The defensive stance: How do we improve lateral speed?


Does the coach (in white) in the above picture look like he is going to move quickly? Is you were asked to move as quickly as possible in any direction, would you choose this stance as your starting point?

I wouldn’t.

However, this position is not far from the instruction that I received as a player, and the instruction that I heard at basketball camps early in my coaching career. I was told repeatedly by very good coaches that this position will make a defender faster. It never seemed to work for me, as my coaches continually told me that I was slow. Only when I ignored their instruction, in summer leagues without my coaches or once I was done playing, did anyone refer to me as a competent defensive player, athletic, or quick.

As with most things, the specific defensive stance depends. It depends on the individual, and it depends on the situation. More on defensive stances in the videos below.

One of the most frequent instructions that I have seen, especially at camps, is the coach walking around and pushing players in their shoulder to check their balance. However, this is stability, not balance, and it is not even desired:

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

2 thoughts on “The defensive stance: How do we improve lateral speed?

  • Stability vs. Balance: I didn’t hear a reference to a “Stable and Balanced” Stance. I can see how one can be Balanced but not Stable but one can be both Stable and Balanced. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way but seems like it was either/or in the clip. In general, would the ability to coordinate the footwork and body control be more efficient with both a Stable and Balanced Stance? Providing the player’s body is at it’s optimal depth for any particular situation? I’ve been reading and re-reading your books and blog so I know the answer could be, “It depends”. lol.

  • Mike:
    I’d say balance is a prerequisite for stability in this sense, so a stable stance is a stable and balanced stance. I’m not sure that you can be stable, but not balanced.

    There are also different degrees of stability. Can you resist a slight push? a big push?

    I think there are times when stability is desired, and others when it is not. I do not believe that stability is desired when the goal is rapid movement because it increases inertia.

    My main contention is with the idea that to be in a good defensive stance, one must get low and wide enough to resist any external force. This is what my coaches desired, as if we swayed or moved at all when pushed, we were instructed to get lower and wider. But, if I am in such a position that I can resist a big external force, like a push from an adult on a 10-year-old, how much internal force must I generate to move from that position?

    When we require players to resist forces, this is stability, not balance. Most coaches confuse this, and believe that a player is not on balance if he cannot resist the external forces. Balance and stability are not the same thing. The player should be balanced; however, if I am on balance, and I am pushed, I will lose my balance. That does not mean the position is incorrect. In basketball, it’s evidence of a foul! Now, in a sport like football, stability is more important because an offensive lineman must resist the external forces without being knocked off balance or knocked down/backward.

    Rather than concentrate on positions of stability when defending on the perimeter or a defender in motion, we should concentrate on positions that lead to quicker movements.

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