Agility and change of direction speed are independent skills (read: different skills). However, many people continue to train and test them in the same way (shocking, I know…but as TDAE blog readers, you don’t have to be one of these people).
To be clear, when we are talking about agility, we are referring to a quick, whole body maneuver accompanied by a change in velocity or direction resulting from a response to a stimulus.
But wait, isn’t that technically a change in direction?
When we refer to change of direction speed (CODS), we are referring to a task that involves a change in velocity and direction, which can occur both during pre-planned conditions as well as during agility. However, CODS is NOT associated with the task of responding to a stimulus, which is a fundamental aspect of agility. Further, agility can involve a change in velocity without a change in direction. If you still aren’t convinced, research across several sports including basketball, rugby league, Australian football (AFL) and netball compared agility and CODS tests and determined that the skills are different from one another [1-5]. Therefore, when you are interested in training or testing agility or CODS, you must consider the key components of each skill and develop training and testing strategies accordingly.
AGILITY LADDERS ARE BUILT ON A LIE
Agility reflects an athlete’s ability to decipher important details about an opponent’s movements in order to react quickly and precisely. If you are using agility ladders as part of your agility training and testing protocols, then you are, in fact, not training or testing agility. Previous studies looking at agility determined that reaction time (decision-making time) is highly influential on agility performance. To enhance agility, then, you must develop decision-making skills . Again, with agility ladders, there is no stimulus to react to, and therefore no decision-making required. The literature has also found that training in decision-making can improve agility skills substantially (31%, p<0.001), suggesting the high trainability of cognitive factors in agility . Further, development of the cognitive component of agility is best performed with a sport-specific stimulus as opposed to a generic one [2, 7, 8]. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of a single sport involving ladders.
Research has also found that reaction time is discernably different across competitive levels [4, 9-11]. At lower skill levels, athletes were also found to be more easily deceived by opponents with a fake action (pass, and sidestep) [12, 13]. If you are working to develop your athletes and help them to compete at higher levels, it is crucial to properly train and develop agility skills.
No research-based evidence has been found to support using/training sprinting, strength, power, and reactive strength as a means of improving agility. Research comparing CODS training with small sided game training found that small sided games are effective for developing agility because they require enhanced decision-making . If you are someone who works with athletes who must perform both offensive and defensive agility tasks, you must develop agility skills, not change of direction speed.
If you are seeking to develop your own specific agility tests for your athletes, keep in mind the importance of the sport-specific reactive component. This same idea transfers over to training protocols intended to improve agility as well. One-on-one reactive drills, small sided games, and creative game-related activities (playing practice games with more players than what is normal for the sport, altering the rules slightly, changing the dimensions of the field, etc) can be used to enhance agility [6, 14].
THE BOTTOM LINE
. If you work with athletes that perform both offensive and defensive agility tasks, prioritize agility skill development over pure change of direction speed tasks.
. When creating agility tests and skills training, the reactive component of the test or skill training must be sport-specific.
1. Scanlon, A., Humphries, B., Tucker, P.S. and Dalbo, V., The Influence of Physical and Cognitive Factors on Reactive Agility Performance in Men Basketball Players, Journal of Sports Sciences, 2013,
2. Henry, G., Dawson, B., Lay, B. and Young, W., Validity of a Reactive Agility Test for Australian Football, International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2011, 6, 534-545.
3. Sheppard, J.M., Young, W.B., Doyle, T.L.A., Sheppard, T.A. and Newton, R.U., An Evaluation of a New Test of Reactive Agility and its Relationship to Sprint Speed and Change of Direction Speed, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2066, 9, 342-349.
4. Farrow, D., Young, W. and Bruce, L., The Development of a Test of Reactive Agility for Netball: A New Methodology, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2005, 8, 52-60.
5. Serpell, B.G., Ford, M. and Young, W.B., The Development of a New Test of Agility for Rugby League, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010, 24, 3270-3277.
6. Young, W., and Rogers, N., Effects of Small-Sided Game and Change-of-Direction Training on Reactive Agility and Change-of-Direction Speed, Journal of Sports Sciences, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2013.823230.
7. Young, W., Farrow, D., Pyne, D., McGregor, W. and Handke, T., Validity and Reliability of Agility Tests in Junior Australian Football Players, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011, 25, 3399-3403.
8. Williams, A.M. and Davids, K., Visual Search Strategy, Selective Attention, and Expertise in Soccer, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 1998, 69, 111-128.
9. Gabbett, T. and Benton, D., Reactive Agility of Rugby League Players, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2009, 12, 212-214.
10. Gabbett, T.J. and Abernethy, B., Expert-Novice Differences in the Anticipatory Skill of Rugby League Players, Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology, 2013, 2, 138-155.
11. Carlon, T., Young, W., Berry, J. and Burnside, C., Association Between Perceptual Agility Skill and Australian Football Performance, Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning, 2013, 21, 42-44.
12. Jackson, R.C., Warren, S. and Abernethy, B., Anticipation Skill and Susceptibility to Deceptive Movement, Acta Psychologica, 2006, 123, 355-371.
13. Henry, G., Dawson, B., Lay, B. and Young, W., Effects of a Feint on Reactive Agility Performance, Journal of Sports Sciences, 2012, 30, 787-795.
14. Serpell, B.G., Young, W.B. and Ford, M., Are Perceptual and Decision-Making Components of Agility Trainable? A Preliminary Investigation, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011, 25, 1240-1248.
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Kaitlyn Weiss, TDAE's Sport Science and Research Coordinator is at the cutting edge of using sport science to drive performance gains.
She graduated from the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Sport Science and Biomechanics in 2017. Graduated with Honors from Ball State University with a Master of Science in Exercise Science with a focus in Biomechanics in 2013. Graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology in 2009. Current member of NSCA, SPRINZ, SKIPP, ISBS, and ISB. Holds the following certifications: NSCA CSCS, NASM PES, USAW Level 1, FMS, Precision Nutrition Level 1, and Balanced Body University Pilates Instructor.
Follow her on Instagram @kaitweissphd