Sports Performance Coaching: Agility & Change of Direction, are they the same thing?
As S&C coaches we are often asked to make a player more agile, or improve their ability to avoid defenders. A lot of team sport coaches will have heard of the T-Test and the Illinois agility test and will use that to determine who was the most agile and modify drills of similar nature in order to train agility.
If you were to ask someone in the street what is the difference between change of direction and agility, would they be able to give you an answer?
For years it seems we have been looking at these physical qualities as very similar beasts when in reality they are very different qualities.
The UKSCA define agility as ‘a rapid whole-body movement with a change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus’
The key words in that definition being ‘response to a stimulus’ this means it has to be reactive. This means that decision making, visual scanning and cognitive processing are key in performance.
If we take the decision-making process out, then it becomes a change of direction task. Therefore, a T-test and Illinois agility test are actually change of direction tests as opposed to agility tests.
Are the agility tests useless? No – being able to change direction at high speed is needed to be agile, therefore they can be used as change of direction capacity tests. If someone has a poor T-test score it may mean that they require additional strength, power or speed work to compliment their change of direction ability.
The ability to change direction at higher speed will provide a great foundation for agility development. If someone has a high capacity for change of direction ability, then they will require highly specific agility drills that work on anticipation, visual scanning, pattern recognition and game knowledge. This is where the role of the S&C coach potentially decreases due to a requirement of technical, tactical knowledge that drives specific skills. Communication with the rest of the coaching staff will be required to make drills that require sport-specific decision making. For example, a rugby coach may implement a decision-making drill by position a defender’s hips in a certain direction to make the attacker decide which shoulder to attack.
If there is a problem executing correct decisions effectively then it may be a change of direction speed problem. This would need a different solution which addresses technique, leg muscle quality and linear running speed. Essentially changing direction is reorienting your body to accelerate again.
Using these principles you can quite easily create a programme that will improve change of direction capacity and progressively expose someone to more game like scenarios as they improve. When exposing to game/sport specific situations its important to have a very detailed knowledge of the sport or ask/delegate this to a sport specific coach to ensure that you are not teaching bad behaviours.