Almost every sport is about more than just running fast or a huge vertical. Pick one, and we’ll bet that most of the action happens around changing direction. For the majority of the athletes with whom we work at Velocity around the country, this means they have to be just as good at stopping as they are at starting. Without good brakes, they simply can’t control their speed.
Three of our coaches have chosen their favorite drill to help their athletes have strong, fast brakes so that they can stop on a dime.
Level Lowering Ladder
One of the most basic skills an athlete needs to change direction is the ability to maintain proper position during deceleration. One of the tools we like to use at Velocity is the agility ladder because it helps focus the athlete on foot position and accuracy in addition to whatever skills we choose to address that day.
To do these drills, athletes first need to have the coordination to perform basic ladder drills well, such as swizzle, scissor switches, and the icky shuffle. Once the athlete can perform each of these without difficulty, they can modify the drill and pause as they drop their center of mass, stopping themselves in the proper position. The most basic, and therefore most important, positions in sports are the square, staggered, and single leg stance. A mini-band can be placed around the athlete’s knees to create awareness of proper knee position. If the athlete adds a medicine ball into the drill, they can work on more ballistic/dynamic eccentric movement with a different stimulus.
The athlete needs to lower his/her center of mass to create “triple flexion” in lower extremity joints: hip, knee, and ankle. The center of mass, knee, and ground contact must be in a good alignment to keep the movement safe and efficient.
Most importantly, the athlete must achieve proper hip hinge and dorsiflexion of the ankle. The vast majority of non-contact injuries occur during deceleration, often at knees or ankles. Learning how to absorb (load) force with proper body position (hip hinge, stable knee, and dorsiflexed ankle) will help prevent these injuries.
Springs and Shocks Ladder
The agility ladder is a great tool to help our athletes develop their shocks and springs.
When it comes to speed, athletes need to be springy and quick off the ground. When we talk about “springs,” we mean our athletes’ ability to be faster by using the elastic properties of their muscles.
“Shocks” means having the ability to absorb impact and force so our athletes can stop safely and quickly. This drill emphasizes both abilities and applies to any sport.
How to do the drill:
through the ladder try to be a quick as you can off of the ground. This is where we focus on our springs. When we land we want to land and be under control. The more control we have when decelerating the safer our body will be when changing direction. Most important part of the landing is keeping the body in proper position and not allowing a valgus knee.
Important details to watch are: position and control. We want an athlete to be able to develop the strength and control through the proper range of motion. This is especially important as we begin to add not speed or distance. Do not let athletes progress unless they can properly and effectively let control their landing for at least 2 seconds.
Resisted Deceleration March Series
Slowing down is often the most challenging aspect of changing direction and requires the athlete to absorb more force than at any other phase of the movement. This series of drills teaches athletes to keep good posture and body-alignment during deceleration. When we add a concentric movement (explosiveness) immediately followed by a deceleration phase the drill also develops reactive strength and power in the athlete.
How to do the drills:
- Position the athlete in a good athletic base with a resistance band or bungee cord around their waist. The partner holding the band increases resistance by pulling toward the direction where deceleration needs to occur.
- The athlete controls their posture while moving toward “the direction of pull”. Their shin is a very important detail and must point away from the direction of pull. This helps their foot dig into the ground and resist the momentum that is trying to keep them moving in their original direction.
- The ground contact, knee, and athlete’s center of mass should be in alignment and proper posture maintained.
- If you want to incorporate an explosive moment, have the athlete perform any form of change-of-direction movement, such as a lateral push, crossover step, or jump.
Important details to watch are:
- Make sure the athlete understand the basic athletic base position. Hip-hinge and dorsiflexion of the ankles are very important.
- The level resistance needs to be appropriate to their strength and ability. You may adjust this by using a different size resistance band or the distance between the athlete and partner.
- Ground contact, shin angle, knee position, and the athlete’s center of mass stay aligned (away from the direction of pull).
- Make sure the athlete is not leaning on the band.
- Eccentric control first, then concentric! Make sure your athletes understand how to use the brakes before they hit the gas pedal.