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Defensive Drills: Work or Training?

I recently wrote about a Vern Gambetta blog which questioned whether players merely worked hard or trained to improve.

I hate to call out other trainers, but some of the videos that I see on YouTube leave me shaking my head. Here is an example of players “working hard” but not improving:

First, I have never understood the rationale for holding balls out to the side. Sure, it makes it harder. When I worked overnight camps and teenagers misbehaved in the middle of the night, we used it as punishment. But, to improve performance? I do not understand.

Next, nobody actually plays defense with their backs straight (as in perpendicular to the floor). I know coaches have players do wall sits to improve defense, but it works a different position and different posture than the one used to play defense. Every defensive player flexed at the hips. You simply cannot move quickly with your back perpendicular to the floor and your knees bent.

Next, the players point their toes in the direction of their movement. Why? There is no advantage to pointing your toes. It creates a slower movement. As you can see, the players basically pull with their lead foot. There is no real push with their trail foot. It is the traditional step-and-drag movement. This movement is slow.

Next, focus on the change of direction. A defender’s true skill is the ability to react to an offensive player and change directions quickly. This drill has no reaction and does not train the change of direction. Look at the first player’s knee as he stops: his knee bends forward (to the right of the screen). He cannot change directions quickly. He has nothing to brake and push off against. A correct change of direction would have the players’ toes pointed forward and they would stop with their foot outside their knee and their knee outside their hip to create an angle to meet their momentum and push in the direction that they want to go.

Finally, defense is quickness. Nobody ever takes that many defensive slides in one direction and nobody moves that slowly when guarding someone.

This drill is the definition of a drill that is hard, but has very little (if any) transfer to improved performance. If the drill does not improve performance, why do it? Why do we want to make players work hard for the sake of working hard? The Mirror Defense Drill is a more game-like drill (reaction skills and quick changes of direction), is more intense, is more physically taxing and is fun. Why use a purposeless hard drill instead of a fun physically challenging game with relevance to game performance?

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