by Mike Mejia CSCS
If I had to pick three of the most frequently asked questions I get on a regular basis they would be, "what's the best way to improve first-step quickness" would definitely among them. That's because athletes and coaches alike know that while things like linear speed, core strength, and endurance are important, there's nothing quite like having a lightning fast first step! Consistently being "first to the ball" is an advantage that can be extremely difficult for an opponent to deal with- particularly in a sport like soccer. Whether it's the ability to take off like a shot after the whistle blows, or being able to juke a defender out of their shoes in close quarters, developing a quicker first step can make you an instant headache for the opposition. Not to mention the tremendous confidence boost it will give you as an athlete.
About the only negative aspect of improving first-step quickness is that it can be somewhat difficult. It's not as simple as just doing a couple of specialized drills. If you really want to develop a faster first step, you'll need to gain an appreciation for all of the components that go into creating it. For starters, that means being in a good, "athletic position" at all times. If you're standing tall, with little bend in your hips and knees and your torso slumped forward, it's going to be extremely difficult to get a jump on anyone! Your muscles are a lot like rubber bands and as such, need to be properly "pre-loaded" to produce explosive movement. By not having your hips, knees, and ankles slightly flexed you're essentially sabotaging your ability to move efficiently without even realizing it!
Besides proper positioning, you'll also have to work on improving your reaction time. A big part of being able to beat your opponent is being the first to react to either a visual or audible cue. And while there are certain drills that can help with this (examples of which I'll provide you in future installments of this series), they'll be worthless if you don't also work on improving both strength and mobility. Becoming stronger and increasing your range of motion will give you the ability to apply the necessary force into the ground to create a more powerful stride. After all, what good is having better reaction time if you don't go anywhere because it takes you too many steps to get moving?
As you can see, how much you'll be able to improve your first step quickness will depend on a variety of factors. In this series, we'll take a look at them all, starting with next week's installment covering the basics of getting into a proper athletic position. After that, I'll show you some great ways to improve reaction time with a few drills that are as fun as they are effective. Finally, we'll round things out with a look at improving first step quickness in different directions. Remember, you're not always going to be required to move forward. So, we'll also take a look at lateral quickness and how efficiently you can initiate backwards movement.
In the end, you'll be left with a much greater understanding of exactly what it takes to develop a devastating first step. Better yet, you'll have to put up with the constant badgering of friends and teammates wanting to know where you got yours!