Do you practice skills or game situations?
As I continue to look at the practice plans of coaches, I notice that most coaches focus on practicing Game Situations. Their practices are the ones that jump from one situation to another situation. For basketball, they may go from a transition drill to a defensive rebounding drill to a press break and then to half court situations. They may play against a half court zone or man to man. There might be some set inbound plays and other situation. For lacrosse, there might be clears and rides, transitions, man-ups and half field 6v6 or 7v7. The focus on these types of practices is perfecting the SITUATION.
Creating a practice plan to “cover” the game situations is easy and basically involves a coach determining which situations they want to cover. There doesn’t have to be any thought as to the order of these situations. Coaches typically look at their season schedule and calculate what situations need to be covered by their first game or their rival game or the playoffs. As mentioned in previous posts, these practices typically have no buildup or progressions, any logical sequencing and a very frenetic pace. The only focus on skills is done in corrective feedback such as,
“We’re not getting open!”
“We have to take better shots!”
“We gotta play tougher defense!”
But these types of situation-focused practices do not properly teach the skills as the focus is on teaching the situations to apply those skills.
On the other hand, I have seen just a few coaches who focus on skill development throughout the course of the practice. These coaches are not only focused on teaching skills in isolation but also in teaching HOW to apply those skills in game situations. There are defined progressions and sequential buildups as the players take the skill and slowly progress to more competitive situations. The players eventually get through the situations but the focus is on applying the SKILLS and developing the game application of those SKILLS. The focus here is in becoming proficient at the skill and therefore better able to execute that skill in a Game situation. Learn the skill first, then apply it in the game situation.
The first approach focuses on the SITUATIONS and hopes that the players will develop their skills from constantly playing in these game situations. Will those players develop technically-sound form and fundamentals from playing in a controlled environment?
Note that this type of practice is different than an unstructured pickup game that children play on their own. (Do they actually do that anymore here in the US?) This may be the case with the developing soccer player throughout the world where they just play soccer, without coaches and structure until age 13 or so, where the players develop their own style and creativity. Those players are also developing their skills that work for them instead of the textbook fundamental definitions. And they are learning the skills, on their own, through playing games. Some will argue that by the time a 13 year old Brazilian starts formal soccer training, they are close to that magical 10,000 hours deemed by Malcolm Gladwell to be the critical tipping point. However, here in the states, youth sports have become very structured so that self discovery and self teaching of skills has been replaced by controlled learning environments. The use of a Games SITUATION practice plan does not allow the players to develop those skills on their own.