AGILITY IS PURELY COGNITIVE
When it comes down to performance training, the main objective of training for sport is to improve on field success. Improvements in the weight room and practice field are always a goal of an athlete or coach, but just because I PR’d in the weight room, or ran my fastest 5-10-5, does it actually translate to the field?
What exactly is agility?
It’s hard to define exactly what agility is. But in the most simplest terms, agility is the ability to change direction in a single event or multiple times. There are a ton of ways to evaluate or test agility such as 5-10-5 (pro agility), T-test, L-test…etc. Most of these tests have pre planned directions involved with the test. Therefore, Some may consider these tests to only measure change of direction. These tests can be useful and are standardized so that coaches or athletes can measure and compare other athletes times in the test. However, in sports, agility is not pre planned. Agility incorporates reaction to the environment around you. In football, when a running back is running with the ball, the athlete does not pre plan his run, instead he is reacting to the environment around him and (hopefully) making the appropriate reactions to try and avoid defenders. Make sense?
Agility is mostly mental
Regarding agility to actual on field performance, the best athletes with the best on field agility also have the best perception or awareness of the environment around them. The environment around a field athlete would include other players (teammates or opponents), field restrictions (out of bounds) or any other component depending on the game being played. Cutting at the right time to have the defender go by you is a way that an athlete is able to absorb information of their surrounding area and implement a quick, accurate and effective plan to essentially get where they need to get. Higher skilled athletes are generally stronger and faster but also posses the ability to absorb information and make an accurate decision based upon the environment factors at hand. High skilled athletes posses a certain feel for the game they are playing and are able to use their high strength and speed levels to carry out what they are feeling in the game.
How do we train this?
As a strength coach, one way I am able to train on field agility is through reactive drills. Reactive drills incorporate the physical and mental aspect of the sport at hand. For example, for a football player, lets just say a QB, making the athlete complete a speed ladder, working on foot mechanics while looking downfield and making a decision and actually throwing the football to a receiver based on the defensive formation. This drill is able to incorporate agility or change of direction training with a cognitive aspect. The speed ladder is a useful tool and can look really cool when preformed fast and accurate, but being able to make a decision based on environment while doing it makes the translation to field success higher. This is just one example and there are many different ways to train agility with some kind of mental aspect or reaction aspect that will translate better to the field.
What we think of when training for sport you would generally think of the physical aspect- weight training or agility training. The technical side of training which would evolve your basic skills for the sport. For example, in basketball, passing, dribbling and shooting would all be trained. Other side of training would be the tactical side of training which would involve your game plan. For example, in basketball, going over offensive plays and defensive plays. A lot of people forget the mental aspect of the game.
There are physical aspects of agility of course. But, for the purposes of this post, we simply wanted to focus on the mental side.