System Based Agility Training

Is your agility training actually beneficial to your ability to change direction or help you achieve your performance goals? Travis Hansen gives us insight into how to properly program your agility training to maximize your training effectiveness.

In this article Travis discusses rehearsed vs reactive agility training, tells us about three sport motion-specific agility concepts we should understand and gives us a checklist for drill qualifications. 

Travis Hansen headshot

Travis Hansen

Travis Hansen has been involved in the field of Human Performance Enhancement for nearly a decade. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fitness and Wellness, and holds 3 different training certifications from the ISSA, NASM, and NCSF. He was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Reno Bighorns of the NBADL for their 2010 season, and he is currently the Director of The Reno Speed School inside the South Reno Athletic Club. He has worked with hundreds of athletes from almost all sports, ranging from the youth to professional ranks.

// Taking a System’s Based Approach Toward Agility Training

The word “system” is what is especially important in the title above.  

For as long as I’m sure you can remember agility training has been treated as a method of training involving an endless array of cone drills, with perceived fancy footwork to capture the eyes and imagination of whomever is watching.  But at what point do we step back and analyze whether or not our current approach is actually benefiting and improving an athlete’s change of direction ability.  

More importantly, are the patterns and drills being practiced actually helping to prepare the athlete, regardless of sport for the demands he or she will face when the time comes, so that they are less likely to get injured and in the best position to excel.   

I think the industry, myself included, has failed in the proper physical preparation of an athlete’s agility skill since there hasn’t been an actual progressive training system that has been promoted that covers all elements of agility and one that can accommodate anyone on the athletic training spectrum.

Lets first discuss the two primary types of agility training and then go from there.

The Two Types of Agility Training

agility training drills

#1 Rehearsed Agility Training

Also referred to as “Closed Loop” agility training involves predictable patterns of movement that athletes have to follow with the objective of teaching proper cutting and change of direction techniques to help build coordination and awareness of the body in space before more advanced methods are employed (i.e. pro agility 5-10-5 shuttle run).

#2 Reactive Agility Training

Is a more game and sport specific approach to agility training that involves an “Open Loop” and unpredictable training environment where the athlete is expected to perform spur of the moment action through quick decision making much like in sport (i.e. mirror drill).

Breaking it down further

I imagine most are familiar with the two types of agility training above, and usually the bus stops here.

Coaches and trainers will program various techniques that fall into either one of these two categories.  But when you really take a step back to see what is occurring in motion during sport there are an additional three types of agility training that needs to be practiced which can fall into either one of the two categories above.

#1 Attack Based Agility

Involves motion moving forward and different potential angles to attack an object (i.e. endzone, goal, or opponent) and can be either offensive or defensive based.

Sport Examples:

  • Soccer or Basketball Player zig sagging back and forth as they dribble the ball up the court
  • Lacrosse or Hockey player trying to skate past a retreating defender towards the goal
  • A wide receiver or tight end running a skinny post towards the endzone

#2 Retreating Based Agility

Involves motion occurring backwards and at potentially different angles to generally track down an object or an opponent.

Sport Examples:

  • An outfielder turning around to track down a fly ball hit towards the wall
  • Baseball/soccer/lacrosse/hockey defender trying to stay in front of an opponent in the open field or court
  • A football defensive back trying to cover a wide receiver or tight end downfield

#3 Lateral Based Agility

A side to side motion to defend an opponent or draw an opponent out of position to attack and make a play.

Sport Examples:

  • A base runner taking a quick directional step and attempting to steal a base
  • A basketball player shuffling to get in front of oncoming player to take a charge
  • A football lineman trying to over a rushing defensive end
  • A tennis player taking lateral steps and loading the body before make a powerful hit

The next Steps

I’m sure you could conjure up more examples like the ones above, but what’s important here is that you’ll notice a majority if not all of the change of direction and agility moves fall within these three categories in either a rehearsed and scripted environment, or in a more spontaneous and open reactive based training setting.

From here, you can break down the drills above into specific elements or features.  

It’s important to note that these sequences happen pretty naturally and the information is more for awareness and appreciation of the specific steps which can then be broken down into other drills.

The checklist is important for drill qualification purposes and to encourage sport movement specificity.

Agility Movement and Step Sequences

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Lastly, here are a few videos for each type of agility drill that represent the sequences above that you can use with your athletes right away week in and week out to refine and optimize agility training capacity!  Keep in mind that oftentimes sport movement situations involve a combination of each of these three in some shape or form.  

You’ll see attack-laterals and vice versa, and attack-retreats and so on and so forth.

Attack:

Lateral:

Retreating:

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