October 14, 2009

Level I Athletic Skills

Power captivates the American audience. Home runs, dunks and sacks dominate the highlight reels. Through these images, we associate these powerful events with “athletic” or “athleticism.” However, power is only a part, albeit a big part, of athleticism.

“People may say Steve Nash’s not athletic,” Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Scott Skiles continued. “What they should say is he’s not a great leaper. But everything else athletically he does well. He moves well laterally. He’s fast. He has great hand-eye coordination. He pivots on either foot. He has no real offensive weakness.”

nashAthletic skills run the gamut from reaction time to visual acuity to speed. Vern Gambetta says that athleticism is the ability to execute a series of movements at optimum speed with precision, style and grace. Developing athleticism begins with the five bio-motor qualities: strength, speed, power, flexibility and endurance.

Youth coaches focus on developing the proper technique for basic athletic skills so the player has a solid foundation for developing these qualities. Youth basketball coaches do not have the time to develop all these qualities, but teaching the proper technique for the major athletic skills improves a player’s performance and prevents injuries. Before a player learns to do a speed dribble, he needs to be able to run; before he jump-stops, he must know how to land from a jump. These basic techniques enhance the player’s basketball-specific development and provide the foundation for the player to develop his bio-motor qualities through general play and eventually through more structured training as the player matures.

Athletic Stance

Balance is control of your center of gravity. A balanced position is when your body is positioned over your base of support. A general athletic stance is a balanced position:

  • Back is flat; no rounded shoulders or humpbacks
    • Chest and eyes are up
    • Hips are back
    • Shoulders over the knees, knees over the toes
    • Weight is evenly displaced on each foot

The athletic stance is the basic position for everything from shooting to defense. The entire game should be played in an athletic stance.


Vertical Jump

    • Use arms and drive into the ground. Triple extension of the ankle, knee and hip.
    • Push away the ground.

Landing from a jump

  • Push hips back and land on the balls of the feet, sitting back to a flat foot with shoulders over knees and knees over toes.
  • Land “like a ninja,” soft and quiet.
  • Land with knees over the toes – do not allow the knees to move too far forward or cave in toward each other.


Running Mechanics

  • The PAL System: Posture, Arm Action and Leg Action
  • Posture: Run tall
  • Arm Action: Opposes the leg action to assist with balance and propulsion
  • Leg Action: Foot contacts the ground under the center of gravity
  • Focus on quick sprints with young players, not running laps.
  • Incorporate reaction drills to improve reaction time.

Hockey Stop

Hockey stop is used when turning to run in another direction.

    • Turn the hips, legs and feet so they are parallel with the end line, like when running line drills.
    • Outside leg is the final decelerator and is the most important leg to control momentum and to change direction.
    • Inside leg begins deceleration because in a normal stride pattern (r,l,r,l,r) it touches down first as the body turns (Taft).

Lunge Stop

The lunge stop is used to go from a sprint to a back pedal (or from a back pedal to a sprint).

    • Used when running forward to stop quickly in the split stance or lunge position.
    • Lower the hips and stop the lead leg knee over the foot, like a lunge.
    • Shoulders should be more forward than a strength training lunge.
    • Back leg bends close to 90-degrees.
    • In live situations players do not hold the lunge position, but reactively push off to back pedal.
    • The reverse lunge is done off the back pedal position with the rear or stopping leg much further back and the shoulders forward to accelerate quickly (Taft).

Next Section:

Basic Technical Skills
Tactical Skills

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