Skill and physiological demands of open and closed training drills in Australian Football
Posted by Dean Holden at August 11th, 2013
by Damian Farrow, David Pyne and Tim Gabbett, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 3 · Number 4 · 2008
This study compared the skill and physiological demands of open-and closed skill drills commonly used in Australian football. Junior male players (n=30, age 16.7 ± 0.5 y, height 1.88 ± 0.07 m, mass 79.7 ± 6.5 kg; mean ± SD) completed two different training sessions involving a series of three open and closed training drills. Movement demands were quantified with global positioning system (GPS) technology, while physiological responses were assessed with heart rate, blood lactate concentration and self-reported ratings of physical exertion. Skill demands were quantified by video analysis and self-reported ratings of perceived cognitive complexity. Two of the three open drills were substantially more demanding in terms of distance (metres) covered (p < .05), rating of perceived physical exertion (p < .05), and relative intensity (p < .05). All open drills had significantly more moderate velocity efforts (p < .05) than their closed counterparts. There were no differences in post-session lactate concentration between the drills or formats, but heart rate was higher in the open format for the third drill. Analysis of skill demands revealed that while the number of ball disposals were equivalent in two of the three open and closed drill formats, there was a significantly larger volume of game-like decisions required of the participants in all open drills. Higher cognitive complexity scores were reported in the open drills (p < .05). In conclusion, the open drills were generally more physically and cognitively demanding than the closed drills commonly used in Australian Football. Coaches and conditioning staff should prescribe open drills to elicit higher physical and cognitive training loads in a game-specific context.
The comparison of open and closed skill drills commonly used in Australian football revealed that the open drills elicited higher movement and physiological loads. While the closed drills contained greater disposal volumes than their open equivalent, the open drills provided the added stimulus of game-based decision-making demands providing greater skill specificity relative to the competitive setting.
The open drill or game-based training approach generally resulted in fewer skill execution opportunities or disposals than the closed drills, but a significant increase in decision-making load. These two findings need to be examined in parallel to gain a clear understanding of the drill demands. When disposal volume is separated into kick and handball contributions, the open drills 2 and 3 generated a similar volume of kick disposals relative to their closed drill equivalents, while the number of handballs was reduced. The addition of decision making to the open drills ensured that players had to contextualise their disposal to the game demands. It was not surprising that players elected to kick more than handball in drills 2 and 3 as this was often the most appropriate decision to make. This finding highlights that well designed drills provide a suitable amount of skill practice and are more contextually relevant to the game setting. While players adopt the role of the opponent in open drills for a period of time, they miss some skill execution opportunities, but the length of time required to fulfil this role is minimal if the drill is well organised. Additionally, the player is gaining an opportunity to develop their defensive skills when in the role of the opposition.
The cognitive RPE data substantiated the observation that participants were devoting greater amounts of cognitive effort to the open drills given the increased decision-making complexity within these tasks. Increased cognitive effort has been previously associated with greater skill learning and retention in other motor skill literature . Equally, these data reinforce the notion why players generally prefer a closed drill over its open equivalent: a closed drill provides a more stable practice environment allowing the players to feel like they are developing greater skill control, even if this is not necessarily the case.
From an ecological psychology perspective, it is vital to ensure that the perceptual demands of a skill are reciprocally linked to the execution demands to maximise the chance of focused skill learning occurring . Obviously the open drills provide this opportunity to a greater extent than closed drills, and thus coach and player education of the benefits of engaging in more open drills is required. The talent of the coach or skill acquisition practitioner is designing a training session that provides an appropriate level of challenge in an open format. Drills should not be too difficult, otherwise players may feel they are unable to cope with the challenge. This is a particularly important issue to manage across the course of a long training and playing season.
This study is the first to quantify the physiological demands and movement patterns of open – and closed-skill training drills in team sport athletes. From a physiological perspective, the present results extend previous work demonstrating that skill-based conditioning games are acceptable substitutes for aerobic interval training to maintain fitness during the competitive season . The most game-like drill (drill 3) elicited significantly greater heart-rates and relative intensity (meterage/min) than its closed skill equivalent. This finding supports the coaching adage that placing players into more game-like scenarios makes them run harder than if required to perform a closed skill activity or isolated running session.
Team sport athletes typically sprint over distances of ~ 20 m, with efforts lasting 2-3 seconds . We observed that players performed a greater number of moderate velocity (i.e., 2-4 m/s) efforts in the open skill activities, than in the closed skill equivalent drill. However, no significant differences were detected between open and closed skill activities for the number of high velocity (i.e., > 4 m/s) and high acceleration (i.e., > 4 m/s2) efforts, with the numbers of these efforts typically quite low. The similar numbers of high acceleration efforts between tasks suggest that the rapid, short duration sprinting requirements are comparable between open- and closed-skill drills. Equally, the finding of a comparably low number of high-velocity efforts most likely reflects the playing area of the drills, with players unlikely to achieve maximum velocities within the relatively small playing dimensions.
This study provides a starting point for future research in this area. A key future direction is the need to include drills that are played up and down the entire field. This form of training activity should increase the movement and physiological demands of both closed and open drills and reduce the number of skill disposals that a player can gather due to the larger playing area. Researchers are also encouraged to include laboratory-based indices of both physiological and perceptual-motor performance to correlate on-field performance with existing benchmarks.
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