Are you really training agility?

By Mike Salwei, CSCS

Agility is usually defined as quick, full body changes in direction and speed, or the ability to change direction. Most American team sports such as football, basketball, and soccer rely heavily on the ability to rapidly change direction.

Agility is an essential component of most court and field sports. So it seems obvious to find agility training in most strength and conditioning programs. Although, programming for agility might not be as cut and dry as most parents and coaches would assume. So the simple question becomes, how do we actually train for agility?

Agility is a Two-Part Model

In order to answer this important question we must understand that agility is actually a two-part model.

  1. Training physical skills needed to rapidly change direction
  2. Visuals and decision-making

Physical Training

Most agility training for athletes focuses on drills targeting the second part of the model. Drills can be done using cones set up in various patterns. Athletes sprint to a certain cone, making a pre-determined change of direction and then sprint to another pre-determined cone.

These drills are important because they are done in a controlled environment. The physical abilities of rapid change of direction can be taught with a reduced incident of injury. This type of training is called change of direction speed (CODS). CODS is incredibly important for training athletes, but it is not agility training.

In order to train agility we need to combine CODS training with a decision-making or a reactive component.

Visuals and Decision-Making

Athletes make hundreds, if not thousands, of split-second decisions during the course a one game. These could be defensive or offensive decisions. Each requires a slightly different part of the brain. For agility training to transfer to the court or field, CODS drills along with decision-making CODS drills must be used in a mix method approach.

The last few months Sanford POWER has had the privilege of using a unique system call FitLights. FitLights allows POWER coaches to mimic game like situations. Athletes have to make a decision and then use the change of direction speed they have learned in their prior training.

Understanding the WHY behind programming for agility is vital to improving athlete’s success and limiting the chance of injury.