Avoid these Speed and Agility Mistakes

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Speed and agility training is simple but it is also misunderstood greatly.

In sports, speed is the ability to run fast. Agility is the ability to change direction quickly.

I recently saw a movement to make change of direction and agility become two distinct categories. I have absolutely no time for splitting hairs like that.

When we want to improve our speed and/or agility there are a few principles that must be in place.

The first is that technique must be addressed. You can try to run as fast as you want but if it is not efficient then it is not going to effective. Good technique sets the foundation for improving these qualities.

The second part of the equation is the reinforcement of the learned techniques. There are a ton of good drills out there to improve technique that become useless if the athletes do not get the chance to use what they learn. We must reinforce what we teach.

Obviously not teaching good technique and not reinforcing it would both be mistakes but I want to get into common examples that I see. These examples stem from other trainers, sport coaches, and the general opinion.

Unfortunately, we put people in positions that they are not experienced in and the results can be very detrimental. On the other hand, there are people doing great things and those are the athletes that benefit the most.

Mistake 1: Confusing speed and conditioning

Speed training is categorized as running really fast for a short amount of time with a long rest period. If you want to improve your ability to sprint then you must sprint all out with a full recovery before sprinting again.

If you want to train your ability to repeat sprints, more on the conditioning side of things, then the rest period and intensity decreases.

If I was coaching a group to work on their acceleration, we might start with some skipping drills to teach knee drive and hip extension. To reinforce those skills we might sprint 20 yards with a minute in between each effort, 6 times. That’s it.

Too often speed training becomes conditioning because the athletes feel like they are just standing around. I inform these athletes that they are not sprinting hard enough if that’s the case.

Mistake 2: Failing to utilize the hip hinge in agility drills

A common part of agility drills is to touch the cone/line. The athlete should be hinging their hips back, bending at the knee, and keeping their chest up. An athlete that bends over with their chest facing the ground is not ready to be quick.

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Bending over is a slow way to change direction and provides no momentum to get back going in the opposite direction. When an athlete is able to load their hips back, they can then extend them to gain ground the other way. This shortens the amount of time they spend changing direction.

Mistake 3: Using quick feet drills instead of quickness drills

We have all seen the ladder/ cone drill videos that are done with pretty impressive footwork and choreography.

I find it hard to relate those routines back to sports or agility. I do feel that kids should be athletic enough to get through ladder drills but there is a point where the benefits seem to diminish.

The analogy I have heard many times is that dancers have the quickest feet out of any athlete but they are not quick at changing direction. The reason is that quick feet, that are not moving the body anywhere, does not provide an agility training effect.

The key to changing direction becomes the ability to move the whole body in space. Cone and reaction drills are much more effective at accomplishing this.

This post feels like it is going to need a part 2. Stay tuned for more.