How To Develop An Explosive First Step - How Having a "Long" First Step Can SLOW You Down!
To name a few, Lebron James, Derrick Rose, & Dwyane Wade all have explosive first steps. This puts pressure on the defense and opens up many scoring opportunities for their team. While a quick first step is just one of the many things they do well, it can certainly turn a moderate player into a very good player.

In this article, we're going to cover:

  1. Why a quick first step is important
  2. How using the cue word "long" for a first step can actually slow your players down.
  3. How to properly execute an explosive first step.

Why is a quick first step important?

A great first step creates separation and maintains separation from the defender which can lead to many easy baskets for your TEAM.

  1. Drive & Dump - a really good first step will get you by the first line of help defense which forces the post defense to help and leaves an easy dump pass to a post player for the dunk.

  2. Drive & Kick - a good first step will get you by the defender which will cause the first line of defense to sag off their man to help stop your penetration. This leads to many open shots along the perimeter.

    I remember a game in high school where I simply drove at the help defender of a player that was shooting the ball really well that night. Each time, the help defender dropped down to help, the shooter was wide open. He had 6 3s in about 10 minutes.

  3. Drive & Kick & Pass - sometimes, the score doesn't come immediately off of your pass. A good defense will rotate on the 1st pass. After that, the perimeter player can usually make a quick pass to an open teammate for a shot. This doesn't fill up the stat sheet for you, but I guarantee college scouts and good coaches sure take notice. This will lead to more victories, more playing time, and more scholarship offers for the select few.

  4. Lay Up or Bunny Jumper - If the defense doesn't rotate over, you can often get an easy lay up or short little jumper for your team.

  5. Cause Foul Trouble For The Opposition - If you're constantly beating your defender, other defensive players will have to help which can lead to foul trouble if they do not rotate over quickly enough.

How using the cue word "long" for a first step can actually SLOW your players down!

A long first step can be beneficial in the post area to gain position. However, you often hear basketball coaches cueing their players to take a "long" first step along the perimeter.

This cue of taking a "long" first step can cause players to over-stride with their first step which causes the player to slow down, lose balance, and jump poorly. This makes it easier for the defense to help and recover.

Over-striding (or over-reaching) occurs when the lead leg makes contact with the ground and the shin angle is greater than 90 degrees (or a 'negative' shin angle). This is not a good position for the body to accelerate or jump. When a player reaches this position, it is actually the body's natural 'breaking system' or way to slow down.

This position also does not engage all of the muscles needed to generate the most force. Common sense will tell you that the more force you can produce, the more explosive and longer your step will be when driving towards to the basket.

According to Vern Gambetta, the goal of the first step is to "create a positive shin angle in order to produce force and get the body moving in the correct direction with the least effort possible." When taking your first step, you want the shin angle to be at 90 degrees or less, because this position enables you to engage all of the muscles needed to produce the most force.

I once heard a coach say, "If you were going to race somebody without starting blocks, how would you line up? That's an ideal first step position." Your body instinctively knows what the ideal position is to produce the most force. Your goal on the first step should be to get to that position as quickly as possible.

The proper 'cue' & optimal position for taking a first step to blow by the defender:

Assuming the player is already in a good triple threat position with their hips back, knees bent, shoulders over the feet, and weight on the balls of the feet, here is a simplified version of the cues and the optimal position.

  1. "Nose over the toes" - That's a cue I picked up from Brian McCormick that puts the player in the optimal position for having the knee over the foot and the shoulder and head above the foot.

  2. "Quick to the floor" - This cue tells the athlete to get the foot back down as quick as possible, so they can quickly produce their second step towards the basket. This also helps prevent overstriding.

    Once, the player starts to improve in this area, you can add focus to the dribble.

  3. "Extend Dribble" - This cue tells the player to push the ball out in front of them.

  4. "Head Up" - This cue helps the player see the entire floor.
These same cues could be applied to exploding off of the dribble as well. I also like to add "Drive" as a cue. This is what makes the drive long and quick while maintaining optimal running position to explode towards the hoop.

Focus on one or two of these cues each session and progress the players over time. Trying to give them all of these cues at once might overload the player with too much information.

I spent my entire high school career over-striding on my first step and I know from personal experience how detrimental it can be. Rather than looking for a solution, I just assumed I was not as athletic as other players and that I needed to work harder on the move which led to me adapting somewhat. I was still able to jump (poorly) while being slightly off-balance and finish at the hoop. As soon as I made this change to my first step, I felt extremely explosive and I could reach the goal much easier off of the jump. For a short while, it actually threw off my lay up, because I was not accustomed to having any spring when finishing near the goal. This was fixed with a few repetitions.

If you are looking for drills to develop speed and quickness, check out Alan Stein's 130 "Pro Power" Speed, Quickness, & Reaction Drills.

What do you think about this? Please leave your thoughts and opinions below...

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Davey says:
7/13/2010 at 3:58:32 AM

Good stuff. I have ofen found it difficult when a coach asks for a long first step. Everything you say makes sense.


Michael Nedrick says:
7/13/2010 at 8:48:17 AM

This was very helpful to me as a high school point guard. Often times enough I take an over extended first step. At practice I going to try this new technique and hopefully be more of a threat to the defense. Thanks . Very helpful post.


Coach Paul Patrick says:
7/13/2010 at 9:30:41 AM

Excellent teaching point. As coaches we must be very aware of how literal our words can be taken. The same misconception can be picked up by players when coaches say “your foot should meet or beat the defender’s foot”. Truly it’s more important when you go by a defender and you are low, that you shoulder beats the defender’s foot. Foot to foot is great, but players will get that greater than 90 degree leg position if they take that instruction literally.
Coach Paul


Robert says:
7/13/2010 at 11:03:40 AM

As a coach, I have stressed having players, basically, throw the ball toward the basket and "going to get it (the ball)" to help players get to the basket more quickly. As a result, drivers can cover more distance in one step, thereby experiencing that they can get from the 3-point line to the backboard in one dribble, definitely in two dribbles. We do lots of reps on this out of the triple threat position combined with face-up moves. Initially, the first step does feel as if you are chasing a thrown ball, and feeling a little out-of-control. Down the road, however, and pretty quickly, the nevous system smooths out the mechanics and adds a sense of power to the action. And just as coach Paul Patrick states, driving is better served when the driver seeks to beat the defender with the driver's head and shoulders.


Jim says:
7/13/2010 at 11:22:28 AM

Great tip. Been struggling to get my daughter to explode to basket. She had a great fake, but seemed to slow down on her steps to hoop.


Dustin Gray says:
7/14/2010 at 2:25:29 AM

It is great to see that Performance Training, and biomechanics (in this case proper acceleration mechanics) are finally making it into basketball skill development.
For everyone that took physics, Newtons 3rd Law (action-reaction law) states that force pairs are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. This is critical to the first step in basketball as the direction the foot strikes the floor will project the body in the opposite direction. So the shin angle is very important, as a vertical shin will project the body upwards, and a "positive" shin angle will project the body more horizontally. It is also important to "attack" the foot backwards and down into the ground with great force.
In general, a foot striking the ground ahead of the hips will act to decelerate the body, whereas a foot striking the ground behind the hips will accelerate the body.
For all those interested, Athletes'' Performance and Core Performance have great videos of wall drills to groove the motor pattern of acceleration....
Great stuff, keep up the great work!!


Rick Allison says:
7/14/2010 at 10:02:09 AM

Great job breaking down a extremely key area of the dribble attack..the first step. Another aspect of body control which will assist in improving explosive force transfer is GETTING LOW with head & shoulders forward of the hips. This will improve the flex angles of the hips, knees & ankles..and will allow a relatively longer first step without incurring a negative shin angle.

Rick Allison
LoneStar Basketball Academy
[[[ C2E ]]]


namaless says:
7/15/2010 at 12:20:26 PM

awesome post... makes alot of sense... now i see y i cant jump as high when i over stride... good post thanks loads


Ben says:
7/15/2010 at 5:15:45 PM

Another drill you can perform is to stand in one place and practice lifting your foot about 4 to 6 inches and returning your foot to the floor as fast as possible. This is a sprinters drill to get them to stay in contact with the surface. Remember the longer you are off the ground ala long step the easier you are to defend. The information is really great.


MikeL says:
7/16/2010 at 2:35:54 AM

Great tip! I've also been guilty of using long steps. The shorter step will make it easier also, to pull back for a jumpshot if the defender reacts well.


hoopster216 says:
11/17/2010 at 9:42:18 PM

Awesome cues!


6/20/2011 at 7:21:18 AM



cathy says:
1/8/2015 at 11:56:45 PM

try to stay low, keep head and shoulders as far in front of hips as possible, and beat opponent with your shoulder first. once they on your shoulder, take a straight line to the hoop and ATTACK. get into the paint and score or get to the free throw line.


Gilbert says:
6/7/2015 at 10:00:38 PM

It's hard to listen to a writer whose title says Lebron James has a first quick step LOL Lebron James's first step is slightly above average at best, reason why he uses picks so much. Guys with true quick first steps are rose, wade, etc


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