A few weeks ago I wrote an article about plyometrics, with Dr Yessis claiming that ‘plyometrics is the most misused term in our vocabulary’ . At the time I contended that, in the world of strength and conditioning, it was hard to disagree. The word ‘agility’, however, provides a strong contender. The aim of this article is to first define agility, and then, with this definition in mind, discuss how best to assess agility, and train for it (hint – don’t use the agility ladder).
Typically, athletes and coaches alike confuse change of direction speed with agility and so the two terms are used interchangeably when in fact they are quite different. It is therefore pertinent to first define the two terms before we delve any deeper:
Change of direction speed (CODS): the ability to change direction to a predetermined location and space on the field or court .
Agility: takes into account both the physical change of direction and includes perceptual and decision-making domains .
It is, therefore, the perceptual-cognitive ability to react to a stimulus, such as an opponent, that distinguishes the two.
Bearing the above definitions in mind, tests that have typically been used to test for agility ability, such as the traditional 5-0-5 test, in fact test for change of direction speed, due to the fact that the assessed change of direction is pre-planned. Additionally, there can be considerable discrepancy between tests that assess change of direction as some demand a rapid change of direction from the athlete whereas others require multiple change of directions, and thus might be better described as manoeuvrability tests. This is not to mention the metabolic demand of some tests due to their relatively long duration.
As such, to truly assess agility the test used needs to contain a reactive component. Traditionally, the original reactive agility test (RAT) has been used to do this. What distinguishes this test from the change of direction tests mentioned above is the demand on the athlete to respond to a stimulus on a screen, which may take the form of an arrow or light, a video or a human stimulus. A high-speed camera is used during the test to measure the decision-making time from when the stimulus initiates movement to when the athletes initiates movement in the intended direction i.e. it assesses the perceptual-cognitive ability of the athlete .
In order to develop an athlete’s agility performance, a three-pronged approach often works best .