Happy Feet - 10 Steps to Better Footwork

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at sjordan@alaskalife.net.

Its good to have some footwork drills in your coaching arsenal. Not only to do they isolate important muscle groups for building strength and quickness, they also have the wonderful quality of adaptability. If you find yourself sharing gym time, or maybe stuck with no gym at all, there's always room for footwork exercises. 

Last year, I started practice with a 10 minute jog followed by a 5 minutes stretching period. The jogging was intended to provide an easy warm up activity that also prepared the muscles for stretching. If you weren't aware, cold stretching isn't all that beneficial and can actually cause injury. Some aerobic activity will warm the muscles up and get them ready to stretch.

The kids can do the jogging and stretching on their own if they are mature enough. If not, the coach can get in shape, too, by joining in. 

Once the jogging and stretching are done, spend another 10 minutes on the following drills. 10 minutes is plenty of time if you are practicing daily. More than that will get old. There are some tricks you can do to provide interest. For example, once they are familiar with the drills, I like to let the kids pick the exercise they're going to run next. There are enough drills that every player can decide which will be next. Of course, you may need a rule like "no drill can be repeated".

Some points of emphasis:

  1. Don't Race - Its more important to do the exercises properly than hurriedly.
  2. Insist on proper form - I like the saying - do the simple things perfectly. If a player is struggling to perform the skill, that's OK, just be encouraging. If the player is goofing off or feels too advanced to do an elementary drill, you'll need to be insistent.
  3. Move on Quickly - Keep the repetitions short. Down and back once and then pick a new drill. We do the drill from baseline to half court, then again coming back, too.
  4. Keep the team together - Ask the kids to stay together. They won't, at first.  As they get better, and everyone can keep up, they can learn to take some pride in a "team skill". Anything you do to promote unity will be good.
  5. You may want to do these in your pre-game if you have time.

The drills:

  1. Slide steps, aka defensive slides This drill can be run from one side of the key to the other, or baseline to half court (or any path you choose). The essence of the drill is to progress sideways to half court and back, never crossing the feet and always facing perpendicular to the baseline. The knees should be bent and the butt kept low in a defensive stance. Keep the palms up. The trailing foot should propel the body sideways then slide to meet the lead foot. Rinse and repeat. The feet should never cross. The feet should be parallel to the baseline - no angles. If you go baseline to half court, have the kids face the same direction both ways. Then, they will get to exercise both legs as the push off leg.
  2. One Leg Hops This is real simple (as all these drills are). Players hop on one leg all the way to half court, then use the other leg to hop back. Work on height, not distance.
  3. Two Leg Hops Same as one leg hops, but jump off both feet. Again, value height more than distance.
  4. Quick Feet Players take short, extremely quick steps.  They look like tap dancers, up on their toes. If you're confined to a small space, have them stay in place and do 20 second bursts with 20 seconds rest.
  5. A quick feet variation ... maintain quick feet until a coach signals left, right, forward or back. The players follow the direction, but always maintain foot speed. The motion forward can end in a belly flop and backward in a controlled fall. Tell the players before hand to break the fall with their arms. Don't allow them to lie there. Recovery speed is important, so back on their feet going up and down as fast as possible.
  6. Stutter Steps After four running steps forward, players stutter step to a halt and in a defensive position. The idea is a controlled stop with the ability to change direction if needed.
  7. Butt Kickers Players move to half court and back, but stress that their heels kick all the way back and actually hit their own rear end. This will stretch out their quads.
  8. High Knees Instead of kicking their own butts, the kids lift their knees as high as they can as they walk down court and back. Go slow.
  9. Power Steps Jump forward off the left foot and use the hands and right leg going forward to go as far forward as possible. Land in a jump stop. Then do the same but jump off the opposite foot. Many kids will do fine on one foot, but be awkward with the other. Stress form.
  10. One Step Bounds Similar to power steps, but there is a lead step before the jump. Step forward with the left foot, then jump off the left foot. Land on both feet. Go as far as possible. Alternate left, then right. Swing arms and other leg forward to assist the jump and maintain balance.

If you have a drill to add to the list, email me at sjordan@alaskalife.net. Include your name and city and I'll list the information to credit your contribution.