Getting the Most out of Speed and Agility Drills

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Everything thinks that they can do speed and agility training.

Sport coaches, personal trainers, physical therapists, and anyone that has ever gone through an agility ladder thinks that they’ve got it all figured out.

Unfortunately, when people try to go outside their area of expertise athletes get a watered down version of good training. It usually ends up being safe and somewhat effective for athletes that haven’t done anything before but it is not good for long term growth and development.

It is very easy to put some cones down and have athletes run through agility drills. We have all seen them and everyone from youth to professional is doing them.

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The problem is that most people do not even know what each drill is trying to accomplish. How can we expect someone to coach a drill if they do not even know why they are doing it?

This summer, I was working with an athlete who had to run the L-Drill for team testing. His pre-test nothing special. I am sure if the head coach had it his way they would just run drills until they were tired. A few weeks later, the time on the drill maybe would drop a couple tenths of a second.

In just a few sessions of coaching the drill this athlete dropped his time by a full second!

These results are typical with our athletes, even the ones which are less than thrilled to be training.

Athletes must train for power development, proper technique, and reinforcement to get the most out of speed and agility work.

Power development is most simply trained through jumping. This should involve jumping forward, side to side, with rotation, on both legs, and on each leg.

Jumping is not the only option because we can use med ball throws to also train for power.

Whatever method we choose, it should closely reflect whatever skills we are trying to train. For example asking an athlete to move well side to side is going to require some side to side power training.

After training power we can move on to technique training. The goal of technique training is to teach and practice what good aspects of speed and quickness require. When running in a straight line, a lot of athletes lack a good knee drive. Technique training for an acceleration day may be knee drive. To train for a good knee drive we can use skipping drills that involve a high knee punch.

This is the part that most people struggle with. They have their athletes do some skipping, high knee runs, skips for height, but they do not know why.

It gets even more complicated when we are training for change of direction. The athlete must be able to load their body laterally, crossover to change direction, and often throw the brakes on again.

There should always be a technique goal when doing speed or agility training.

Finally, the magic in all of this is the reinforcement. Teaching athletes to drive their knees is a useless waste of time if they are not going to use that skill. In the example we have going, the athletes would perform some high effort sprints with a decent rest period. The whole time the focus should be to improve knee drive while sprinting.

Most people think speed and agility training is something that anyway can do with some cones and a ladder. It is much more complicated than picking a couple of drills and doing them just to do them.

This is a mistake I used to make and other young coaches make as well. I used to simply think that if the athletes did the drills I told them to they would get better through osmosis or something. Well, if we are doing high knee drills through hurdles and then their sprint is still a slow effort with no knee drive, then what was the point of the high knee drills.

The formula is simple: work on some kind of relevant power development, improve technique, and then use that technique in an integrated drill. Follow this format to get the most out of speed and agility training.