by Lee Taft
I certainly get asked many questions about my techniques and how I teach agility, but one of the biggest questions I get asked is when do I put agility in my program. I get this from the fitness professional but more so from the sport coach. It is the sport coach that wants to know how to find time to fit agility into an already packed practice plan. In this article I want to share several ways I implement agility into any program, and why it is a must to find time.
Most sport coaches are so excited to practice the newest offense or defense or implement new drills they discovered. But many of them bypass one of the most important elements of making a good team- improving team speed, agility, and quickness. The question that always comes back to me is when do I fit it in my practice. The problem comes from coaches that feel you must put quantity ahead of quality. Those who know me realize I am all about quality. I want great movers. I can condition them easy enough, but to make them great at moving- it takes time and attention to detail.
I will give you some times slots that agility training can fit neatly into a practice and make a big impact. But before I do, let me explain the mind set that goes into scheduling agility during a sport practice. If my goal is to improve the movement ability of the athletes I need to focus on the skill or technique of the movement pattern. For example; if I am a volleyball coach and I want my players to move quicker to tipped balls I must teach them how to react quickly out of the defensive ready position.
My focus then will be on a few things:
1) I want the athletes to have appropriate body positions so they can move efficiently.
2) I want 100% effort or intensity of speed when reacting and moving to the ball.
3) I want complete control of the movement so a counter move can be made if needed.
Now, let’s focus on scheduling agility into a practice. One of the best times to implement agility is right after the warm up routine. The athletes are fresh and you can make a big impact on their nervous system. A great way to implement the agility is to pick a skill that you want to teach and be really focused on that skill for the 2-5 minutes you allow for training it. Once again, go back to the 3 points I made in the last paragraph. I want the athletes learning to move better each and every repetition.
I don’t want them to just do work. A great example of an agility workout I use often is teaching the crossover technique.
1) Have 2-4 athletes performing at the same time (if it was a large team like soccer or football I would have more than one station with assistants watching as well. You might have to deal with more than 2-4 athletes if you don’t have any coaching assistants).
2) The exercise should be clearly explained and demonstrated if needed.
3) It is important to give them a setting in which the skill would be used in a sport. This helps clarify the purpose of the skill.
4) Give them the distance of travel that should be covered and the duration of the exercise.
5) Start the exercise from a great starting stance/athletic stance.
6) If you see a dysfunctional crossover technique, address that athlete by name immediately and give one quick coaching cue to correct the movement.
7) If you see a consistent theme of poor movements by most of the athletes, re-demonstrate and continue on with the exercise.
8) Complete 4-6 reps making sure each rep is quality or at least quality instruction is being given to correct poor patterns.
9) Build a foundation of movement that greater skills can be built upon.
This way of coaching the skills make the athlete concentrate 100% of their energy on one skill or combination of skills. If you teach too many different skills and you run the athletes through without emphasizing the technique and intensity of effort, the meaning of the skills is lost. Do exercises to get a point across and to teach something!
Let’s keep moving along with times to inject agility into a practice. Another great time to coach agility is just before or after a drink break. The way that I like to mention it to the athletes is like this; .Ok guys/gals, before we take our drink break I want you to put all your focus into an extremely important skill we are about to learn- then we will take a good breather and get hydrated.. By phrasing it this way, I have put a sense of importance on the skill and the athletes better be focused and prepared to give 2-5 more minutes of attention to the skill.
There is no doubt that the best time to make a big improvement and impact on the learning of a skill is when the athlete is in a non-fatigued state. But athletes need to learn how to move efficiently during fatigued times of a game, like in the final minutes. So the last time I would like to mention as to when a coach could implement agility is at the end of the practice. I strongly recommend not teaching a new skill at this time due to the lack of focus generally associated with the end of practice.
If the athletes are comfortable with the agility skill to be used I do feel there is some importance to having them perform it at the end. But as mentioned already don’t throw a new skill at them and expect great learning to occur when they are fatigued.
1) Because the athletes are tired and don’t have as much mental focus left you must give them something to focus on. For example; if you are coaching them on a hip turn and crossover to defend a basketball player making an offensive move to the basket you must talk to them about a defense scheme. In other words you are trying to coach the skill, but by giving the athletes a scenario that will occur in the game they will have a built in focus point due to the game-like setting.
2) Be sure to stop the exercise if the execution gets sloppy. Always remember the brain is programming the patterns. If they are sloppy that is how they will be programmed in the brain. Demand great execution.
3) It is important to ask the athletes what they did wrong if the execution was poor. This way you are holding them accountable for their improvement. This is especially important when doing the skill work under fatigue. You force them to be aware of everything they do.
So there are a few ways you can implement agility training into a sports practice setting. Now let me talk about when agility training should be in the athletic development setting.
Just as mentioned above, the agility can be included in a non-fatigued state or in a fatigued state. Both are important but must have protocol. When first introducing the skill it should obviously be done in the early part of the training session. Once learned and performed well it can be done in a fatigued state to induce a concentration element.
Here are a few rules I follow when coaching agility in an athletic development setting:
1) I will only coach 2-3 agility drills per session. I want the athletes to learn something and not be inundated with too much stimulus. When they only concentrate on a couple things they can absorb them and put a meaning to them. I believe it is important to always give them a situation the skill would be used in a sport. This helps them to relate to it much easier.
2) I keep my time frames in the 5-12 second range and demand intensity of effort or speed. I want effort for a couple reasons:
a. This is how I get a read on their true ability with the skill
b. They learn the skill at full speed. Doing a skill half speed makes it a different skill in many ways.
3) I want the athletes to understand self-correction on the fly. This means if the athletes screw the skill up on one rep he or she can quickly make the needed correction during the set. This is why I ask them questions about the skills- I want accountability.
4) The total time of agility training is usually around 15 to 20 minutes. This includes coaching time and feedback. I don’t believe in making an agility session in conditioning. When it is time for conditioning I will work on low risk exercises that cause an anaerobic threshold response.
So there you have it. This is by no means the only way to do this but it is the only way I do it. And it has worked for many years. The number one message to take from this article is to teach skills. Don’t waste the athletes. time with doing aimless drills without a message. You will do a great job!
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