PERFORMANCE+ Practical training drills
Developing Non-straight Line Speed
Some of the simplest drills I use are clock drills that require no or very little equipment. They can be manipulated very quickly to formulate different sport-specific training drills.
In sport we have athletes who aren’t particularly great in agility tests but, when movement, speed and ability to read the game are combined they excel. Similarly we have athletes who are very good in agility tests but struggle with agility in games because they are unable to read the game and do not cope well in the required non-patterned movements. This is extremely important as coaches need to differentiate whether it is physical or mental components that are letting an athlete down or, in some cases, a combination of both.
To test or not to test? As long as you are aware of the pitfalls of solely using agility tests as a measure of athletic ability, objective testing can be useful. As a halfway house we use agility testing with badminton players to look purely at their physical abilities to move. However, we also subjectively rate game agility, which is simply how well they combine movement speed with their ability to read the game. This helps us decide what type of drills will help our athletes (eg drills that improve physical qualities, help develop cognitive qualities or help develop both).
With younger athletes it is very important to develop a whole vocabulary of movement. It is
often movements in games that athletes are not used to that let the opponent gain the upper hand (eg a movement fake by an opponent that causes the athlete to become unbalanced). Therefore, I like my athletes to learn unfamiliar movements even though they are not sport specific. Doing this gives a broader movement skill base to draw upon when moving and playing. One example we use is to get our athletes to do a forward roll into a sprint, as this puts them off balance into a movement that requires a great deal of speed. Non-game specific drills are important with younger athletes but are also useful with senior athletes as a different stimulus to training.
Cones are set up to symbolise numbers on a clock face. The coach simply shouts out different numbers the player has to sprint to. This will ensure the player gets used to accelerating forwards to the left and right but also backwards towards the left and right. If you are looking to develop speed over a short distance, say five metres, cones should be fairly close together. If you want players to develop speed over 15–20 metres that is how far apart cones should be. You can also make the athlete run backwards if the number is 3 behind her or make her turn and run forwards depending on what you are trying to achieve.
The next progression requires the athlete to complete some multiple changes of direction. The coach (or athlete) shouts out three numbers (which can’t be sequential) and has to complete movements to each of these numbers. You can either make the athlete travel through the centre of the clock face (if your sport requires a return back to base) or go straight to each number. Again this can be adapted to a specific sport if you require athletes to always face the same way or turn and move to each cone going forwards.
Drill 3: Multidirectional movements with extra decision making
Adding in extra decision making is useful for athletes who struggle not with physical qualities of movements but cognitive processes. In this drill the athlete selects numbers but the clock face is reversed, which adds a greater level of uncertainty with movement. Once athletes have completed their three-number movements they have to get to the middle and shout out three more numbers to move towards. They only have a second to decide this (it’s a lot harder than it looks!).
Further training progressions on clock drills Using speed and agility equipment
1. Try the drill with the athlete in different starting positions (eg on their front, back, side). 2. Change the drills quickly: mix between variations of the drills to see how well athletes adapt to sudden changes in stimuli.
The use of speed ladders has become quite prevalent in developing speed and agility. Although using speed ladders can be a great training tool, in my experience they are very rarely used well by coaches in developing agility because the exercises used are all patterned with little progressions to non-patterned movements. I tend to use ladders at the start of a speed and agility session as part of a gradual warm-up to increase foot speed and give athletes something easy to start with to help them switch to speed mode. However, with a little tweaking, ladder drills can be made a lot less patterned. Making athletes complete drills backwards will add a greater level of difficulty, as well as adding an additional level of uncertainty by getting them to move in opposite directions on hearing a verbal command. Completing these progressions will give a great example of how athletes can excel at a patterned drill yet break down quickly when an amount of uncertainty is added.
3. Get them to mirror a partner’s movement: This allows greater competition and really increases the level of intensity and reaction speed. There are hundreds more so just let your imagination run wild!
Training guidelines • The athlete must have a good fitness base to start with. • You need to challenge the body in new movements and in different ways. • Make drills FUN but HARD. • Think about training the brain as well as the body.
It is also important to consider the type of coaching cues you may use. For some drills it might be appropriate to use visual cues such as the stimulus of a ball or an opponent. For other drills it might be appropriate to use verbal commands or cues and even kinaesthetic cues such as reaction to touch. It will depend on what your sport requires. We often use several types of cues to keep our athletes constantly thinking.
• The athlete needs to be fresh (both mentally and physically).
As many of the drills require a level of uncertainty, athletes may well go wrong. It is how they react to getting wrong-footed that is important; that is the training stimulus we are after. I will often give more verbal reinforcement if an athlete goes wrong and tries to recover quickly than if they simply complete a drill well.
• Sets 1–3 on each drill.
• Work duration: around 5–15 seconds (or when movement breaks down). • Reps 3–5 on each drill. • Work to rest ratio 1:5 between reps. • Rest period between sets of 180 seconds. • Work has to be 100% (athlete and coach!).
Profile Andy Allford is the lead strength and conditioning coach for the English Institute of Sport, East Region, working mainly with badminton. He previously worked for the University of Hertfordshire as head of health, fitness and performance, as well as being the strength and conditioning consultant for the British Paralympic Association.
© Action Images
Part of the reason it is so complicated is because defining and testing for agility is so difficult. Agility by its very nature means your body needs to respond and react to several stimuli and move efficiently in many different planes of movement. Most agility tests I have seen are patterned, meaning the athlete knows where she is going. Even when there is an element of reaction to stimuli within a test, it never fully duplicates the complex nature of cognitive processes athletes endure reacting to game stimuli.
Drill 1: Single multidirectional sprints
Multidirectional training (or agility) surprisingly receives relatively little attention considering how many sports require speed in multiple directions. Andy Allford explains how coaches can best enhance non-straight line speed in their athletes.
A quick scour of books, articles and the Internet offers a plethora of drills under the heading ‘agility’ which are no more than straight-line speed drills. This is probably because many of the training processes used in developing speed have come from athletics, where multidirectional movement is not important and focus (quite rightly) is on developing running mechanics and speed in a straight line. Utilisation of correct mechanics and straight-line speed development are useful as a starting block but the whole area of developing non-straight line speed is a great deal more complicated.
Drill 2: Multidirectional movements
This article is taken from issue 11 of coaching edge magazine. coaching edge is the subscription magazine of sports coach UK. Covering the latest methods and techniques, and featuring interviews with some of sport’s leading figures, coaching edge is a must read. coaching edge subscription costs only £18 a year (£13.75 for students) and includes four issues of the magazine. Further details and an application form can be found at: www.sportscoachuk.org