Basketball Speed - It's More Than Just Sprinting

Basketball Speed - It's More Than Just Sprinting

Jim Ratcliffe for Physical Education

Athletes with the fastest times in the 40-yard dash aren't necessarily the quickest or fastest players on a basketball court. That's because game speed is very different from 40-yard-dash speed.

Junior high and high school courts are 74 and 84 feet long, respectively. Even players at the college level are never required to sprint 40 yards at a time; a regulation NCAA court is 94 feet long--just a little over 31 yards.

What's the Difference?
Faster times in the 40-yard dash, or in baseline-to-baseline drills, can be reflected in a player's overall level of endurance, but they don't mean that a player's game speed is increasing.

Timed drills on the track--or running from baseline to baseline on the court--only measure a player's straight-ahead speed out of a stationary starting position. To be effective, a basketball speed training program must be based on drills that simulate game-specific situations, such as accelerating out of a side-shuffle, turning and sprinting out of a backpedal, and getting up and sprinting after falling down.

Speed Under Control
Acceleration is the major difference between raw track speed and speed on a basketball court. To increase game speed, players must learn how to:

  1. Begin their sprints out of a 45-degree body angle for maximum acceleration.
  2. Maintain correct arm action during a sprint -- avoid arm angles greater than 90 degrees as they pass the hip.
  3. Stay under control: Deceleration, or "braking," is an essential element of basketball speed. A fast player who doesn't know when or how to put on the brakes will usually miss a layup or turn the ball over.
  4. Slow down before re-accelerating into a cut or a jump.

To teach players the correct technique for decelerating, coaches should emphasize the importance of:

  1. Keeping the knees flexed.
  2. Lowering the hip as a braking action at the end of a sprint or a jump.

Reference: LaRue Cook, "There's speed--and then there's basketball speed," Women's Basketball, July/August 2008.

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