February 28, 2018 • DefenseDrillsWinning Hoops

Footwork, conditioning drills for ball-hawking defenders

by Joseph Kubacki, formerly of Cathedral High School, Springfield, Massachusetts

Time is always of the essence, and too often it seems as if the repetitions of footwork drills in practice lessen as the season progresses.

To remedy this, our staff discovered a way to combine two benefits into one task by incorporating defensive footwork drills into our conditioning program. Most of these drills include what are known as “suicides,” where players line up at the baseline, run to the foul line then backpedal to the baseline, run to half court and back, three-quarter court and back, and finally, full court and back, sprinting all the way.

Every day you must reinforce the basic footwork skills needed to play tough man-to-man defense. We combine the following defensive-footwork drills with our conditioning program. Make sure each player stretches thoroughly before beginning this drill workout.

Step-slide drill/slide-step suicides

Line up all your players on the baseline and have them assume a defensive stance. On the coach’s signal, players step-slide to the foul line and back, then to half court and back, etc. Just as in “regular” suicides. 

Closeout suicides

The same procedure as above, except it works a different skill. In the closeout or recovery to the ball, your players start by sprinting to within two slide-steps of the foul line. The players then slide-step to the foul line with the inside foot and arm finishing up to simulate the action of contesting a shot. This is followed by an “explosion-step” — the defender throwing their body back in the other direction with the biggest step he or she can muster — to simulate the action of defending an offensive player who is trying to dribble-drive.

The player step-slides until he or she reaches the baseline and then repeats to half court. The players finish up full court like a regular suicide. 

Jump-stop-and-pivot suicides

The same procedure as a regular suicide, except at each of the break points, the player jump stops at the line and either front or reverse pivots. Both of these types of pivots are valuable for many other skills, such as rebounding.

Advance-step, retreat-step sprints

These are full-court sprints. Each player step-slides with one foot forward and then does a swing-step and step-slide, bringing the other foot forward. On the way back, the player slide-steps in reverse and swing-steps and slide-steps with the other foot leading the way in reverse. Emphasize that your players keep low in their defensive stances.

Stunt slides

These slides are done only to the foul line, but they’re done in repetitions of four. This skill is used particularly in the trapping game. Here, the players rapidly advance-step to the foul line and then rapidly retreat-step back to the baseline.