches. It is basically straight line dribbling, with zig zags, which is almost never used in a game. More importantly though, to go through the cones properly, a player is looking down constantly. We want to teach vision as an integral part of dribbling and that means the head has to come up. We don’t want to start teaching with the head down. As an alternative, you can use corner flags or bicycle flags a dribbling gate. Even better, toss the zig zag dribbling out entirely. Instead of having players stand in a line and wait their turn to dribble, get them all in a confined area
dribbling at the same time. The boundaries of the area will serve to reinforce keeping the ball under control, and by having to avoid their teammates, their eyes will come up and their vision will improve. Either alternative is better than looking down and dribbling through cones.
This is another dribbling game, where the objective is to eliminate your teammate by kicking his ball out of the area. The problem here is that the players who are eliminated first are the ones who need to be in dribbling the most. Change the game from a knockout game to a tag game and keep those players dribbling!
3. Pass to coach, Run and Shoot
We’ve all seen this one. Players stand in a line, pass to a coach who is facing them, receive the ball back and shoot unmarked. Sometimes we see it as a warmup, sometimes as a part of practice. It really doesn’t belong in either place. As a warmup, it is the opposite. Ten to twelve players wait in a line for one shot, chase their ball and come back and wait some more. This is not getting anyone ready to play a match. As a practice drill, you have the same problem of players standing in line. We should aim for a work:rest ratio of 3:1 or 4:1. Anything more than that is wasting a lot of time. Other problems exist in this drill. Why is the coach passing? At a minimum another player could be getting touches. Why would that player pass in this game situation? An advanced central player who is unmarked should be turning and shooting, not playing the ball away. With all defenders eliminated, why would we pass? This drill is just not a productive teaching tool. If you want a drill that gives lots of shots to lots of players AND teaches good pass/shoot decisions, try the Triangle Shooting Drill.
4. Long-lined Relay Races
With or without the ball, if your line is longer than 3-4 players, it is too long. A high intensity activity can call for 4 players to get a 1:3 work-rest ratio. Less intensive activities should have no more than three players in a relay line.