Small steps are a type of footwork that players use between shots by moving quickly with short steps to the ball. It allows you to move very quickly while staying balanced and prepared for the next shot. After staying in the U.S for many years, I have found that a lot of players have a hard time moving properly because they don't use these short steps.
Why are small steps needed?
First, it is especially helpful to use small steps when stepping around to forehand loop and to continue looping. Many players move only one foot when they step around to loop. It is very hard to move and loop this way. Unlike when looping from the forehand side, when players try to step around to their backhand corner to forehand loop, the incoming ball's direction and trajectory are harder to predict because the player starts out standing to the right of it (instead of more in front, as for a shot to the forehand), plus they have a longer way to go, making accurate positioning more difficult. (It's even harder if the ball has sidespin on it.) Therefore, players need to move multiple times when they step around to loop, adjusting their position by using small steps.
Second, a lot of players can make a good first opening loop, but if the opponent blocks it back they have a hard time continuing to loop. This is because they do not come back into position after the first loop. By using multiple steps after the first loop, players can get back into proper position for the next shot, with the multiple steps giving more accurate positioning and balance.
Third, after going to many US national camps, I have seen a common problem. A lot of our younger players tend to miss easy balls, such as high balls, at the end of a good rally. For instance, after a fast and intensive rally, a player may see a high ball try to smash, but miss badly. Since most high balls are slow, these should be easy shots, but it is hard to hit them if players do not adjust their positions, using small steps to slow themselves down while staying balanced, and positioning themselves properly.
How to practice small steps
It is easy to practice small steps. Have your practice partner block the ball side to side, such as wide forehand and middle forehand, ensuring that the distance between two strokes is not too great. Then take small steps to move and readjust your position for each shot.