Athletes incorporating dance into their training routine isn’t new -- in fact, many athletes throughout the 20th century developed entire training regimens around dance. In the 1970s, NFL great Lynn Swann (known as “Baryshnikov in cleats” then) opened the door for professionals in all sports to participate in various forms of dance and other similar disciplines like yoga and Pilates. The goal was to specifically improve strength, balance, flexibility, and body control, as well as rhythm and timing. It’s also no secret that dance is very difficult, and some athletes have gravitated toward forms like ballet, saying things like “if you can survive a ballet workout, you can survive a workout in any other sport.” The endurance and discipline that goes into learning different forms of dance with proper technique often falls overlooked, but there are plenty of ways for you to include dance in your team’s workouts, practices, or training.

Group Dance Classes

Sometimes, really getting something to make sense in application means breaking comfort zones to get there. Over time, more and more dance classes specifically aimed toward athletes and teams have begun popping up everywhere. While it might be somewhat difficult to explain the merits of a group dance class to some younger male players, they’ll be sure to get something out of it should they take it seriously. Research has shown that dance instruction improves skills in agility, coordination, timing, flexibility, muscle isolation, and quick direction changes, all of which are important in most (if not all) team sports. For example, in his article in the Sports Performance Bulletin, John Shepherd notes that “the ballet position turnout rotates legs from the hips and helps to strengthen smaller, more injury-susceptible muscles, while using the changement and tendu positions helps to enhance ankle and foot flexibility, which is seen to enhance agility.” Taking your team to a dance class together, especially one specifically geared toward athletes, is a surefire way to catapult your teamwork, communication, and footwork to very new heights, as well.

Some types of dance courses focus on a couple of those skills in particular; salsa, for instance, has been worked into curriculums for athletes for years now. Learning salsa routines focuses the athletes almost exclusively on their footwork and separation between their upper and lower body muscles. Whether fast or slow, salsa requires that focus between the different parts of the body and brain to get into a flow of sorts, where the motions become fluent or second nature. Once established, athletes can slip into partner work and routines, where the motions become dependent on either a second person or moves to come -- much like an in-game situation playing out quickly.

Fundamentals of Dance in Basketball

Ultimately, the goal should be to develop a previously unknown compartmentalization of body movement such that your athletes can dive into their own flow more efficiently. That’s why it’s so helpful to incorporate some of the basics of dance, or even just the roots of its effects, in your practice and training regimens. Things as simple as playing music while having a practice can help your players build into their own rhythms with the rhythms going on around them; more advanced applications of the same idea could be designing or changing drills to revolve around the rhythm of the music playing. The more you incorporate little things like this into their everyday routine, the sooner they’ll begin to internalize these rhythms and connect them to their own techniques and flow.

Incorporating dance moves or modules into specific drills can also be a great gateway for athletes to unlock their technical creativity. The gracefulness that inevitably comes from practicing dance moves is not unlike that which comes from drilling in sports over and over -- the body’s ability to respond and react to its surroundings and interpret its reflexes in real-time helps a dancer to continuously recover from small deviations in their movements, or an athlete to be able to push a play with moving players (or even targets) in their way. Either way, the player’s ability to execute through mistakes or adversity in a fluent manner becomes heightened the more familiar with their body they become, and the incorporation of dance’s fundamentals into drills and routine can accelerate that process.

Create a Unique Experience

Above all else, the goal of a youth sport season is for the players and athletes-to-be to have a fun and enriching experience. There will be times at all levels of play where something in practice just has to give, or that there will be room for improvement that can’t be found in traditional sporting. Working dance into your team’s workouts, practices, or training can create a unique advantage within the team that average teams will not have, as players will be able to understand their bodies, flow, and technique connections much better.