Do Professional Soccer Players Really Need to Run Basic Drills?

It was one of those images that I usually glance over on ESPN to get to the article: A group of Real Madrid players running through a basic keep-away drill. It’s a drill I participated in many times in my teens.

But this time, something about the image made me stop and think. These are professional soccer players. The best in the world. Do they really need to run basic drills?

I figure if you’re on Real Madrid, your basic skills are pretty much at their peak: The weight of your pass, your first touch, your dribbling. Your coach might have some pointers for you to work on, but as a whole, you’ve moved past the development stage.

What really matters at that level is team chemistry and real-time action. Why practice a keep-away drill when you can experience actual keep-away in a scrimmage or offense vs. defense? The coach can still step in and pause the action or set up a special free kick as needed.

The actual photo on this post is probably of the team warming up before a game. But the original photo I saw was definitely taken during practice.

Other than having played soccer and coaching kids for a few seasons, I’m completely unqualified to have this opinion. So I’m curious what you think. Do professional soccer players–or any professional athletes–really need to run basic drills?


6 Responses to “Do Professional Soccer Players Really Need to Run Basic Drills?”

  1. Mike Chipman says:

    I’ve always heard that a pro is a pro because of their dedication to the basics. The same kind of thing goes on in Spring Training – players taking ground balls from their coach.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Mike: I’ve heard that too! I wonder if there’s a tipping point where some of those basics matter less (maybe much less). Like, if Lebron James practices 100 free throws a day, I doubt that’s a waste of time–it maintains an important skill. But does he need to 100 bounce pass drills every day? I doubt it. But I don’t know. I Googled to see if any couches use scrimmage-only coaching methods, but I couldn’t find anything.

  2. Xyon McKell says:

    Interesting question. My understanding is pros doing basic drills isn’t about development of skills, it’s about keeping the fundamentals as sharp as you mention they are for these players. Theory is if the basics falter so does everything else, so it’s always worthwhile to practice them.

    I’m no athlete myself, so I don’t know if you’re idea of replacing these drills with something similar but more advanced would have any real drawbacks.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Xyon: “it’s about keeping the fundamentals as sharp as you mention they are for these players.” I can definitely see that!

  3. Mark McGee says:

    Top caliber athletes absolutely need to drill the basics.

    Competitive sports require all your focus to be on the strategy and outsmarting your teammates. If any of your brain is thinking about the basics, then you’re at a disadvantage.

    Drilling the basics during practice ingrains those skills into muscle memory. When you are drilling, you can focus very specifically on your technique and can identify imperfections to iron them out. This is to get your basic skills from 99% perfect to 99.999% perfect. Then in a real game, you continue to operate at more than 99% perfect without thinking about it, leaving your metal capacity available for higher level thinking.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks for sharing your opinion! I’m curious if there’s any evidence of the effectiveness of this method vs. honing and perfecting those same skills through real-time play.

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