Change of direction mistakes are very common for new athletes, we’d like to go over some basic ways to fix them. There’s a science to changing direction. A lot of coaches will simply tell you to run and chop your feet to stop and turn. You’ll hear, “Knees up and get low!,” “Drop your hips!,” and “Sit!.”
There is some serious truth to the coaching statements above. There’s also specific techniques that can make this a lot better. To improve your agility on the field, you’ll need to know the key technical points of changing direction. Part of this is knowing what to do, what not to do, and repeat.
In this article, we will discuss three errors and three basic corrections you likely need to make to improve your change of direction (COD). You might be making more than three errors when attempting to make speedy turns, but we will cover the three most common mistakes we see at Elite.
Mistake 1: Upright body on the approach
Far too many athletes approach the turn with poor posture and extreme knee flexion. Their hips are high and their body is almost straight up. We routinely call this “snowboard stopping” or “sitting in the chair.”
It’s important to get down into a low position with your hips back and your center of mass low. One of our favorite coaching queues is to think about a girl peeing in the woods. We get a lot of laughs when we make this reference but it’s an extremely helpful visual. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings and a lot less tension in the front of your knees. This reduces your chance of falling over, brings your center of mass back to neutral, and helps you to stay balanced through the turn. This will also greatly reduce the distance over which you decelerate, help you appropriately apply force directly into the ground, and ultimately give you awesome brakes.
Check out this deceleration prep sequence from our friends over at The Performance Empire. Notice this NFL receivers butt hack and nose over toe position.
Mistake 2: Failing to place your foot firmly on the ground
You may be wondering, “What does this exactly mean? How do I place my foot into a firm position into the ground?” Always remember that force dissipates through its weakest medium. This means that any time there is an opportunity to absorb force, the rebound effect will be less powerful, i.e., slower. Think about suspension on a luxury sedan vs. a sports car. After deceleration and just before the turn, a slower athlete will plant an opposing foot on the ground, in pointer flexion absorbing force, causing a poor rebound effect. They focus on putting weight through the ball of their pointed foot rather than the whole foot or the ball of their foot in a dorsiflexed position. Doing this with a pointed foot not only greatly reduces speed out of the cut, but also decreases stability on the planting leg and increases your chance of injury.
Focus on creating a “wedge” with your planting foot. Our high-level athletes create a louder “thump” when they decelerate. When you place your foot on the ground, do so strongly, placing the whole foot flat on the ground. Do it fast and hard. If done correctly, this will activate the muscles in the leg to give you the stability you need to make a sharp change of direction.
Mistake 3: Driving out of the turn with the wrong leg
You’ve approached your deceleration well and placed your foot down firmly and appositely into the ground. Now it’s time to execute the turn. Here, a lot of athletes use their trailing leg (the one not used for the wedge step) to accelerate out of the turn. This is also known as a stem step or an open hip turn. It’s important that we state there is a place and time for an open hip step. This is fine for a short distance, or if you are turning at an angle greater then 90 degrees. There will be instances in some sports where you will need to open step to get your feet parallel towards the intended direction before you accelerate out with a close hip. If you want to turn and open yourself up over a long distance, you need to be more specific with your technique, weight transfer to where you’re headed, and closed hip acceleration technique.
Instead of using your trailing leg or inside leg to accelerate, first shift your weight to the outside of the foot in the direction you’re intending to go, creating parallel shins. You’re about to do a closed hip turn and use your previously planted leg. Get your hips parallel to the direction you want to go, shift your weight to where you’re going, and sweep your previously planted leg into an “A-Position” and forcefully drive it back under your hips to accelerate out of the turn.
This is just as tricky to write as it is to read. Schedule and appointment with one of our Performance Coaches to get shown the proper technique.
We were able to provide a lot of this content from this awesome nerd:
Ruairi O’Donnellan is a strength and conditioning coach from the West of Ireland. He has experience working with professional soccer players from the League of Ireland, international and domestic level rugby players in the Pro 14, along with a number of other athletes.