The Sports Doc

Teaching athletes how to transfer practice drills to game situations


If you are a parent or coach who formerly played youth sports, then you probably remember those long days of practice where, at times, it was virtually impossible to connect the drills required by the coach to real-life game situations (Sport Success 360).  Whether it was a footwork drill, sprints, or any other physical or technical athletic drill or exercise, most folks can remember times where it was difficult to connect the practice exercise to what really happens in games.

While athletes might improve strength, speed, and even mental toughness by completing various sport practice drills, not all kids are able to see the utility of many of the things the coach requires them to do.  For example, how does the game of “Pepper” help the hand-eye coordination related to a baseball swing?  Or a footwork drill help a basketball player get in better position in the post?  Sure, as adults it might be easy for us to see how these drills can help, but do kids always see this? In my experiences working with student athletes, I have found that many do not understand or see the value in some of the things they are required to do in practice.

Sport psychologists often work with student athletes in a number of different ways, including performance enhancement.  Part of the skill building sport psychologists do with athletes is to not only teach them a skill in the generic sense, but also how the skill is used in game situations. In other words, imagery is a skill that can be taught in a number of non-sport ways, but it can also be applied to real-life sport situations — like shooting free throws.  The key, therefore, is connecting the skill (or in the case of a coach, a sport-specific technique or exercise) to improved sport performance.

One consequence of not teaching kids how to connect drills to real-life game situations is that you run the risk of increased boredom and poor focus.  When kids think they are just “going through the motions” in practice, they often devalue what the coach is teaching, and as a result do not learn the skill (and improve their game).

Think about this in a non-sport example that instead involves academics — when math teachers make the effort to connect mundane arithmetic homework to applied uses of mathematics (like how math plays a part in how buildings and bridges are constructed), kids often increase their focus and motivation to learn math because there is a value, or payoff, for their efforts.  Sports are no different — when kids connect the drills asked of them in practice to how they might score more points or play better defense, only then will they maximize their practice effort.