Lateral movement, basketball defense, and persistent myths

January 30th, 2016

Last week, I attended a high-school varsity girls basketball game between good teams with college-bound players, and it was evident that the players had been taught never to cross their feet on defense. When I lamented this instruction via Twitter, several people questioned my lamentations. These questions spurred a few videos this week on defense, lateral movement, and the crossover step. For more information, check out Fake Fundamentals. Read the rest of this entry »

The hip turn, drop step, and basketball defense

January 15th, 2016

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The hip turn and the drop step

December 29th, 2014

Defensive footwork is one of the most contentious subjects among basketball coaches. One reason for pursuing a doctorate was to examine the difference between a hip turn and a drop step, as many basketball coaches are adamant about the drop step, despite the lack of research into the two methods of footwork. Read the rest of this entry »

Defensive Footwork Drills

July 7th, 2010

Few things frustrate me more than watching poor teaching techniques perpetuated because coaches fail to examine their methods critically and instead teach the same “basketball truth” over and over regardless of the efficacy of the skill or the teaching.

Static stretching is the biggest culprit, as many coaches refuse to adjust their coaching despite paper after paper that explains that static stretching before an activity like basketball does NOT prevent injuries or serve as a proper warm-up, and instead leads to worse performance in power-related activities like jumping and sprinting.

Second to static stretching, however, is the way that many teach defense. A friend sent this video which claims to teach proper defensive footwork (Edit: The video below is NOT the original video, which was taken down after this was written). The drill – the zig-zag drill – is one of the most popular and most used drills in basketball. Unfortunately, it is basically useless. The technique used – the step-slide and drop-step – is the same technique that I was taught as a player. It is a foundation of fundamental defense. And, no good defensive player actually moves in this way.

I term drills like the zig-zag drill “time wasters” or “fake fundamentals.” To outsiders, they look good; it looks like players are working hard and diligently at an important skill. But, since there is almost no transfer between the practice movement and the game movement, these drills simply waste time.

The first problem with the drill is the angle. If a defender, in a game, is moving at a 45-degree angle, he cannot use a defensive slide. In this instance, the offensive player is moving forward – otherwise, why would the defender move at an angle? – and no player can shuffle fast enough to stay in front of an offensive player who is running. Therefore, when moving at an angle like this, and actually defending an offensive player, the defender should use a crossover step: rather than a short step with his lead foot, he should take a big step with his trail foot and cross in front of his lead foot to cover as much distance as quickly as possible.

Fundamental teaching says that defenders should never cross their feet. However, these fundamental teachers must never had had to defend a quick guard like Chris Paul or John Wall. Try shuffling next to a player who is running: you’ll keep pace for a step or two, maybe. Use a crossover step next to a player who is running and in some cases, you’ll keep pace for the entire length of the court.

Next, when using a traditional step-slide, the trail foot should push off rather than the lead foot stepping and dragging the player forward. The pushing motion will be stronger and quicker than the pulling motion.

However, the step-slide should be used only when the defender is squared up to the offensive player and able to stay completely between the offensive player and the basket. As soon as the offensive player gets the slightest angle, and the defender has to drop at an angle (as in the video), the defender needs to change to a crossover step.

Next, on the change of direction, a drop step is too slow to be effective, and the movement also puts the player’s knee in a twisting movement, which is unsafe at a fast speed. Also, no actual high-level players use a drop-step. Watch any NBA player play defense: they use a hip turn to change directions. They are moving too fast for their leg to absorb the force and safely pivot to change directions.

Instead, to change directions when moving to the right, they make a quick hop off their right foot and turn their hips in the air. As they land, their right foot is outside their right knee and their right knee is outside their right hip so they have an angle to push to the left. They use the force from the quick hop to drive into the ground, using the same stretch-shortening effect as plyometrics. Also, because a defender typically loses a step when changing directions (because the offense makes the move first and the defense reacts), the defender moves directly into a crossover step to recover.

Finally, a static drill like the zig-zag drill is useful when teaching an initial movement. However, moving to a definitive spot (sideline) is not realistic. It creates an artificial anticipation that is not present in a game. Players have to be able to anticipate, react and move in relation to a stimuli, rather than just moving to pre-determined points.

Rather than use the zig-zag drill, I use the Mirror Defense Drill to teach the basic footwork, anticipation and reaction of individual defense.

I also play a lot of 1v1. I have precious little time at practice and I refuse to spend time on timewasters just because many view the drills as necessary or fundamental. My singular goal is to develop skills and prepare players for competition, and the zigzag drill accomplishes neither.

The zigzag drill is not an athletic drill because it does not teach basic movement skills properly. It is not a technical drill because it teaches a poor basketball technique. Also, there is no tactical component to the drill. I prefer 1v1 because it incorporates athletic, technical and tactical skills into one drill. I also prefer to use drills like the Mirror Defense Drill or tag as athletic drills that are also fun, and therefore more motivating.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, Cross Over: The New Model for Youth Basketball Development

Crossover Step, Agility & Defense

January 1st, 2010

The video below demonstrates the difference in speed in driving off your lead leg with a crossover step as opposed to stepping with your lead leg first. In the example, the athlete is faster using a crossover step than he is turning to sprint. This is not a perfect example to the difference between a crossover step and a traditional defensive slide, but it makes a compelling argument that the crossover step should be the dominant footwork for defensive footwork.

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Defensive Footwork: The Mirror Drill

January 1st, 2010

I write about (and use) the Mirror Defensive Drill frequently. Here is Michael Reid using one form of the Mirror Drill with his Swedish team.

Rather than have players stand in line, to end the drill, I toss the ball toward the other end for the players to chase; whoever gets the ball is on offense going to the other basket. Keeps the drill moving a little better.

H2G Vol.4 Front CoverOriginally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, Volume 4.

For similar content, subscribe to the free weekly Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter.

The High Set for Lateral Movement

January 1st, 2010

As I have written previously, tennis movement and basketball movement are similar. A physical therapist sent me this video which examines the “high set” position and the Harvard University tennis team.

Now, basketball differs from tennis because of the presence of fakes and other aspects, so there is not a linear argument from tennis footwork to basketball footwork. However, they are related. If the high set works for tennis and improves movement economy and quickness in tennis, is the same true in basketball?

What is the best defensive position? Is it easy to move in a low stance? When I played, I spent hours at practices and camps with coaches yelling at us to sit lower in a stance. Did it make us better defensively? Did the lower position make us quicker?

The low set position is the norm in tennis. It is almost unthinkable to suggest otherwise, just as standard wisdom dictates an exaggeratedly low stance for defense in basketball. However, is that the most efficient stance? Does it produce the quickest movement?

H2G Vol.4 Front CoverOriginally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, Volume 4.

For similar content, subscribe to the free weekly Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter.

Lateral Movement Training for Basketball

January 1st, 2010

Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter 4.12 featured an interview with Stanford University’s men’s basketball strength & conditioning coach Keith D’Amelio. In the interview, he covers some drills that he uses to train lateral movement. Here are the videos:

1-2 Stick

1-2 Cut & Stick

1-2 Cut Continuous

H2G Vol.4 Front CoverOriginally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, Volume 4.

For similar content, subscribe to the free weekly Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter.

Defensive Footwork – On-Ball Defense

September 10th, 2009

When I played, coaches taught a step-slide motion to move laterally, a drop step to change directions and a sprint to catch up when the step-slide was not fast enough. The cardinal sin of defense was crossing your feet.

In reality, this instruction is a waste of time, as athletes do not move in this way. The video features Sandra Sinclair, a Swedish player, who is the best individual defender that I have coached against. In the video, she crosses her feet, using a crossover step to stay in front of the dribbler. When changing directions, she uses a hip turn, which is a small hop and turn.

Brian McCormick is the Performance Director for Train for Hoops.