Why do we do so many drills?
This very thoughtful question was posed to me by one of my very talented young hitting students the other day. I was impressed to have a 9-year-old ask such a profound question which reminded me that many of the things that we, as coaches, believe our players understand, they quite often, do not!
This exchange lead me to ask the following question of a bunch of my students over the next week:
Do you know why coaches ask you to do so many drills?
Some of the responses were enlightening, others scary and some just downright funny!
“So we can work on the basics.”
“To be sure we know how to do the little things well.”
“To kill time in practice because he ran out of real stuff for us to work on.”
“To create muscle memory.”
“Cuz our coach loves to make us work hard, even if it’s dumb.”
“She wants us to do things her way and her drills make us do it her way.”
There were many other answers, but these are pretty indicative of the mood of the players I work with when talking about drills.
Now a couple of the above answers are pretty accurate, no doubt.
Here was my explanation when asked the original question:
“Your body is used to doing things one way, it’s a habit. This habit is the old way of doing things and we want you to learn a new way doing it. The only way we can get you to get rid of the old habit is to create a new habit. That new habit only comes from doing something the same new way, a lot!”
Thus the crux of why drills are important. Malcom Gladwell estimated it takes 10,000 repetitions to make a new habit. That is a lot of swings or pitches or ground balls. Drills allow us to get the same benefit in a much more efficient way!
Wherever we want people to be able to perform a skill, on command, we drill.
You don’t need to look any further than military boot camp. Does anyone really think that people joining the military don’t know how to walk? Of course not, but they need to be able to control their mind and body in very challenging situations, many times life-threatening situations! So they learn to march, they learn close-order drills, they learn how to assemble and clean their weapon blindfolded, they drill on everything you can imagine.
What’s their motivation? Not to win a game, or get a hit or throw a strike, but to save lives.
If drills work when the stakes are that high it seems like a pretty good idea to do drills for athletic success!
About the Author: Tory Acheson brings a wealth of knowledge to the Fastpitch Prep staff. He has coached at all levels of the game, including the last 25 years at the college level at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State. He began his coaching career at the high school level spending 9 years Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis. and is now working as a professional softball instructor.