Last week I presented our “Game Speed” program at the 2012 NSCA National Conference in Providence, RI. As I talked to other coaches about our program, it became clear to me that many of you were interested in our approach to agility, and especially our outcome based agility or Game Speed. This post is for all of you that asked me about how we progress agility and why we seem to focus so much attention on agility in our program.
As I have stated in other posts…we think agility is made up of many different aspects. Listed below is a progression we use from time to time to help kids progress from simple footwork and body control to high speed, 1v1 situations with (or against) the ball.
Step 1: Body Control and Footwork
Every progression starts with rhythm and footwork. We use these drills as a warm up every day. We want our players to be confident in how they position their bodies as they change direction. We are constantly cuing how they lean, how they position their feet, how quickly they reposition their feet under their body and how they stay balanced and ready. — Get into positions you can get out of quickly! — Although this seems simple, it is the foundation of every agility program, and is often left out. When my players come back from college, they want to focus primarily on this aspect because they say it is never a “focus” point in practice or strength and conditioning workouts. The coaches seem to be drifting away from the “HOW,” as they turn their attention to “HOW FAST.”
Step 2: Acceleration and Deceleration
Once you have the players consistently getting into good positions (balanced, stable and rhythmic), we shift our focus to how quickly they start and finish each drill. In many of our drills we will have a single sport specific focus. Some drills focus on attacking at angles, some focus on defensive footwork and others have a mulit-directional focus where a player works on transitioning from attack mode to defend mode. — I want repetitive bursts of speed with the intent to win every rep! — The point is this… all too often in agility drills the players will run around cones, with no idea how these movements prepare them for the game. I see kids not finishing a drill or jogging out of the drill. Many times the footwork and body control were perfect, but their was no real intent to be fast…no desire to win.
For this reason we usually focus on some type of reactive or partner focused agility. Even in a non-competitive environment we still want our players focused on game like separation speed or quick transition speed against a other players. We ask our players in almost every drill — Which cut was the most important? How does this relate to the game? — Many times, our drills have multiple cuts, changes of pace and bursts of speed, but their is usually one portion that is the “most important”, and that is where I want them to focus their attention. The best and fastest players in the game will rhythmically go through a drill (controlling their pace and body position) so that at that key moment, they can burst into space or by a defender.
Step 3: Integrating the Ball and/or Other Players
Depending upon the outcome focus of our session, we might also warm up with some technical ball work with a focus on body position and change of pace and/or direction. Other times we will run movement and awareness sessions against other players to teach them how to maneuver through moving obstacles. When using the ball, we want to shift our focus from simple technical skill, to a more speed based focus on how to change pace, separate and maneuver in a chaotic environment. — It’s not the move or turn, but the speed out of the move or turn that is the focus. — We need to set up a progressive approach that takes us from comfort, to quickness, to speed to reactive vision. When takes us to our final step…
Step 4: Anticipation, Recognition and Reaction
Steps 1 thru 3 are a waste of time if the player can’t see a situation develop on the field, quickly assess and make a decision that leads to a successful outcome. Is this tough to teach? Of course! And players will fail…repeatedly! But that is really the point in development. —Put a player in a situation where they don’t fear punishment, and let them attempt new things. — In some practice settings the coach will stop a drill to show players tactical elements (what did you see? why did you make that decision?), and this is essential to teach players how to play tactically. However, this is not my focus when setting up a developmental environment based around the physical side of our developmental system.
I need players to get repetitions in many different situations. Some situations are fully controlled where they player feels no pressure from a defender. Other situations are a race against other players. And some progressions lead us into 1v1 or 2v2 situations where the speed of the game is fast and the situations are totally unscripted…Game Speed.
Here is a short video of this weeks progression with our U11-U13 age group. We started off focused on movement, and finished with a full speed 3v3. We always begin with our drills designed to build a level of confidence and technique, and gradually working in passive defenders live situations. Again, this is just a snapshot of a summer long progression towards developing Game Speed. Skipping the initial steps in this process will delay the overall development and result in player and coach frustration. Trust our system and trust the process and the results will come… I hope you enjoy the video as much as I enjoyed coaching the players!