Here are four of my favorite reactive agility drills. The best part about these is that they're fun... Most athletes will prefer these over getting in a straight line and running through an obstacle course of cones.
In athletics, the ability to decelerate, stop, change direction, and accelerate instantaneously is paramount to success. The ability to abruptly stop and change direction is collectively referred to as agility. Agile athletes (Barry Sanders, Allen Iverson, Sidney Crosby, etc.) are typically the ones you see on Sports Center's Top 10 every morning.
So what is the secret behind the success of these athletes? It can be argued that outside of sport-specific skill, speed is the most important athletic performance factor. I agree that speed is very important. But rarely, if ever, do most athletes reach top speed during a game.
Rarely is an athlete presented with an opportunity to sprint in a straight line for any extended period of time. In most game situations the athlete will be starting, stopping and moving in lateral directions constantly.
Speed is only a piece of the puzzle. Agility is another piece. The best athletes accelerate quickly, are agile, and can read and react to their surroundings.
Skill, speed, or agility WITHOUT the ability to read and react results in a disappointing waste of talent. This is one of the reasons why athletes that perform the best on tests rarely perform the best in competition; they don't know how to analyze their environment and anticipate movement.
I've heard some coaches say that the ability to read and react during a game can't be taught. The athlete either has it or they don't. If you hear your coach say this, find a new coach.
You can definitely improve speed. You can definitely teach athletes to change direction quickly, and effectively. You can definitely teach athletes to keep their heads up. If you can combine all these things into one drill, you get reactive agility training, the best training to teach your athletes to read and react to the movement of another athlete or some other external cue.
Here are four of my favorite reactive agility drills. The best part about these is that they're fun, which is important for maintaining athlete's enthusiasm and compliance. Most athletes will prefer these over getting in a straight line and taking turns running through an obstacle course of cones.
1) LATERAL MIRROR DRILL
Line two athletes up in front of each other. Designate one athlete the leader and the other the follower. The leader moves by shuffling laterally (no crossing over of the feet) within two cones five yards apart. The follower tries to mirror this movement. Let them go for 10 seconds then stop, rest for 20-30 seconds, then have them switch.
Do NOT let this drill go on for too long. You want to train your athletes to be quick and explosive. This is not a conditioning drill!
2) COACH COMMAND DRILL
This is a classic. Some athletes will enjoy this one more than others, but it's an effective reactive agility drill to do in a large team setting.
Have all of your athletes spread out facing one direction. Stand on something so you are easily visible to them. Blow the whistle and point forward, backward, right, or left. Your athletes should sprint forward, backpedal or shuffle laterally in response to your direction. Change the direction of your point every 1-3 seconds for 15-20 seconds.
You can add different directions to the drill such as pointing up to have your athletes jump or down to have your athletes drop into a push-up position (with their stomachs OFF the ground).
3) 15-YARD BOX TAG
Set up four cones in a box, with fifteen yards between each one. Have two athletes start in one corner, blow your whistle twice, allowing the first athlete (the runner) to get a slight head start on the second athlete (the chaser). The runner can run in any direction and change directions as needed as long as he/she stays within the boundaries of the box.
The drill ends if the runner moves outside the box or is tagged, or if the runner can out-maneuver the chaser for ten seconds. To add a competition aspect to it, you can divide your team up into groups of three or four, and have one member from each group play against a member from other groups in a round robin format, keeping score throughout.
4) 6-CONE MIRROR DRILL
This is my favorite of the four. Set up six cones so two adjacent boxes are formed with five yards between each of the cones in a box (so the overall shape of the six cones would be a rectangle looking like : : :). Have an athlete stand in the center of each box, facing each other.
As in the "Lateral Mirror Drill," designate one athlete as the leader and the other as the follower. The leader has the option of running to any one of the four cones in his/her box. After reaching that cone, the leader must return to the center of the box before moving to another cone (it may help to put a dot or another cone in the center of the boxes to make this easier on your athletes).
The athlete in the opposing box must mirror these movements. You can set this up in a few different ways. If the leader runs forward and to the left, the follower could run forward and to the right so the athletes met at the same cone before returning to their respective centers.
You could also set it up so if the leader runs forward and to the right, the follower must run forward and to the right, so they would both reach the top right cone of their respective boxes.
You could also vary whether the athletes had to face one direction the whole time, so they would have to back pedal instead of turning and running to get back, or add cones in the middle of the edges of the boxes to allow the athletes to run straight forward, straight backward, or shuffle laterally from side to side, adding a significant amount of complexity to the drill.
I understand that there is a mind state that hard, effective training shouldn't be fun. I urge you to reconsider. When athletes dread training, their performance goes down, and so does their recovery rate. The more optimistic and enthusiastic they are, the better the result.
Remember that success in competition isn't about going through the motions; it's about reading and reacting quicker than the opponent. Add some of these drills into your team training and you'll create a fun atmosphere to develop competition-ready athletes.
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