Agility drills are used in the aim of improving sports agility, which is the ability to change direction and accelerate while in motion. The ability to change direction while in motion is very important in many sports but especially in team and dual sports. For example, a footballer running back must be able to quickly change direction when he sees an opponent preparing to tackle him and must be able to quickly change directions when dribbling the ball, attempting to get back on defense, or when trying to beat an opponent to the ball. A tennis player must be able to quickly change directions when moving to a position where the ball is expected to go but instead finds the ball going in a different direction.
Many more examples can be given but in almost all cases sports agility requires the player to quickly change directions in order to elude or stay with an opponent. The latter is especially important in football, basketball and lacrosse when covering an opponent. If a player cannot elude his opponent he will not be able to fulfill his assignment or position task. For example, he will not be able to receive a pass or to break free of his opponent to execute or perform some important task. The quicker and sharper the changes in direction, the better the athlete can elude or stay with his or her opponent. The ability to make quick sharp changes in direction also enables the player to exhibit great quickness. In sports such as football there are many good running backs and receivers who can run fast in a straight line. But in order for them to be great, they must also be able to elude their opponents by changing direction quickly. If they do not have this ability they will never be great. Thus the ability to change direction quickly while in motion is critical for sports success. Because of this coaches have devised many drills to improve this ability. In general, these drills are specific to different sports but some of them are applicable to many sports. For example, tumbling drills are usually more specific to swimmers who execute a flip turn and to gymnasts who use some aspects of tumbling in their routines on the apparatus or in free exercise.
Drills that entail jumping with turns in the air are usually applicable to basketball players and receivers and pass defenders in football but can apply to many sports in interest of strength. Drills that use side jumps and front-back jumps are more specific to team sports in which the athlete must change direction while running. Drills that require jumping over objects is usually best suited for sports in which the player must leap over hurdles or players. These drills usually use some form of rope ladders, small or low hurdles, ladders, or small cones.
The drills that use ladders, hurdles and cones have proven to be extremely popular and are now used extensively in many different sports By using these drills coaches take it for granted that the athletes will become quicker and faster and many cases, more explosive. However, close examination of these popular drills and how they are executed, shows that the actions involved in executing these drills is not specific to the actions that the athlete must execute in gameplay.
Agility drills can cause a huge benefit to athletes if the drills duplicate or use the cutting action. In this way the athlete gets reinforcement of the action and will be able to get a little quicker or faster as his sports skill is fine tuned. Being able to duplicate the key action that is involved in execution of the sports agility skill is the secret to the success of any agility drill. When the drills are executed often enough there is a transfer of how the athlete executes the skill to gameplay. Thus if athletes do many ladder, hurdle or cone drills, they learn to drive the knees upward rather than forward. If instead they duplicated a true cutting action in which the feet stay close to the ground and the knees are driven forward it could bring about a positive transfer that could improve skill execution. Practicing the cutting action in a drill would be much more productive. It is also possible to have coaches talk of developing fast feet with agility drills. Most often they use ladder drills in which you step over each rung and then stutter step two or three times before stepping over the next ladder step. You continue in this manner for the full length of the ladder. For variety they also have the athlete traverse the entire ladder sideways. Execution is basically the same in which the athletes drive the knees upward to go over each rung of the ladder. Also sometimes included are stutter steps in between which are supposed to develop faster feet.
However, the cutting action, which is the basis for running agility, is not a matter of fast feet, it is a matter of fast legs. One must be able to move the legs from the hips in order to move quickly or to execute quick cutting actions. In addition, the feet must remain close to the groundregardless of whether the step being taking is short or long. In other words, as the cut is being executed, the body is lowered and as the athlete pushes off, he steps out with the leg closest to the direction in which he wishes to move. He then takes a step out with the leg and turns the body so he can quickly assume the running position. At times, it is necessary that the athlete have the ability to rotate the hips and/or shoulders a full 90° in order to be more evasive in the cutting action. This allows him to maintain eye contact with his opponent and maintain his shoulders in a front-facing position. In so doing, the opponent does not get any hints that a change in direction is about to take place. Hurdle drills are essentially the same as ladder drills since their execution is basically the same. In these drills, you move in a linear or sideward manner. Cone drills however, are used mainly for side movements. In the drills, you leap sideways over a cone in one direction and then back in the opposite direction. The key to successful execution is for an athlete to bring their knees to their chest to successfully clear the top of the cone. This does not duplicate the cutting action. For the drill to be successful in relation to improving sports performance on the field or court, it must include cutting actions. Learning how to do the cutting action is imperative. It involves both technical and physical components that are learned skills. These skills must be mastered in order to get maximum benefit in the agility drill.