How to Coach First Step Speed

Let’s not think in only a linear direction.

In basketball, tennis, and football most of the time the first step is on an angle or lateral. Many times the first step is backwards…think corner back or outfielder. We have to understand how the athlete moves best in multi-directions.

Understand not all sports have the same dynamic starting positions. Take a football linebacker versus a basketball player. The football linebacker in many cases will be in a solid defensive stance with no movement until the ball is snapped. The basketball player in most cases will be actively moving his or her feet to stay with the opponent. Knowing this helps us understand more what to do with the stationary player than the active player.

When a player has to use an explosive first step move in any direction,the starting position (stance) will have as much to do with how good the first step is as anything.

I often write about a concept I use called “Playing in the Tunnel.” What this means is a player must stay low to be more adept at multi-directional movements. If an athlete wants to have a great first step, then the stance, active or static, must be positioned well enough to allow for a great push off. If the athlete is standing too tall or the shoulders are too erect, meaning the hips get sucked under the body, then the first step will suffer simply because of starting angles. The reason track sprinters get down in a four point stance is so they can push back at a greater angle.

First Step – Picture This…

Athlete #1 is standing completely straight up with his feet together and his knees straight. Next to this athlete is athlete #2 in a perfect basketball defensive stance; ankles, knees, and hips are bent and loaded and the shoulders are forward anticipating movement. Which athlete could take off more explosively in any direction? Obviously the second athlete has greater potential?

Athlete #2 is correct! The reason is because the the second athlete has his body positioned to be able to get into great acceleration angles quicker and more powerfully. The first athlete won’t find great angles to push off with and the power will be limited because the joints are already extended.

The best way to develop a great first step in any direction and in any sport is to make sure the athlete has an advantageous starting position. Teach them to “Play in the Tunnel” so they can be more explosive in ALL directions.

Without going any further, without talking about arm action or knee drive, or any other biomechanical positions during the acceleration of a first step let’s just get the starting stance correct. Without this athletes will always be playing catch up.

To learn more about first step philosophies & techniques, visit Ground Breaking 2

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