Whether it is, basketball, football, or soccer you can easily find coaches extolling the dangers of using a
However, when we watch many of the best defenders in these sports, we see them cross the feet often.
So are they just doing it wrong? Or maybe they are just gifted athletes the rest of us mere mortals shouldn’t try to copy?
We would argue that they have developed the athletic movement skills to use their feet, legs, and hips effectively. They developed a wide enough range of motor programs that they can cross their feet, rotate hips, and reposition efficiently to move well.
The Crossover Step
A crossover step is used when an athlete wants to move a bit faster or cover longer distances, approximately 4 yards or more. If you are doing a crossover to the left, you lift your right leg and cross it in front of your body. Your right foot will land in front of your left foot. (To see this, view the videos below.)
This is the way that the body naturally wants to move because it allows better force production and vector than a shuffle.
If you watch athletes, you’ll notice that players will do this movement without instructing them.
Defenders and Hips
The concept coaches are trying to teach when they say “don’t cross your legs” may be that they want the defender to stay “squared up” to the opponent. They want the defenders’ hips facing the opponent so they can go left or right easily at any moment.
This makes sense.
If a defender turns their hips early, the attacking player can exploit this by changing direction. With the hips turned one way, the defender is going to be slower because they have to turn their hips 180 degrees to get after the opponent.
So in a sport like basketball, the defender may want to be able to shuffle their feet to move left or right and cut off the attacking player.
By shuffling, they stay squared up and can quickly react to either the left or right.
Speed and Distance
Let’s imagine we line up two players with the same speed for a race of 5 yards. However, we let one sprint straight ahead and the other side shuffle. Who is going to win?
The sprinter. Running straight ahead is more biomechanically effective than shuffling. There is a speed limit on the shuffle.
Now, what if we let the second athlete do a crossover run for those 5 yards? Not a full turn and run, but staying hips square to the other, but letting their legs cross the midline of the body.
In equal athletes, it is now going to stay really close.
So the crossover run can be effective. When a higher speed or distance is covered and the defender needs to stay square in case the opponent stops or changes direction.
Let’s take this further and make them go about 15 yards.
The athlete using the crossover run may stay even initially. But they will start to fall behind as the other athlete keeps increasing speed. Spriting straight ahead is just faster because of better biomechanics.
So at farther distances and higher speeds, the defenders need to turn their hips and run otherwise they will be beaten.
What those examples highlight is that the “best” way to move depends on the goal.
- Stay alongside the opponent
- Keep hips square and ready to change
- Move at different speeds
- Cover short, medium, and long distances
That is why we want athletes to develop all of these movement skills.
It’s also why we want them to develop the coordination to effective change between them including opening the hips or crossing the feet.
They need both linking skills so they can react instantaneously.
When a sport requires athletes to react to changing opponents, ball movement, and tactics it is considered an “open” sport. The decisions and patterns are open to change.
Any defender in these sports has to possess a variety of ways to cover ground, change direction, and do these things while watching the game in other directions and dodging obstacles.
In the video linked below, watch as Kobe Bryant (recognized as a very good NBA defender) uses shuffles, crossovers, and slides to manage varying speeds and distances.
Training Crossed Feet
In our movement methodology, we develop several movement skills that help an athlete effectively cross their legs. We teach them to do this to both move and transition between movements.
A variety of carioca drills are used to form a base of coordination with the legs crossing the midline of the body, both in front and in back of the torso and the other leg.
While these are seemingly remedial drills, they are very effective at helping an athlete get comfortable both turning the hips and crossing legs. While the carioca isn’t a movement pattern they will use in transit during their sport, they give lots of repetition to develop proficiency.
The crossover drills are used both as the crossover run for transit and the crossover step to transition between movements. Crossover drills are combined with lateral or linear movements. The movements include: sprints, shuffles, and backpedals.
Finally, it is critical to use open, applied drills where athletes have to react to opponents, stimuli, or commands to change between speeds and directions. They have to learn how to combine these hip, leg, and foot positions efficiently.
Building Athletes That Can Cross Their Feet
While the goal of not crossing the feet and staying square often makes sense, the reality of reacting in open sports means the best athletes learn to do it well.
Instead of trying to coach athletes to stop using these natural movements, we work to make them more efficient and have a bigger skillset. We want them to become proficient in using a variety of movements and transitions and reacting instantaneously to their opponents.
Training effective crossovers are key in building better athletes in many sports.