Developing your speed (part 2) - agility training
In the second of seven articles on speed development Patrick Beith explains how to improve your agility
Learning any new agility techniques can be like sensory overload for most athletes at the grade, middle and high school levels. Yet, like clockwork, they all attempt to perform the drill at top speed long before they are capable of doing it in a way that is not painful on the eyes. And that is putting it nicely, as I am sure you know. So, though it may seem overly simplified, as it pertains to agility training, the speed secret is: 'Slow down, master the technique, THEN build in the speed.'
You have to crawl before you can walk. But most athletes try to sprint before they can even crawl. Coordination is a significant impeding factor for many inexperienced athletes. Therefore, it is critical that when learning or practicing an agility drill, they must often walk through the drill first, before trying to do it for time. This is true whether we are talking about cone drills, agility ladder work or any other change of direction, starting/stopping activities.
When first teaching any new agility drill, we will penalize athletes for making mistakes that are a result of trying to get ahead of themselves. Young athletes will always make mistakes - these are to be expected. But when they try to move their body faster than their brains can process, we have to slow them down so that they program the correct movement patterns into their system. In the long run, this will go a long way to improving their overall sports performance. Before we get into a practice session, we have to remember that the 40-yard dash (or 30-meter sprint) is not the only way to assess an athlete's speed. There is a difference between quick and fast. Someone that is considered fast may not necessarily be quick and vice-versa.
The best athletes have a combination of both quick and fast characteristics and they must train both. Lateral speed and agility work are a critical element to any athlete's training because it lays the foundation for the movement skills required for success in any sport. As I mentioned, lack of coordination is a big problem for many athletes. How many times have you seen a good athlete stumble when making a simple cut, performing a new skill, or better yet, try to dance? It happens far too often, and it is all due to lack of coordination.
The inability to easily coordinate movement affects their footwork and their ability to quickly make the moves that top athletes seem to do naturally. Therefore, no matter what sport you coach, specific agility training will help develop the balance, coordination and timing that will allow athletes to get to the ball or away from the defender when the game is on the line.
The following are examples of an agility drill and a reaction drill.
Agility Drill - Funnel Drill
For this drill you will require 6 cones. The first 2 cones are next to each other 2 yards apart. Place cones 3 and 4, 3 yards away from the first 2 and separate them 4 yards apart. Cones 5 and 6 are going to be 3 yards away from cones 3 and 4, and they will be separated 6 yards apart. The cones should form a shape of a funnel.
Begin this drill in an athletic position in front of cone 1. On a command of a coach or training partner, laterally shuffle to cone 2. Touch the top of cone 2 then sprint diagonally to cone 3, touch, and then shuffle to cone 4. Touch cone 4 then sprint diagonally to cone 5, touch and laterally shuffle to cone 6. Touch cone 6 then sprint forward 5 yards to the finish line.
Be sure to maintain a good athletic stance for the duration of this drill. Keep the hips low and the toes pointed straight ahead. You will continuously see your athletes pointing the toe in the direction they are travelling. While this helps them move in that direction, they will be beaten every time if their opponent quickly changes direction on them.
There are many different variations to this drill. You can add different cuts, moves and changes of direction to the funnel pattern. You can add different commands (audible or visual) to start the drill or to have the athlete perform different movements. To make this drill even more challenging, (for your most advanced athletes) you can add an opponent or a ball, while making sure you are not compromising the technique of the drill. You know the strengths and weaknesses of your athletes, so add variety by changing the format of the drill. Your imagination truly is the only limitation to the variations of these types of drills. Since agility is also reacting to a stimulus, we must also train reaction.
Reaction Drill - Tennis Ball Drop
A coach or training partner holds a tennis ball shoulder height. When the ball is released, the athlete must catch the ball before it bounces a second time. The coach/training partner can change the distance they are standing or change the height of where they drop the tennis ball. Have your athletes attack the ball moving either laterally or in a linear direction.
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About the Author
Patrick Beth is a co-owner of Athletes' Acceleration, Inc, a company devoted to performance enhancement whose mission is to improve the knowledge base of motivated coaches and athletes in order to improve athletic performance. He is a Performance Consultant certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS), the American Council of Sports Medicine (HFI), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (PES) and is a USA track and Field Level II Coach in the Sprints, Hurdles and Jumps.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: