First Step Quickness

first step quicknessA legendary strength and conditioning coach asked an aging professional basketball player how he would know when it was time to retire. His immediate response was, “when I lose my first step.”  Speed starts with the start. Like drinking plenty of water, first step quickness is essential.

Training for first step quickness must not be neglected. In most sports if your first step is too slow you may not have enough time to recover. A misstep too often translates into a missed opportunity.

A couple things to consider:

  • Do you let your athletes walk or jog into it drills, hurdles, ladders, etc.? Or do you require them to get set before they start?
  • Are your athletes always on the whistle or do they sometimes start themselves?
  • Do your athletes have adequate time to get set before they take off?
  • Do you focus on and insist their first step is fast?

The way athletes train determines how they play. If they practice with a slow first step, they will play with one as well.

We often don’t start our athletes with a whistle. We like to put the onus on them to start when they are ready. Not only do we teach them how to set up and load their body from a static position, we lay out training principles that nurture a culture of patience. Most kids want to rush the technique and they end up neglecting details. Encourage your athletes to take the time to do it right.

A fun way to work on first step quickness from a dynamic position is hopping and landing on two feet then transitioning directly into a sprint. This can be done off a box, over equipment like a speed hurdle, or just in space. Take it up a notch by going into sprints from a vibration which brings in the element of reaction where the transition happens on the coach’s command. Whether forward, backward or lateral, put your athletes in a position to be athletic where they must get out fast.

In the weight room, consider the benefits of Olympic lifts like hang cleans, power cleans, and split jerks. Remember, focus on the speed of the rep, not the speed of the set. Quality always trumps quantity with Olympic lifts. Millions and millions of reps aren’t necessary. Explosive strength training correlates directly to the use of fast twitch muscle fibers for a quick start on the court or field of play.

We have alluded time and again to the general consensus that the most significant change from one level of play to the next is the speed of the game. This leads to a simple conclusion: the speed of the training changes too. You have to train fast to get fast. So if you want to train fast, start fast.

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