A lot of coaches can get stuck in repetition when it comes to speed and agility drills. Young coaches can also miss the mark slightly when teaching athletes these drills.
Two attitudes start to surface when a coach uses speed and agility drills. More experienced coaches go with what they have always done. They use what they know works.
Conversely, newer coaches do not always understand how to really coach these drills. Their perception is that if the athletes get through the drills then they did their job.
That was one of the things that I fell into when I first started. I wish someone had told me back then but that is not the point. If the goal was to work on pro agilities, then we would run the drills and be on our way. It was robotic, there was no real coaching going on. I was basically just a monitor out there.
There are some techniques and strategies we can use to give some variation to speed and agility drills. The purpose of these is not to add variation just because it seems like the cool thing to do. Any variation added should have a purpose that does not take away from the drill.
Believe me, I am as resistant to variation as they come. I’d rather do the basic drills over and over until the athletes are phenomenal at them. I also realize that there needs to be a balance. I do not add variation just for the sake of adding it, but it does provide a fresher spin on the same drills for the athletes.
Adding variation to existing drills is easy.
1. Change the starting position
Most drills start by sprinting straight ahead. There is no law that says we must. There is an endless number of ways that we can start a drill.
- Facing sideways
- Facing backwards
- Pushup position
- Half kneeling
- Falling start
- Flying start
- Shuffle to sprint
- Backpedal to sprint
- Crossover to sprint
And that is not even close to a complete list. You could take something as simple as a 20 yard sprint. Instead of doing 8 reps all standing, you could do 4 variations twice.
These different types of starts each have their own benefit. Some will train the athlete to accelerate in a short amount of time, others will work on the transition from multi directional movement to a linear sprint.
Choose what you are trying to accomplish and see if there is a start you can incorporate to get you there.
2. Add Reaction
A lot of speed and agility programs rely on pre programmed drills. An example is using the pro agility. I like the pro agility and I use the pro agility quite often but it (and other cone drills) has its limitations.
Running the standard pro agility is basically just rehearsing. It is memorizing for a test. We can use it to teach the principles of change of direction but there is no critical thinking in it.
Sports require decision making. The game in front of you is always changing. The best athletes have a great reactive ability. Ever see the guys that just have a knack for making plays despite being undersized and lacking great testing numbers? Those are the athletes with great reactive and decision making abilities.
I can take that same pro agility drill and spice it up. Instead of telling the athlete which way I want them to go before they start the drill, I can make them start the drill based on the direction that I point. I could use left/right, cone colors, or a partner reaction.
Anything that breaks a drill free from pre-packaged form will help the athlete out.
3. Combine different drills
Another thing we may see is that coaches use a single drill for a single purpose. Let’s use a lateral hurdle progression where the athlete is moving sideways with high knees over small hurdles. We can use reaction and transitions here to give athletes a great drill.
We can also go a step further and combine it with some other work. We could have an athlete go lateral through the hurdles, sprint out, and enter a cone drill. I have even used lateral hurdles, to a backpedal drop step, sprint, and enter a cone drill.
I like using combinations to get athletes moving in a lot of different ways. In a game you might have to make similar transitions to what I put on the turf. It helps better prepare the athlete for the demands of the game while also providing a different training stimulus.