Circle Drills: Do They Accomplish Your Goals?

Article excerpt

Consider the following scenario: On the first day of a volleyball unit, 30 seventh graders are divided into three groups of 10 students. Each group is instructed to have members form a circle. One ball is given to each group, and students are asked to practice the forearm pass by sending the ball to other students within the circle.

Circle formations are common organizational formats for practicing skills in many sports such as volleyball, basketball, and soccer. Circle drills may be chosen by teachers because they (a) provide for easy monitoring, (b) put students in a social setting, (c) provide a semblance of "order" in terms of practice arrangement, and (d) have a longstanding tradition in physical education and sport.

Because circle formations are often used in physical education classes, it is beneficial to examine their effectiveness as an organizational arrangement. Following are some concerns related to the use of the circle formation.

1. Lack of practice time. Consider the activity time spent for any one student, even if the student is highly skilled. In our beginning scenario, with 10 students and one ball, the activity rate would average 10 percent for this group of students. This rate is too low to develop or improve current skill levels of most students.

2. Requires complex use of the skill. The task demands of the forearm pass in a circle drill are much too complex for most middle school students. The ball may be received from different angles, at different speeds, and from different levels. The receiver often needs to move in a number of directions to receive the pass. In most cases, the pass is sent in a different angle than it was received. These conditions suggest that the task as performed in a circle drill may be too complex for many learners at the middle school level.

3. Organizational pattern does not match game requirements. It is commonly believed that practice conditions should reflect skill requirements in a game situation. Volleyball players do not work in circular relationships when sending a forearm pass to a fellow player.

4. Potential to embarrass and discourage. An arena is created for observing group members in the circle drill due to the one ball that is typically used in this setting. Being "put on display" during task performance can embarrass students whose skills are not yet developed and who continually make errors.

5. No clear goals for success. The circle drill allows students to pass the ball to any student at any time. The goal for passing is not clearly established and allows the students to create their own goals of success. Many students are content to merely contact the ball and send it to someone in the group.

6. Potential to increase management problems. Management problems result from situations in which the task is not relevant or appropriate to student capabilities. Bored and frustrated students are not prone to stay on task, resulting in a disruptive learning environment.

How can the weaknesses of the circle drill be addressed so that effective student learning occurs? Listed below are six suggestions for accomplishing this goal.

1. Provide adequate practice time. Much practice is needed to become skillful in volleyball. Effective teachers structure practice so that students get many quality contacts with the ball. …