Apr 6, 2018
Skills & Drills

Diane Flick-Williams, Head Coach at Western Washington University, knows a thing or two about developing players. Eight-time winner of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Coach of the Year award, she has produced 14 All-Americans and taken her squad to the last five NCAA Division II tournaments.

One of the biggest weapons in her coaching arsenal is innovative and effective practice drills. “I try to create three new drills every fall that are tailored-made for the players I currently have,” Flick-Williams says. “Each year, people, roles, lineups, and configurations change. The new drills are about making that year’s specific team better. For me, that’s the fun and creative part of coaching.”

In the following, Flick-Williams explains her drill-design process, how she gets player buy-in, and the inspiration behind her ideas.

What is most important when designing a drill?

First, there has to be a very clear purpose. Your athletes have to understand why they are doing what they are doing. We work to get three percent better each week, and our purpose for each day goes along with this. In the past I have gone big and tried to make major changes, but we’ve decided that the accumulation of small things pays off more. So we look for the three percent that can improve everyone on the team. It might be a certain segment in the skill of blocking. We make it concise so they can really absorb that one thing.

Second, you have to make sure there are good opportunities to provide feedback to the players during the drill. You don’t want to have too much going on. It might be the smallest detail of a toe pointing the right way, but the instruction can’t get lost.

Third, it’s really important for players to enjoy the drill. You could give it a fun name, incorporate elements from a different part of their lives, or simply add an unexpected element. It should keep them on their toes and excited.

How do you create player buy-in when implementing a new drill?

The first thing I tell them is, “This is brand new. I need your help.” Then they’re all ears. I give them a full explanation of the drill and ask them how it could be better. They often have good ideas on something to add or change.

We are also collaborative when it comes to purpose. We have a board that lists each player’s number and they write their focus for the day next to it. Before practice starts, we come together and each athlete shares their written purpose so others can hold them accountable.

It is also important to create an environment where failure is okay. Try as hard as you can, and if it flops, it flops. At least we tried it.

Where do you get new ideas?

I’m a game junky — board games, the game show network, and ESPN are all staples in my household. Every game has a competitive element to it, and I’m always thinking about how something could transfer to a volleyball drill.

For example, one day on ESPN there was a cornhole championship. I’ve played it before, but I never really understood the scoring. So I examined it closer and thought it could be great for our drills. In cornhole, you get more points for sinking the bag in the hole than leaving it on the board itself. We used this for our first ball side outs and first ball free ball contacts. We want to be able to get a kill on the first swing. If one side won the rally, that gave some points, but the focus was on terminating the very first swing over the net.

There are a lot of things you can use to create a new drill. I like to figure out how something can relate to what we’re working on and also be fun and different.

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