Drilling is all a part of the sport. It’s a necessary evil in order to program the muscle memory an athlete needs to function at peak performance level. Drills can be such a great learning opportunity and a way to practice skills until they’re set in your head.

The downside of drills, though, may be that they can often take a toll on a player’s morale. So just how do you work around that and keep up team spirit?

The Difficulty of Drills

While there are many benefits to running drills, they can often take a toll on both the player’s body and morale. When done improperly, drills can often lead to injuries. But that’s not the whole story. By drilling a player too much, they may start to second guess themselves, especially if they’re having trouble with the drill.

How Can You Keep Drills From Becoming Nightmares?

There’s a fine line between being a drill sergeant and a coach. Where the former is supposed to break a person down before they build them back up again, the latter is theoretically starting with what they’ve got and building on from there. Learning the ropes and perfecting plays is important, but shouldn’t come  at the risk of the health of your team members.

Share Control

As a coach, one of the most difficult things to do is learn to delegate. Giving up control can be tough sometimes. But learning to delegate things like travel attire, warm-up routines and music can leave you better able to manage more important things. But what about during practice?

If you allocated each drill to one player to oversee or had players take turns running drills each day, they’d have a hand in the works. When you put people in charge of things, you not only boost morale, but you get especially good work out of them.

Keep Things Fun

Everyone can benefit from having a good time while they’re working hard. Add some competitive twists to your drills so that they mean a little more than just tedium. Most players, especially the younger ones, really tend to enjoy fast-paced drills that really keep things moving.

Mix it up on them so they’re not always doing the same-old, same-old all the time. Run multifacet drills that keep players doing multiple things through the course of the drill: passing, running, shooting, dodging, etc.

Have them run drills for a bit, then stop them and demonstrate the proper form and method. Slow them down to practice the drill correctly. Once they’ve got it, pick up the pace again.

By mixing things up and keeping them interesting, they’ll maintain better focus and listen to you.

Use Positive Language

Words are very powerful, so make sure that you are building your team members up! You’ll still be needing to make corrections during drills, but try doing it without tearing the player down. Use what experts call a “compliment sandwich.” Start off by praising something that they’re doing correct, then inserting a gentle criticism or correction, and then end on a positive note again.

The information will still get across, but people tend to focus most on the first and last things they heard. Using this method will more likely leave the person feeling positive, and therefore more responsive to your criticism.

Be a Good Listener

Sometimes being a good listener is really not easy. Many head coaches think of suggestions as criticisms and consider questions as possible attacks. In turn, players and assistants become reluctant to speak up. When that happens morale suffers because they feel like the don’t have a voice in the organization.

Listen to the people you’re coaching. Ask for feedback to find out where the team thinks the drills were successful, and where they fell short. Listen for good ideas, because great leaders care about doing things the best way, even if that’s not their own way.

Set Realistic Goals

Goals have to be reachable and realistic. Everyone strives for perfection, but you can’t be let down when things don’t go perfectly. You’re working on player development here, so goals for the whole team are appropriate, as are individual goals during the course of a drill or exercise. Help players set individual goals for themselves and check in regularly to see how they’re progressing. When small goals are reached along the way, morale will stay up, and bigger and bigger goals can eventually be set.

Encourage Positive Thinking

Just as you encourage your team to think of games and practices positively, continue to foster that mindset while working on drills, too. They’re going to stumble. They’re going to drop the ball. They’re going to miss a catch. Continue to encourage them to think positively about their experience. Use it as a learning opportunity. Making a mistake doesn’t make you any less of an athlete. Let them permit themselves to make mistakes without being too harsh on themselves.

Running drills doesn’t have to be any less serious in terms of what you’re looking to accomplish or have your team learn, but keeping the vibe upbeat and positive will really keep your team on the right track.

Pittsburgh startup Hustle Training is quickly rising to one of the most popular sports drill apps out there. Their website, along with their mobile app puts players and coaches at the top of their game by providing skilled workouts and drills crafted by coaches, trainers, and professional players, and informative articles to take your team to the next level.