Basketball Agility Training: More Important Than Your Vertical Jump!

What does a basketball player need to be working on to improve their performance? I will review some of my favorite drills in different areas of physical preparation.

Football has the 4.2-second 40-yard dash, baseball has the 100 mph pitch and tennis has the 100 mph serve. In basketball the 40-inch vertical jump is often perceived as the pinnacle of basketball success. However, we have seen time and time again athletes succeed despite exhibiting poor scores in these tests. I receive many emails from aspiring basketball players wanting to know the "secrets" of improving their vertical jump. This whole concept of focusing a training program around one test is very discouraging.

Even though my athletes perform well on standardized tests, this is not our goal. Our mission is to win championships. An impressive vertical gives an athlete advantages. However, if the coaching staff or the team focuses solely on the vertical jump, we are not properly preparing our athletes. Whenever I am asked how to improve one's vertical jump, I respond with the following question, "how many jump shots are you taking a day, how many hours are you working on ball handling drills, and how often do you perform drills perfecting proper footwork?" These drills are more important than a vertical jump, yet the response to the question is often disappointing. We need to re-assess what is important to create champions.

There needs to be a starting place and an end in mind. Always begin every season with specific goal setting, both as a team and individuals. Determine three strengths and weaknesses of the team and of the players. You should then work on building on to the team's strengths and reducing its weakness.

In every program always make sure to address all components of The Wheel of Conditioning. From range of motion to skill training, nothing gets left out. How much time we devote to each section depends upon the time of year and the goals of the cycle.

So, what does a basketball player need to be working on to improve their performance? Below I will review some of my favorite drills in different areas of physical preparation. Some of these drills are designed for those athletes who do not have access to the most current equipment or highly-skilled coaches.

Range of Motion

The hip mobility drills outlined in Coach Davies' Renegade Training for Football are fantastic for basketball players as well. They teach proper body positioning for defensive stances, triple threat position and optimizing your vertical jump. If you do not have access to hurdles, you can use the Crossack+Lunge+Hip Turn drills adapted from Pavel Tsatsouline's Super Joints and Windmill drill used by world-champion Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Stephen Maxwell. They do not require any equipment and free up the movements in the hip.


Agility Training

Proper body, foot and head positioning are crucial for creating a quick first step on a defender, keeping in front of the opposition's best penetrator, or assisting in proper help side defense. In addition to utilizing the jump rope, we use agility ladders and cones as great tools. There is no reason not to become accomplished at a variety of jump rope drills. Many individual athletes do not own an agility ladder, so I will focus on cone drills that are inexpensive and easy to set up.

Box Drill with Crossover

Purpose: To learn acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction with the ball.

  • Place four cones approximately 15 feet apart
  • Begin at one cone in a triple threat position
  • Speed dribble to the first cone
  • Jump stop, pivot and crossover to the other hand
  • Continue to speed dribble to the following cone

"M" Drill with Reverse Pivot

Purpose: To teach acceleration and deceleration; to learn proper footwork for screening and coming out of the screens.

  • Keep the cones in the same position as with the Box Drill, but now place one cone in the middle
  • Sprint to the middle cone, jump stop and assume a proper screening stance
  • Reverse pivot to open up to the next cone
  • Sprint to the following cone
  • Sprint across the lanes

"M" Drill with Reverse Pivot

T-Drill with Pass

Purpose: To learn proper defensive slide, athletic stance and reaction to the ball.

  • Set up the back cone to first cone at approximately 15 feet
  • Set side cones approximately 10 feet apart from middle
  • Speed dribble to first cone
  • Jump stop and pass either to partner or wall
  • Shuffle to each lateral cone while chest passing
  • Make sure to hit each side cone before speed dribbling back to start
  • Without ball make sure to back peddle to start

T-Drill with Pass

Note: On all acceleration and deceleration drills, the intensity at which the drill is performed will dictate the number of steps required to stop or change direction. With lower intensities the number of steps will be smaller. This is important to see the efficiency in which the athlete moves.

For those that do have access to an agility ladder, you may try these drills once you have mastered proper positioning without a ball.

Attack and Retreat

Purpose: To teach proper dribbling height, arm bar, and body positioning. Good to use in teaching how to avoid traps.

Attack and Retreat

Defensive Slide

Purpose: To learn how to pass from a proper stance; learn not to bring feet together, and to keep eyes up.

Defensive Slide


The key to success in any of these drills is to become proficient with the more basic versions and then advance to more difficult ones once you can perform them at game speed. This includes not looking down at your feet or coming out of the athletic stance. Next week, I will include drills to discuss strength and work capacity training.

Josh Henkin is the President and CEO of Advanced Athletic Performance, LLC, in Phoenix, Arizona. He is available for workshops and private seminars in the Phoenix area. In addition, Coach Henkin is available anywhere in the United States and overseas.

Now Check Out Part Two!
More drills for your skills...