Good Feet

By Steve Myrland

“What a great player!”

“Yup: Good feet.”

Good feet?

What do coaches mean when they say someone has good feet? What are “good feet?” And why do they matter?

Good feet can move quickly and precisely. They find balance and react to restore it when it is perturbed by the unexpected. They create, reduce and redirect forces efficiently and effectively within the precise demands of an unpredictable spectrum of competitive moments. They connect the athlete to the earth (swimming being, perhaps the lone exception). They are the foundation for all other athletic qualities and the first line of injury resilience for ankles, knees and hips. If your feet can encounter the ground and react efficiently and effectively—at competitive speed—you have a far better chance of surviving the fifty-fifty moments that spell the difference between “survive and thrive” or “crash and burn” in training and competition.

Creating Good Feet

Sport-specific footwork is coachable and eminently trainable. The process begins with an examination of the footwork patterns of the sport and then grows organically from those identifiable roots. Consider a volleyball player’s forward or lateral steps in preparation for a block or spike; the baserunner’s precisely timed speed-cut off first base to minimize the time getting safely to second; or the attacking soccer player’s balletic dance when controlling the ball—at speed—while disorganizing a defender. These are all repetitive, identifiable, definitive, and determinative moments—make-or-break moments—and all athletes can train to perform them . . . better.


Establishing and refining footwork skills using the ABC LADDER

These twelve ABC LADDER movements cover essential footwork patterns common to field and court sports. Learn them by working slowly and carefully; then build toward greater pace—but only to the extent that you can complete each movement with precision and balance. Next, increase the amplitude and ground-reaction forces to all change-of-direction movements to strengthen the body in the low center-of-gravity posture(s) needed to sustain balance, control and pace while cutting. Finally, add resistance, reaction and sport-specific skills.

Level-1 (half-ladder):

    1. Forward 1-foot in's
    2. Forward 2-feet in's
    3. Lateral 2-feet in's>
    4. Lateral cross-over steps

Level-2 (half-ladder):

    5. Forward slalom-jumps
    6. Backward slalom-jumps
    7. Lateral left-foot in – right-foot out
    8. Lateral right-foot in – left-foot out
    9. Forward 3-count shuffle
    10. Backward 3-count shuffle
    11. Forward 3-count cross-steps
    12. Backward 3-count cross-steps

Level-3 (half-ladder):

Increased pace: Try to perform all the above movements at a faster tempo without sacrificing precision and balance.

Level-4 (quarter ladder):

Increased amplitude: Do movements 9 and 10 using a slightly amplified final foot-plant, making it into a sharply-angled power-cut to begin the movement back across the ladder). Then do movements 11 and 12 with a forceful lateral bound off the second foot-plant (the foot that lands in the ladder square) covering as much ground as possible while still being able to land with balance and control before beginning the movement in the opposite direction.

Level-5 (quarter ladder) adding forward & backward resistance:

Set your ABC LADDER on a slight hill so that it is oriented parallel to the slope. Perform all twelve drills. Do movements 1 and 2 forward up the hill; then repeat forward down the hill, maintaining balance and control of the center of gravity throughout. Do movements 3 - 12 in both directionsboth up and down the hill. When working indoors on flat court surfaces, add resistance by attaching elastic tubing to a harness or belt and have a coach or teammate anchor your movements from in front and behind.

Level-6 (quarter ladder) adding lateral resistance:

Set your ABC LADDER on a slight hill so that it is oriented perpendicular to the slope. Perform movements 5 – 12 with both right and left sides of the body oriented uphill and downhill. This adds resistance to each movement made to the uphill side of the ladder, and extra fast eccentric loading to each downhill movement. When working indoors on flat court surfaces, add resistance by attaching elastic tubing to a harness or belt and have a coach or teammate anchor your movements from the side to replicate the gravitational pull of a real hillside.

Level-7 (quarter ladder):

Work through all the above drills, adding a 10-yard forward acceleration sprint at the conclusion of each movement. (Use a quick, efficient drop-step when completing backward ladder movements to turn from the backward motion into the forward sprint.)

Level-8 (quarter ladder):

Add a full-stop and directional change upon completion of each 10-yard forward sprint to return to the first rung of the ABC LADDER. Be sure to plant and cut off both right and left feet; and include backpedal acceleration efforts as well.

Level-9 (quarter ladder) rhythmic carry, catch and play:

Include sport-specific tools. Baseball / softball players should do the footwork drills wearing a glove; tennis players should carry a racquet; hockey and lacrosse players should carry a stick. This is done to familiarize athletes with the precise feel of moving efficiently and effectively with the addition of the required implement. For sports like basketball, soccer, volleyball and football, reacting to a ball fed by a coach or teammate at regular timed intervals within the footwork patterns will help return heads-up focus to the sport and away from the feet. Be creative and playful.

Level-10 (quarter ladder) reaction carry, catch and play:

Add sport-specific reaction responses by receiving and playing a ball fed by a coach or teammate at unpredictable intervals. Soccer players can one-touch volley or head a soccer ball; tennis and badminton players can return the ball or bird using both forehand and backhand motions; lacrosse players can catch and return the ball fed to both sides of the body; volleyball players can dig and bump the ball back to the feeder; baseball and softball players can catch a thrown ball or field a ground-ball and make a return toss to the feeder; and hockey players can react to a fed tennis-ball by trying to control and return it to the feeder, as well. Again: be creative and playful in designing the tasks.

By beginning with a simple-but-versatile tool (the ABC LADDER), mastering some basic movement patterns, and then progressing those patterns by adding speed, amplitude, resistance, complexity, and sport-skills by incorporating other simple tools (med-balls, stretch-cords, etc.) athletes can simultaneously train for improved performance while attenuating the risk of injury. That defines the process of pursuing functional athleticism.