On a daily basis, there are a lot of athletes that come through our gym.
Many of them are highly skilled and play for teams that are tough to get on to.
Making a difference on a team like that can be very difficult because everyone seems to be around the same level. Unlike town teams, where the skill level can vary dramatically.
So what can we do to give these athletes the edge?
The three biggest areas of potential improvement with our athletes are strength, change of direction, and sprinting.
With the speed and agility work, we try to divide the time evenly between technique work and an applied drill.
An example of that could be working on pushing off of the back foot when moving laterally and putting it together with a T Drill.
That format will do a lot of of athletes a lot of good. Change of direction is usually the area where they improve the most, the quickest.
There is one thing that is missing that starts to become an issue. The older an athlete gets, the more there is a need for the ability to react.
I do not know how many times I have seen athletes that are quick, fast, or move well get crushed in a reaction drill.
Sometimes athletes get so programmed into what they are doing that they lose the ability to make decisions on the fly. Everything is so laid out for them that they have forgotten how to go with it.
We will get some kids that can run very fast times in certain agility tests. That means their change of direction is great, right? It is except, when they start the drill when the coach yells right or left and cannot go the right way.
It does not matter how fast they are when doing a closed, controlled drill if they cannot react in their game. It actually can provide a false sense of confidence.
Sports are unpredictable. If your team sets up a play and something does not go perfectly, you cannot just stop mid game and start the play over. You must go with it, you must react to it, and you must make a decision on what to do next.
This is why we need to have reaction drills when training for speed and agility. It forces the athlete to think critically and make decisions. These are two skills that young kids have completely lost.
I do not know how many times good athletes get completely paralyzed when forced to react. They are trying to analyze everything down to its smallest parts and have forgotten to just go.
Lets go through some examples of reaction work. You will need a partner to cue the drills. These directions are written for the partner/coach.
Example 1- Multi directional jumps
Have the athlete start with a broad jump. Before they land yell left or right for them to laterally jump to that side. Before they land that yell left, right, or forward (at random) for the jump.
Perform 5 jumps and repeat 3-4 times.
Example 2- Changing methods
Have an athlete start with a sprint. Yell left or right for them to shuffle that way. Then yell sprint and repeat. This drill should be no more than 8 seconds for young athletes and 12 more older.
You can also replace sprint with backpedal or add backpedals into the mix.
Example 3- Reactive start to a cone drill
Lets take the Pro Agility for example. Normally, we put a hand down opposite to the way we are going to start the drill. When the athlete is ready, they take off.
In the reactive version, the athlete will have no hands on the ground and assume a ready position. The coach/partner can point or call the direction they need to go. The athlete would then go in that direction and complete the full drill.
I prefer starting with pointing and then going to left or right. The athletes struggle with their lefts and rights when forced to react.
These three examples are how we can take normal drills and make them reactive. Most athletes will do well with visual cues and have a tougher time with verbal.
The whole point is to get them out of routine and controlled settings. Forcing them to react to different stimuli is a good way to break the mold and make them think.