Updated: May 2
When we craft a defensive warmup, we should think of doing so the same way we craft a ball handling warmup. We don’t simply stick to one type of dribble and repeat the crossover for 5 minutes. We want to hit on a variety of moves and mesh all the fundamental skills of ball handling into an efficient warmup. I like to approach defense the same way. Although I love the touch slide, the classic (keep your feet apart cliche), I also don’t believe it is sufficient for a warmup routine or defensive development.
Instead, I like to include 3 basic versions of defensive footwork: the touch slide, the crossover step and the two touch. Each of these maneuvers are consistently seen in elite defenders and vary from situation to situation. An elite defender may have a movement they use more often or prefer (just as an offensive player may prefer the in and out), but an elite defender will use all three of these movements throughout the game.
We start with the cross over step, although sometimes controversial (for those coaches who yell never cross your feat), for the most part it is an accepted movement skill. And if you study the best defenders, it is an essential one to cover more ground and stay square.
The drill to warmup and ingrain this movement is quite simple. The players position themselves a few feet from a line or ring. They will then crossover their outside foot, exploding to the line, and use that foot to push off and land a few feet beyond the line square and on two. There are a few key teaching points in this movement. 1) the players need to keep their hips and upper body square. This is not a turn and run maneuver, it is a defensive slide technique and thus players need to keep their upper body in legal guarding position. 2) players should not move much in the vertical plane, meaning there should be no jumping upwards. All momentum and power is applied laterally. Make sure your players are staying level throughout the movement with a slight bent to their knees for better force absorption on their landings.
The second warmup drill is much more controversial. This will go against the coaches who yell, never bring your feet together. However, it is a footwork pattern you see from every great defender. The benefits to this footwork pattern is that it allows the defender to generate more force in a slide for distance. One Two Touch slide can cover the ground of three classic slides.
To start this warmup drill players start the same way as the crossover step, simply lining up a few feet from a line or ring, and will explode one foot to the line, quickly bring the second foot to the line and drive the first foot as far as possible. Another term for this maneuver is a foot replacement.
One key teaching point is for the players to stay level throughout the movement. No motion should be waisted in a vertical fashion. All explosive energy should be spent covering lateral ground; without excessive motion upwards. This will also naturally cause the players to keep a slight bend in their knees allowing for better force absorption on their landings - and thus quicker change of directions.
The last drill and footwork pattern to warmup for on-ball defenders is the classic, the touch slide. This is one familiar to many coaches, keeping feet apart and sliding through the movement without any negative steps or wasted motion. The slides in this movement are smaller but have the ability to be performed much faster in secession.
This time the warmup drill requires the use of some type of equipment. We prefer to use the Lockdown Ladder for ease but you could easily use floor dots, tape boxes or even cones. The players learn the footwork of sliding through the ladder without bringing their feet together as well as changing direction back to the starting point. We also like to add resistance bands to the movement to further develop those explosive muscles and tendons.
There are several other footwork drills we can include in warmups or full workouts depending on the athletes and areas of focus. For example, we may incorporate corrective drills for players who specifically struggle with change of direction or for players who play on their heels / flat footed. Also notice that this article is specific to on ball footwork warmup and if we were focused on closeout footwork or navigating screens the drills and progressions would be difference.
If you are interested in learning more about footwork drills and developing elite defenders, check out our defensive footwork training program at LockdownHoops.com/footworktraining.
See you next time!