Boost your first-step quickness and blow by defenders with the following advice and drills from Alan Stein, conditioning coach for the Jordan Classic and NBA Player’s Association Top 100 camp.
By Chad Zimmerman
When you control the rock, you control the game. You know where you want to go and when you want to go there, so you have a definite advantage over the defense. And the quicker your first step, the bigger the advantage.
“The quicker you are when you get the ball, the more of a threat you are as a scorer,” Stein says. “This is why quickness is one of the top traits for a basketball player.”
Quickness, according to Stein, is a general category that encompasses a number of athletic skills, some of which apply to basketball and others don’t. Stein trains players only in areas specific to the hardwood. “Basketball is not just running to a set line and changing direction, so we don’t train that way,” he says. “We try to be creative by adding an element of reaction to our drills. We use reaction off the ball and visual and audible cues to train reaction. That’s what basketball is—a game of reaction.”
Perform two or three of the following drills twice a week in the off-season to improve your first-step quickness, agility and reaction time. Make sure to use the prescribed set and rest time so you are working on first-step speed, not conditioning.
Benefits: Footwork, hand quickness, hand-eye coordination
Reps: 30 seconds / Sets: 4-6 / Rest: 60-90 seconds
• Get in defensive stance an arm’s length away from partner who’s holding tennis ball in each hand
• Sprint to ball after partner throws it
• Catch ball before second bounce
• Toss back to partner, then sprint back to starting position
• React and sprint to next throw from partner
• Partner should vary each throw’s distance, direction and speed
Coaching Point: Make sure your partner varies the hand he uses to throw and constantly changes the pattern. For example, throw left hand, left hand, left hand and then right. That is more unpredictable than throwing left, right, left. Different patterns force you to react faster and improve your first step.
Benefits: Lateral quickness and agility
Reps: 12-15 seconds / Sets: 4-6 / Rest: 60-90 seconds
• Stand in lane in athletic position between blocks
• Partner kneels at top of key behind three-point line with two basketballs
• Partner rolls one ball to each block
• Defensive slide to block, tap ball back to partner, slide back to starting position
• React to next roll and repeat
Coaching Point: Don’t cross your feet. Stay low with your chest up and hands active, so you can reach the ball and tap it back to your partner. Your hands should be in front, like you’re in a game, so you can catch a pass or grab a rebound. If your hands are down at your sides, you can’t do these things in a game—or perform this drill. Most importantly, work hard. Intensity of effort is crucial.
Benefits: Reaction and short-burst quickness
Reps: 15 seconds / Sets: 4-6 / Rest: 60-90 seconds
• Place five cones around three-point line (see diagram)
• Perform athletic movement, such as backboard taps or defensive slides, from block to block
• When partner calls number of cone, sprint to cone and then back to starting spot
• Continue performing original movement
• React to partner’s next call and sprint to and from cone
Coaching Point: Adjust the drill by sprinting to the cone as if you’re closing out a shooter. Chop your feet as you get close to the cone, get low, put a hand up in the imaginary shooter’s face, and then sprint back to the start. You can also change the movement pattern, such as by sprinting to the cone and backpedaling to the start. Each different movement helps work another part of your game.