MODULE 3.4: Agility

What is agility and why is it important?

There are three components that underpin successful agility performance: the ability to react to a situation and select the appropriate change of direction strategy, the ability to slow down momentum in the direction of initial travel (deceleration), and the ability to re-accelerate in the new direction of travel (acceleration). Without including that reactive decision making component, an athlete is simply completing a change of direction activity. Hence to qualify as true agility, an athlete must be reacting to a stimulus prior to completing their change of direction. As is obvious, rapid agility is a highly desirable quality in sports that require evasive manoeuvres.

Consider the two videos below as great juxtaposition between change of direction and agility. Have a look at a) the speed that the movements are executed at, b) the clean-ness of movements, and c) the environmental noise that is occurring and that athletes need to process!

What qualities are required for elite agility?

We have already discussed the qualities that underpin successful acceleration and deceleration performance, hence the only thing left to discuss is the decision making process that dictate what decel/accel strategies an athlete might use in game. The following diagram summarises well the series of conscious and subconscious thoughts that allow elite athletes to rapidly make correct decision and out-manoeuvre other athletes. This diagram is certainly very thorough, and you will not be required to have memorised it, however it's important to understand the general process.​ The following is a hypothetical practical example as to what this thought process may look like immediately prior to a change of direction based on the below diagram.

#3: Capture relevant information:

Attacker notices team mate racing down the right wing, can hear back up defenders approaching rapidly from behind, keeper is slightly to the left of the goals

#4: Analyse:

Team mate racing down the wing is not a strong player and can not confidently be relied on, likely this is the last play of the day, quick action required before attackers are outnumbered 

#5: Options:

- Pass to team mate who will then cross it back in where you'll get a 1 on 1 opportunity to header the ball in for a goal

- Take the defender in a 1-on-1, going to the right side where you will have more flexibility given keeper is to the left slightly

- Hold up the play and hope further options become available

#6: Impacts:

May not be in this position again, need the lowest risk option, need to make a decision FAST

#1: Situation: 

Soccer player (attacker) has ball just outside the other team's goal square, with a single defender and goalkeeper preventing them from scoring. 5 minutes of game left, scores currently 1-1

#2: Problem:

The attacker is not in a good position to score due to the defender blocking most available shots

#7: Decision:

Take on the defender in a 1-on-1, knock the ball to the right of them, hope to get a quick shot in before the keeper rushes you down

#8: Action:

A fake to the left followed by a quick little kick to the right with a spin around the defender

Outcome:

You execute the above successfully, and it puts you in a good position to shoot to win the game. Therefore your change of direction/agility strategy has been successful!

Hence successful agility training must consider the complex decision making process that occurs prior to a change of direction action. However successful agility training must also train the overall "change of direction" movement too, as both decision making and change of direction performance are both required for successful agility performance.

How can we successfully train change of direction movements?

  • Develop isolated acceleration and deceleration qualities/patterns as per previous modules

  • Integrate acceleration and deceleration patterns into sport-relevant change of direction drills

    • Use a variety of angles as would be experienced in their sport​

    • Use a variety of start and end positions

  • Overload change of direction patterns through the use of bands, weights, med balls, hurdles etc

How can we successfully train the decision making process?

  • Programming reactive change of direction drills

    • The stimuli MUST be sport specific​, reacting to someone calling left or right won't make an athlete better at evading a defender

  • Putting athletes in game like situations where "complex" decisions need to be made

    • Again, these game like situations must be sport specific

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