Those who have studied sports physiology or sports coaching will know that there’s six main physical components of fitness specific to skill-related fitness. Agility is one of these.
Footballers to tennis players, gymnasts to kite surfers, agility in sport is a great skill to have, making you versatile, robust and in many ways unbeatable. From Neymar’s incredible talent to Chemmy Alcott’s exceptional skill, it can be seen in every discipline of sport.
In this section, we look at agility in more detail, to understand what it is, how we can hone our skill set when working with a sports coach.
What is agility?
According to experts the field, agility in sport is an athlete’s ability to “move at an accelerated pace in one direction and then instantly decelerate and shift position within a matter of seconds.”
It is understood that there’s various elements that contribute to agility, these include; the ability to process visuals, timing and reaction time, perception and of course anticipation.
Although this term is often alternated with ‘change of direction of speed’ there’s a distinction to make between the two here. Simply put, agility in sport is about reacting to unpredictable movements and environments. Whilst change of direction of speed is more about a physical ability, often performed in planned environments.
For further clarity, it’s worth noting that agility is not just about speed either. It’s also the fluidity of movement that goes with it too.
Why is agility important?
Agility in sport is often a predicator of great talent. It can distinguish between a good athlete and a great one, simply by assessing how quick they are to react to a change in the game.
There are some sports where this is rifer than others. For instance, in tennis, where reactions need to be quick sharp to change direction instantly to meet the ball. Martial arts, football and cricket are other similar sports, where this kind of quick reaction is beneficial in a competitive game.
In a review of the top sports ranked by agility; football, basketball, tennis, ice-hockey and badminton were in the top five disciplines.
Although some athletes may have a greater ‘flair’ than others, agility is still a skill that can be learnt and honed with practice and is a consideration for every sports coach within their athletes training programme.
Agility is therefore important for overall performance, as well as facing opponents in sport.
Testing your agility
As our understanding of agility in sport has improved over the years, so too have tests to measure it. However, this remains a complex skill to evaluate, and it’s best to work in partnership with your sports coaching team to find the best test for you.
A typical test might include shuttle runs. These are used to build agility as well as test it. With markers in place, the athlete sprints from each to the next, usually in 30 feet runs, with timings monitored.
The ‘Illinois Agility Test’ is another favourite, and since it has been running for years has a benchmark of grades that can be applied to candidates. It uses a running course with cones, this requires the athlete to weave in between them, to test their movement and reaction as well as speed.
The T-Test is another way to examine an athlete’s agility in sport. Similar to the above, it also uses cones spread out in a ‘T’ shape, inviting the athlete to negotiate their way in between each of these within a certain timeframe.
There are various other tests as well, including: Side-step, Hexagon test, Quick feet test, the 3-cone drill, box drill, quadrant jump test and many others, most of which use cones.
These tests may well use the SPARQ rating, which looks at; power, agility, reaction and quickness as part of the overall evaluation.
Improving your agility
That said, there are some specific exercise that can help improve agility in sport, these include:
Mini Obstacle Course: Easy to set up, form the cones in a five-point star and set up tasks around them. Work with your sports coach to devise a method that will challenge you and improve your agility. Tasks involve star jumps, tuck jumps with bursts of running and touching the floor.
Agility drills: these can vary, but may include jumps from side to side. Tuck jumps, going from a vertical squat to a top jump with extended legs to land. To forward and backward sprints.
Lateral plyometric jumps; a great way to build explosive power while improving balance and coordination, and all by using your own body weight. This advanced technique requires the athlete to stand with their feet hip-width apart and knees bent to squat, in a straight down position. From here push through your heels, upwards and sideways to the line. This is all about landing softly in the squat position and then repeating the jump again, over the line this time, with shoulders forward facing. These can be performed in 30 to 60 second intervals on repeat.
Dot drills: For this you need an x-shape pattern. Use large dots as a guide to jump to and from, this can be a great way to increase agility and mobility often used in sports such as skiing.
Running: In terms of sport, running is one of the best overall workouts, that will help with endurance and speed. As an aerobic exercise, it may also help with explosive power and increasing speed too.
Agility in sport is a skill that most athletes will hone over time. However, as with any skill, it can be developed and improved with hard-work and commitment.
The benefits of being an agile sports person, is that you will have a competitive edge over other players, being able to react to instant changes in the game to your advantage.
There’s a number of exercises that can be integrated into a training programme, mostly involving squats, jumps and the use of cones, to improve your output over time.