Agility and the concept of direction change is a topic that comes up over and over. There are always the people who put up videos like this:
and then tell us that this is a waste of time.
The truth is most of what you see is a waste of time. This guy might be better as Lord of the Dance than playing a sport. Unfortunately, people continue to paint with a broad brush and color every pre-programmed agility drill as a bad idea. This is a classic example of what Alwyn Cosgrove like to call Overreaction and Undereaction.
All pre-programmed agility is not a bad idea.
At Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning we try make agility development part of our warm-up. We will use an agility ladder for 2-3 minutes to work on footwork and, to teach stabilization, landing and crossover skills. Pre-programmed agility is great coordination work for young athletes and great prep work for older athletes. The problem is when we spend time getting really good at useless stuff (see video above).
Let me be clear. In general we don't do much agility work.
Most agility work is, in my mind, “just running around". I think coaches waste lots of time running from cone to cone and then trying to get athletes to do it faster. That, to me, is a waste of time.
I just think stuff like 5-10-5 etc is dumb. I can take 10 min and make anyone faster at it but I don't think they are more agile.
The big trend now is reactive agility and in my mind, that is what occurs in a good practice and in things like small area games. I think the whole "agility thing" has grown out of American football not being a year round sport. There may be a need to construct drills or scenarios to develop agility and or direction change skills in athletes that are not able to play their sport year round.
Fortunately or unfortunately, for most everyone else there is a year round aspect of skill development. In hockey it can be as simple as 3 v 2 and 2 v 1 games, or cross ice 3 v 3.
In soccer some teams swear by The Rondo, a version of keep away. In any case these types of games develop true agility and reaction.
I also consider all of our single leg work and single leg plyos essential deceleration work that plays a big part in agility development. As we've mentioned previously, a big part of agility is developing the ability to stop motion in a given direction.
If someone asked the number on quality needed for agility I think I would say single leg strength.
Does the athlete have the requisite strength to put on the brakes to cause a direction change?
Direction change is an eccentric contraction, to a brief isometric, to a concentric contraction. You need exceptional single leg strength or drills are a waste of time.
I think our ACL problem is in large part due to this. Big engines, bad brakes or in the case of our female athletes small engines and no brakes.
Here's a link to one of my favorite articles on the topic.