Agility is an extremely important factor in most sports. The ability to start, stop, and change directions quickly can be the difference between a good athlete and a top performer. While genetics and “God-given” talent play a huge role in an athlete’s ability to perform certain maneuvers, agility can be improved through proper training. Unfortunately, many coaches design their agility training programs without understanding how skills are learned and how the training transfers to performance.
On the field, the same exact situation rarely happens more than once a game. Sure, you run the same play and players run the same pattern several times, but there are slight differences each time that keep things from being exactly the same. This in mind, how important is it to practice the same agility drill over and over again in the exact same static environment?
Just think if the Pro Shuttle had a live defender in the middle of the course trying to stop the runner. That certainly would change things, wouldn’t it? It would be very life-like, but timing that drill would not be an accurate assessment of the athlete’s agility? The performance of the defender would weigh heavily into the equation, and each situation would be different. But, that is precisely what happens during a game; the player has to react to a defender and quickly make decisions based on external factors. So, is the Pro Shuttle, or any other drill without external stimuli, an accurate assessment of an athlete’s agility? I would argue that it is not, because it does not measure what actually happens on the field. Unfortunately, there may not be any good way of testing this kind of ability.
I’m not suggesting that you stop performing shuttle runs. On the contrary, I think shuttle runs are a great tool for working on directional changes, but you need to mix things up as much as possible so that your athletes are not just getting better at drills. Since you want them to get better on the field where situations are always different, it may be best to put your players through as many different drills as possible so they are prepared to move in any way necessary. Change things up as often as you can. Give the team new drills, or simply create variations of existing drills. Use obstacle courses, cone drills, and ladder drills. Use your imagination to create game-like situations and throw in defenders to give drills a more “live” feel.. Do anything you can to get your athletes moving in as many different directions and situations as possible. Will their times improve on every test? Maybe, maybe not. But their on-field agility will certainly improve? The more different situations an athlete encounters during practice, the better he/she will be able to handle new situations during a game.
While giving you examples of agility drills is beyond the scope of this article, it is also completely unnecessary. The actual drills that are performed are not as important as the fact that you give your athletes a myriad of different situations to react to during practice. Always remember that if you are trying to improve an athlete’s performance on a specific test, practice that test over and over again.
But, if you are trying to improve an athlete’s performance during a game, nothing is better than variety. Try not to get too caught up in the testing, and try to focus on what you actually want your athlete’s to do in the game.