With all drills, you want them to be as game-like as possible, while at the same time stripping them down to practice only the things you’re really interested in. You might want to remove much of the complexity of real games so that you get lots of reps at a particular skill, but you don’t generally want that skill to be performed much differently than it would be in a game (except perhaps to get across the basic concept, and you would want to fairly quickly add in more realism – otherwise you’re practising the wrong things).
One of the common challenges in designing good drills is in creating a realistic defensive situation; often, when a defender knows which skill you’re working on, she can ‘cheat’ to prevent it – which of course is not going to create realistic conditions. It’s almost never a good idea to ask the defender not to cheat, or to play at half-effort, because that removes realism and intensity from the drill.
Ideally, you would structure your drills so that the defender is also making realistic decisions – e.g. if the offence has two different options then the defence cannot normally overplay one of them. But it’s not always easy to make those two (or more) options balanced, and a defender may still rationally decide to cheat, meaning that you only ever practice one of the two options. Or, equally likely, you may be working on something so specific that you don’t want the additional complexity of giving the offence more options, but you’d still like a defender around to encourage crisp execution and intensity.
There are lots of small tweaks you can use to handicap the defence but still allow them to try hard – starting them from two yards behind the cutter, or making them keep their eyes closed until an ‘Up!’ shout, or infinitely many others. One I like – and which can be used in all sorts of different throwing drills – is the concept of an ‘honesty guy’.
One of the most common things required to make a drill game-like is a force – but if we’re working on a particular cut or throw then the marker will be able to cheat very easily to block that single option. Often, a good drill will have options to both the open and break sides to keep the marker honest – but that’s not always possible when working on specific throws or cuts.
For example, at a basic level, you might wish to have a force on a simple huck drill or leading-pass drill, to create some game-like pressure on the thrower and encourage proper pivots and quick releases. The marker, however, will face a huge temptation to go straight-up with the force because she knows where the throw is going. This isn’t very game-like for the thrower, because in general the defender would not over-commit to the open side in this way – or if she did, we would expect the thrower to take advantage and break the force.
What we can do is create a break-force option for the thrower (and make it clear that allowing that option is a failure on the part of the marker*). And we can create that break-force option – without complicating the drill for the cutters or requiring additional queues of people – simply by having the coach stand unmarked in a position that the thrower ought never to be able to reach with an around break.
The force in this example** [click on the image to enlarge] is forehand (for a right-hander, at least). If the thrower is able to get a backhand break – around the mark – to the honesty guy, then that’s pretty clear evidence that the mark is cheating to the open side.
The exact angle and distance of the honesty guy will vary depending on the skill of the players or how aggressively your team chooses to pressure the open side (and thus how much risk of a yard-gaining around-break you are willing to concede). But for any meaningful force, there must always be a point at which it would be considered over-committing if the thrower was able to get an around-break to that spot. Stand someone right there, and you will give the defender a reason to force properly, and to bite somewhat on fakes in that direction – which will make all the difference to the realism of your drill.
What similar tricks have you found for designing more realistic drills?