I am on the road again and needed someone to step in an do writing for me today. As much as I want to be ubiquitous, I’m not that much of a super woman here.
With that said, I am so thankful strength coach Drew Heisler was able to discuss agility, in fact, simplify it. Most articles I read on agility nowadays are as long as the Game of Thrones series. Not this piece.
Agility is the combination of perception and action to overcome a problem. What is the problem, how can you solve the problem and what action is taken to solve the problem? It really is that simple.
Improving your agility in this context is as simple as breaking down the key elements and understanding their role in the process.
Perception is your ability to sense the problems that opponents create and recognize the potential solutions.
You are a forward who is facing one-on-one coverage, this is the problem. You notice the defender is leaning a little heavy to his right leg and this opens the potential solution to cut hard to his left side. Your perception of what was happening in that instance allowed you to formulate a solution.
Action is the ability to organize your power-generating limbs into position to carry out the solution. In our example above, the athlete would drop their hips and drive hard off the left foot when they perceived the defender was leaning hard to their right.
Foundational agility drills teach deceleration and change of direction mechanics while strength and power training aid in the ability to absorb and redirect force for optimal movement speed and power. These physical qualities are necessary in order to carry out the solutions to perceived problems.
Most serious athletes spend time developing the requisite physical qualities in the gym. The question becomes, if the athlete is strong and agile by generic standards, why doesn’t that agility in the gym transfer to the field?
In many cases, the athlete struggles with perception.
It is well known that for some athletes, the game slows down and they can see two or three moves ahead of everyone else. For other athletes, everything is happening so fast that they do not have the ability to see potential solutions and resort to actions with a low potential for success.
If an athlete struggles with perception issues it often boils down to a lack of focus or a lack of confidence. Not all athletes have the ability to leave social stress, educational pressure, parental pressure and fear of failure on the sidelines. If these issues creep into the athletes thoughts during a game their ability to accurately perceive problems and solutions will be inhibited, it is human nature and no amount of agility drills will help a distracted athlete.
How can we build confidence and improve the perception and action combination? Spend more time training under duress.
Athletes need to train in competitive, reactive environments. Give an athlete 5 seconds to figure out how to get around another athlete. Give 2 athletes a tennis ball and tell them to keep the ball away from the 3 defenders. Play tag where 1 athlete has to attempt to tag 4 opponents in 30 seconds or less. Have 2 athletes compete in a sprint where athlete “A” determines when the sprint starts and stops and athlete “B” needs to sprint fast enough to keep up with his opponent but also needs to control his speed so he doesn’t get smoked when athlete “A” slams on the breaks. Instruct the athletes to figure out their own solutions. If an athlete fails, ask him what was going on in that instance. Spend time helping the athlete recognize their patterns of perception and build her confidence from there.
Regularly utilizing open, reactive drills like this will help the athletes become comfortable with the pressure of competition which should lead to improved perception abilities on the field.
Description: The athlete sprints forward 10-15 yards, as he/she approaches their partner will toss up a colored pad with each color representing either “change direction” or “sprint forward”. Helps the athlete process information and react to the feedback. There is also a little bit of deceleration in there.
Description: Starts with a 10-15 yard sprint. As the athlete approaches, their partner will quickly move to one of the 4 cones, the athlete needs to quickly process and react by cutting to the same cone on the opposite side. Helps perception-action.
Description: Athletes set up a couple yards apart with 10-15 yards on both sides. 1 athlete starts the sprint, their partner reacts and attempts to catch up. This helps partner A- observe and react to physical cues like “is she leaning right, I’ll go left” and partner B needs to react quickly with a powerful, not a fast, first step to try keeping up.
Note from Erica: These are some simple drills to get started with, but if you need more resources on agility check out these additional articles and books:
Youth Speed and Conditioning – Marcus v. Payton
How to Build Real Soccer Agility – me, Stack.com
31 Random Thoughts On Speed And Agility Training – Mike Robertson
Agility In Team Sport: How to Crack the Code – Carl Valle, simplifaster.com
Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program – me, if you want to read 100 pages of video content and agility and power drills ;-O
About the Author
Drew Heisler has worked as a trainer to team sport athletes and their parents for the last ten years. He has a passion for helping Middle and High School athletes improve their sport performance. He also enjoys helping the recreational lifter reach their strength, endurance and body composition goals. He owns a private training facility in Middle Township, New Jersey.