Furthering the North Portland Renegade effort to spread freely all footbag knowledge that leads to the betterment of our beautiful and exceptionally difficult sport, I am going to post our entire drill set that we go through BEFORE each net practice.
This is going to focus mainly on drills that can be accomplished with just two people and as many net bags as you can muster up. We are very lucky in Portland to have many skilled kickers to play with (and against) but this is not the case everywhere in the footbag world. If there are only two dedicated people in your club, I believe these drills will prepare you equally well for singles AND doubles competition play. As team NPR finished a meager 11th place at the World Championships in ’07 (2nd among U.S. teams) you may put whatever weight you like on the validity of these drills. Just like everything else on the internet, these exercises are certainly up for criticism, debate and over analysis all of which will be welcomed.
Activity #1 – DDoP Variations
DDoP (Doubles Distance One Pass) is the net players standard warm up tool. It is the simple drill of rallying the bag, each participant using only 1 kick to return the bag to her/his partner. We have all done it a million times (and will do it a million more) and the reason is… it works. The trick to getting the most out of this very basic exercise is to remember that this is PRACTICE. You must USE your practice time to a) try to ADD to your personal arsenal of skills and b) perfect the skills you currently have. Whats that you say? Your left outside kick is still your weak spot even after a decade of playing net? USE this simple DDoP exercise to focus on it. It helps your partners control if you ask them to hit it to your left outside every time and it helps your left outside. I know a lot of people are saying “duh” to this information but these exercises are as much about attitude as they are about physical training. Your mental focus will be tested during competition play so you may as well practice that during your PRACTICE sessions and not wait until your are on the other side of the court from Patti and Flo. Do NOT just play another boring game of one pass, USE it to its fullest.
DD2P (Doubles Distance Two Pass) is basically singles without a net. Once you and your partner are adequately warmed up from 1 pass, each player should start setting themselves and hitting progressively harder shots at their partner. This exercise has two objectives, 1)To get each player in the mindset of setting (more or less) straight up. DDoP tends to build “muscle memory “ for kicking the bag in a low arcing line drive forward. This is rarely a good thing during actual play. In doubles, as well as singles, a more vertical set is almost always prefered. 2)To begin working on digs. As the rallys in this exercise progress, each player should hit lower and faster shots at their partner. Do not try to end the rally by hitting something that your partner has no chance to get a foot on, but try to keep them active. Move them around a step or two or punch line drives at their weak spots. Start making them work a bit to get that set in the air. (refer to goal 1 of this exercise for further instruction)
DNS (Doubles Net Set) is an exercise designed for doubles practice. During this drill our two participants stand on one side of the net court, near the back line. They begin playing one pass back and forth to each other but during the rally they work their way forward together toward the net. Once they reach the net they attempt to set 3 to 5 (your choice) perfect sets at the net before moving toward the back line to begin again. During this drill you and your partner will be warming up your ability to move as a team, you will be practicing control of the bag, and you will be working on that all important set at the net that all net players desire. While this drill seems deceptively simple, believe me, it is not. It is a very good way for a doubles team to simulate doubles activities when only two people are present at practice.
Now we must add the cherry on top of this drills’ cupcake. EVERY SET THAT GOES OVER THE NET WILL COST THE KICKER OF THAT SET EXACTLY 3 PUSH-UPS TO BE DELIVERED IMMEDIATELY. At NPR practice sessions this rule applies to the entire practice and not just this drill.Here is the reality of the situation – OVERSETS KILL. In highly competitive play an overset amounts to a free play for your opponent and if your opponent is Manu and JF… well, you get the idea. Oversets will NOT be tolerated and they are never ever ever welcomed at practice.
“But… but what if the overset goes over the net and lands in for a point or side out???”
What part of OVERSETS KILL did you not understand? If your overset somehow got you a point TOO BAD. You are still doing 3 push-ups because your accidental magic points are not welcome at practice. We at NPR have even toyed with the idea of just having the team that oversets lose the point no matter how the point actually turns out. As in, I overset, Chris misses it, it lands in on the other side and it should be a point for us but we turn it, automatically, into a side out for the other team. Basically, a magical, accidental point is a welcome event during competition play but our focus during practice sessions is to get better at doing things on purpose. The 3 push-up rule has achieved great strides for us since we have implemented it and I recommend it whole heartedly for bringing attention to the scourge that is oversetting and for the nice upper body work out.
Activity #2 – Stretching
All net players need to stretch and they need to stretch often. You get the most bang for your stretching buck if you stretch while your muscles are warm. For this reason we usually take a couple minutes, often some time during the DDoP drills, to do some rudimentary stretches. We don’t bring the flow of practice to a screeching halt with it but we always allow time for it. I, for instance, have a lot of trouble with my hamstring, and inner thigh muscles. Once I feel sufficiently warm I take 30 seconds to stand, bending fully at the waist, while my legs are crossed and another 30 seconds to spread my feet apart as far as they will comfortably go in a side split. Just these two simple stretches while I am warmed up have kept my tired old muscles out of trouble for this entire season. Please add your own stretch excersises as you see fit but definitely use practice time to give your muscles a little love.
Activity #3 – Spike Drills
This drill is simple but extremely effective. All you need to do is have your practice partner hand toss you perfect sets while you work on crushing them. Pretty simple right? Right. Depending on your own personal level of skill or the skill of those you may get to practice with, the perfect set can sometimes be hard to come by. If yourself and your group of net players get together on saturdays and play a few games and call that “practice” you may see 10 perfect sets all day and maybe 1 or 2 sets to an area you are specifically trying to work on. USE this drill to get your spiking repetitions up to whatever level YOU want. USE it to work on new spikes. Mainly, at NPR Headquarters, we have the spiker stand with their back to the net and the toss-setter stand in the center of the court. We then set the spiker with as many sets as they feel they need with a more or less equal amount being set to EITHER SIDE of the spiker. If you feel that your best spikes are when you charge toward the net for a shtataff, ask your setter to stand where you want them to and set where you want them to but definitely do NOT only practice the spikes you are good at. The main point of this drill is to get your personal spike repetitions way, way up for any spike you feel you need to work on. Additionally, we always like to end on a good shot. Do not let your last spike in this drill be a whiff or a shank, finish strong.
A more advanced version of this drill is for the spiker to be standing at their desired starting point (at NPR it is usually with their back to the net) and then hand toss to their setter who uses a kick to set the desired spike window instead of a hand toss. This drill, while ultimately a spiking drill, will encourage better sets as well. We all know there is no spiking without setting and setting is a very tough thing to practice all on its own.
So far all of the drills we have spoken about can be done with just 2 kickers. If you have more than 2 (Congratulations!!!) you can now work people onto the other side of the court. You should still go through the hand toss drills for everyone present but you can optimize the effectiveness of this drill if you have people practicing their digs at the same time. Again, the idea is to get your reps up in every category of net skills during any given practice. During Renegade practice sessions, if the defender in this drill manages to get a dig, we usually play the point all the way to its conclusion. This is usually in cases where these drills are simply the BEGINNING of practice and we are warming up for actual games once drills are overwith. If you feel that the spike drilling should go on non-stop regardless of a good dig, then that is what you should do.
Activity #4 – Dig Drills
Let’s face it, while spike drilling may be fun, it is defense that wins championships. No matter what sport you play. Footbag Net is no different. Since it is not always possible for you to practice against Wulffs roll spike or Jaakkos toe reverse, the best way we have found to get repetitions is by using paddles. We purchased a game called Smashball which comes with 2 wooden paddles and a tiny ball. These were priced very reasonably and were easily obtained. With these paddles we were able to more effectively simulate the speed and sound of a vicious spike and we are also able to target a diggers weak spot with amazing accuracy. All we do is hand toss bags into the air and hit them like a tennis serve somewhere in the vicinity of the digger. We have tried a version of this drill in which the digger knows what area the paddler is hitting too. We have several bags (around 10) and we hit them at the digger 1 at a time starting with the back right side, then short right side, then short left side, followed by back left side, and so on. Once we go through a couple rounds of this, the paddler starts to just hit shots at random making the digger guess where it will go. Again, in NPR-land, we play the points all the way out. The paddler should try to keep the speeds at a reasonable level and telegraph her/his shots at least a little bit. While this drill enhances reaction time, foot speed and accuracy its greatest drawback seems to be that reading a shot from a paddle is not the same as reading an actual footbag spike.
One truly remarkable thing about this drill that needs to be mentioned is its ability to draw players spouses out to practice. Normally my wife would never be caught dead near a footbag training session but for some reason she seems extremely attracted to the thought of smacking net bags at me as hard as she can. Go figure.
Activity #5 – Serve Drills
If you are anything like me, you have basically spent a lot of time serving in the general direction of your opponents quadrant and praying to the footbag gods to make it land inside the lines somewhere. NO MORE! In this drill each server gets three serves from the even court and three serves from the odd court. Your practice partner receives them all. The goal of the server is to hit 3 specific spots on the receivers quadrant. We start with the “T” (where the center line meets the back line) no matter which side the server is serving from, then a serve to the back corner (opposite from the “T”), then a dink (extremely short) serve. Each server will do this from each side of the court (six serves in a row) and then they will receive 6 serves. Rinse. Repeat. This drill has improved my personal accuracy quite a bit. Where I used to just hope to shank serves in, now I am actually aiming for a spot. This exercise will allow you, as a server, to move your opponents around during their serve receptions and not allow them to just get comfortable reading your one consistent serve. As much as this drill will help the server, it is also a great help for receiving practice. Its drawback in the 2 person spectrum is that you will not get to see a great variety of serve styles but you will definitely be optimizing your abilities to adjust to incoming serve placements. This exercise will also keep you honest .Since your partner knows where you are supposed to be serving it at any given time, you can’t hit a great dink by accident and pretend that you meant it. Once again, here in Portland ,we will play these points until the end.
Drills are over. Repititions have been achieved. Once we had all of these drills figured out, Chris and I were able to get through this entire list in about 45 minutes to an hour (less time than it took to read!). If you and your club simply warm up with one pass for a few minutes and then start playing games you have maybe played 2 to 3 games in that first hour. We have found that (for us at least)these simple, basic drills are a better way to spend that hour. You can easily double and triple the repititions you would get from 2 games and the quality of the repititions is much, much higher. You are now ready for practice in earnest. If you are practicing with only one other player, now is probably the time to start playing a few singles matches. You should be good and warmed up in every aspect of the game, now it is time to practice putting it all together.
If, however, you are about to play doubles, I have one more suggestion. What we usually start out with is a set of games to 5 points, rotating partners at the end of each game. Like a miniature “King of the Court” format. This has several advantages, 1)It forces the players to consider every single point. There are no “throwaway” points that you will just get back later in the game. You need every point and you need it NOW! 2)In competitive play, this drill should help your team get out of the starting gate quickly and not find yourselves playing from behind from the outset. 3)Rotating partners spreads the wealth. It is highly unusual for any club to have 4 equally experienced and talented players. This drill has every player playing with every other player in a pressure situation. Players must draw from AND add to their partners abilities and they must do it in the span of 5 points. And always remember, oversets = push-ups!