Many team sport settings - basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, ice hockey, and field hockey - require athletes to rapidly change direction to keep up with opponents.
The ability to properly execute these changes of direction, when responding to a stimulus, is what we refer to as agility.
Fluid. Athletic. Graceful.
Those are words typically associated with players that possess a high level of agility.
So can it be developed?
Yes, if agility training is approached on 2 levels.
First off, there are of course proper techniques to changing direction efficiently, just as there are best ways to sprint, lift weights, stretch, and so on. Good technique minimizes wasted movement, increasing both the efficiency and speed of your cuts.
Just mastering perfect technique in training, unfortunately, will have very little carryover to game performance.
Because no two plays in sport are ever exactly alike. Rehearsing a programmed cutting movement is nice, but it won't help you to identify when to use it, or in what direction.
Team sports are not like sprinting down a track, where there are no sudden changes along the way.
That's why agility training must also emphasize vision.
Agility is change of direction in response to a stimulus. To do it well, you must form the right action plan to counteract the stimulus, and it must be done in a timely fashion.
Just as important as the footwork part is helping athletes to focus on what they see, and what they miss, when doing agility work.
For example, during an agility drill if a defender turns too far in response to your head fake, can you quickly pick up on this and accelerate the other way?
Or, if you as a defender see an offensive player start to lower their hips and break down, do you prepare yourself for the change of direction they are about to make?
Hall of Fame Running Back Barry Sanders was perhaps the most agile athlete in the last 30 years. If you want to see a example of how you blend footwork with vision at the highest level, watch this short video:
During the slow motion reply at the end you can see Barry's eyes continually look ahead to the next defender.
(Quick shout out to a great line in there by John Madden, "Some of those moves there's only one guy in the league that can make 'em, and you just saw that guy.")
Of course, not every kid is going to become the next Barry Sanders, but every kid can improve their vision by training with the following things in place:
- The athletes themselves must be fully focused on the task at hand. You need the right training environment & mindset to be fully dialed in.
- Drills must be open-ended. Think of games like tag and others where you must react to an ever changing environment while working against an opponent.
- When possible, watch a video reply back of your repetition and dig into what the athlete saw...and what they may have missed. If you are a sport coach, shoot video of a practice scrimmage and use that to guide players to a better understanding of how to use their vision.
Agility training has taken prominence in the sports performance world over the last decade.
Arm your kids with the right training environment, the right drills, and the right feedback, and you'll see them make noticeable gains in their agility.