Over the course of the next couple of articles, we are going to attempt to modernize the way you use drills to incorporate a constraints-led approach to drills and open your mind to helping your players think and find solutions to the chaos of a football game.
The goal of good coaching should be to help your players find solutions to the ever-evolving problems that arise in a football game instead of giving them the solution.
For example, have you ever changed one variable in a drill such as a double team drill where you blitz a linebacker into a gap rather than just have him stand statically and be blocked? What happens with your offensive linemen? If they have never seen that before in the drill, then one of two things happen: They either self-organize and find a solution to the problem or they screw it up. If they self-organize and solve the problem then you are in great shape, but what typically happens is they immediately look back to you for the solution.
You can’t be on the field with them to solve that problem so looking to you is a signal that you have to help them solve these problems on their own.
The Key to Creating Good Drills
The key to creating situations to solve these problems in a drill/practice environment is to create “repetitions without repetition (a phrase we can attribute to Andrew Ryland of USA Football and the text, The Constraints-Led Approach: Principles for Sports Coaching and Practice Design by Ian Renshaw, Keith Davids, Daniel Newcombe, and Will Roberts.)
Essentially “repetitions without repetition” is solving the task of skill within a drill format with multiple repetitions, but changing and scaffolding the variables within that drill to help your players solve the problem that arises within the task much like they will have to in a game because other football players are dynamic beings. Other players don’t line up, move, or use the same technique in a silo and in perpetual consistency.
If you never change the variables of a drill, essentially your players become experts at a drill and will even cheat the drill.
The drill then doesn’t transfer over to your team periods or the game. How many reading this have ever had an athlete work a drill and look fantastic in completing the skill only to go to a team period and completely screw it because the variables changed? For example, a pulling guard has drill kicking out the end man on the line of scrimmage and perfected it in a drill environment where the defensive end steps across the line of scrimmage, but in the first play of your team period, the defensive end wrong arms the pull and the guard looks foolish?
The best way we can illustrate this approach is to provide a series of drill examples to help spark you to think about the way you design and control the variables within the constraints of your drill.
In this article, we are going to utilize a half-line screen drill that Coach Blazer uses with his offensive line to help you conceptualize how to create repetitions of the same task without repetition. One of the hallmarks of a constraint-led approach to coaching is utilizing small-sided games.
Essentially, half-line or 7 on 7 are football-based examples of a small-sided game. The elements of gameplay of football are there, but you have reduced the number of players or other constraints to focus on a smaller grouping of players completing a task.
In this Half Line Drill, we are going to work a slip screen to the outside receiver and involve the receiver, the three offensive linemen to the play side, and the quarterback. We start with the basics of the play.
The Basics of the Drill
This screen is always thrown to the hash. The receiver stems and then comes back to catch the ball behind the line of scrimmage. In Coach Blazer’s terminology, the play side tackle is releasing to block #1 who in Diagram 1 is the cornerback rolled up. The guard is releasing to #2 (the outside linebacker) and the center is sifting up to the inside linebacker.
In this iteration of the drill, things are static. The players being blocked are where they are supposed to be and play it as you have shown your athletes.
Here is where the variation has to come to help your players start solving the problems that arise within this task.
Forewarning, your players have to truly understand the original task and the concept of the play fully before you start any variation. This isn’t for beginning freshmen offensive linemen until they understand the basics. With your more advanced players, you start to change the variables to the play without telling them this is what is going to happen because you want them to self-organize and learn to solve the problem without feeding them the situation.
Adding Variables to the Drill
Diagram 2 illustrates a variation you could throw at them in the drill. The corner drops and is no longer a threat to be #1. The outside linebacker flies out to become the new #1. Your tackle then has to adjust to who the new #1 is.
Your receiver may have to adjust what he does after he catches the ball based upon with the tackle has to do to block the new #1 and so on. The variables of the drill just changed like the variables of the play change in the game.
You want your players to be able to adjust and complete the task on their own. Now, they will inevitably make a mistake at some point in the changing of the variables and look to you for the solution.
The variables and variations can come in a variety of manners.
Defenders can line up in different locations, defenders can move post-snap, blitzes, zone drops, stemming, and other player movements can change the variables within the drill. Good practice would also be to have these defenders’ movements be some of the techniques, blitzes and alignments that your scout has shown over your opponent.
While it may help the problem-solving equation to have some inherent randomness, there needs to be a factoring of things that your players are also likely to see within the constraints of your opponents.
Then as your players have the mental bandwidth to handle those variations then you can start to build even more chaos into the drill such as music blaring to simulate crowd noise or doing the drill in a no-huddle tempo.
Another chaos element would be to create some “oh crap” situations where the exact wrong things may happen within the play and have your players make the best out of a crap situation.
As this series moves forward, we will provide more examples of small-sided games concept within drill situations (mostly offensive line based as we are both offensive line nuts!).
Our hope is that this article begins to spark ideas with you in how to bring some of your drills into the 21st Century to have variables and complexity within the constraints of the game and help your players learn and apply solutions on their own when you are on the sideline and they are out on the field.
This article was originally published in Headsets: Volume 1, Issue 8.