Updated: Jul 29, 2020
Agility would have to be one of the most confusing and misunderstood rugby skills out there.
Type agility into the search function on Instagram or YouTube and you’ll see thousands of videos of people moving their feet explosively through agility ladders (one of my pet hates by the way – they should be called SPEED LADDERS !) or doing crazy moves with training markers thinking that they are training agility.
The problem with these drills is that they don’t translate onto the field, and they don’t include a reactive component - which is exactly what happens on the rugby field where you need to be reacting to everything.
Tell me this, when was the last time you sprinted through a ladder on the field?
True agility training must include two components:
1. Change of direction
2. Reaction to a change in environment (game situation)
So the question today must be: How do you program agility?
Firstly, you need to include the two components just mentioned above but most importantly you need to progress gradually and program the right skills in the correct order. Let’s take a look at how I program agility.
Phase 1 - BUILD A STRONG FOUNDATION
Before you even look at change-of-direction, you need to build a strong foundation, otherwise, everything else you do will collapse, or in the case of rugby, you won’t possess that sharp and explosive change-of-direction on the rugby field.
The skill you need to master first when it comes to agility is deceleration. Deceleration is the ability to slow your body down in a controlled manner.
The best players in the world are able to decelerate quickly then re-accelerate explosively in a different direction.
So, whenever you change direction, you need to decelerate first.
Key points for you to remember when performing the deceleration drill:
Accelerate as fast and explosive as possible to challenge yourself and train your body to slow down at high speeds
Stop right on top of the marker. Not in front or behind. Right on top. You need to train your body to stop on a dime
Below is a video of a great drill that trains deceleration.
Phase 2 - MASTER THE TECHNIQUE - PREDETERMINED (CLOSED) DRILLS
Now that you have mastered the skill of deceleration (controlling your body as you slow down) it’s time to practice being able to re-accelerate, and the skill of change-of-direction with set movement patterns under a predictable and unchanging environment (closed drills).
Let’s use a game situation for example. You are the attacker and you need to beat the defender in front of you. You are at full pace heading towards the defender, and as you get closer to the defender you start to decelerate and once you have control of your body you then reaccelerate explosively in a different direction.
During phase 2 of programming agility, we use closed drills which means the player knows in advance where they are going, for example - sprint to a marker.
An example of a closed drill incorporating deceleration then reacceleration can be seen in the below video:
Phase 3 – TRUE AGILITY - ADD REACTION
This is where true agility kicks in. You are now ready to add a reaction component to the drill to mimic game situations and start training your anticipation and response to various situations which is exactly what happens during a game.
So can you see now how it makes sense when I say that “agility ladder” (or speed ladder) drills are not true agility drills?
Instead of performing drills where we know that we need to accelerate to that marker then change direction to the other marker, we will now use auditory or visual cues to tell the player which direction they need to go in. Auditory cues can be in the way of a whistle or voice saying left or right. Visual cues can be in the way of pointing left or right or using colours like red for left and green for right.
These drills are called open drills.
An example of an open drill would be:
Player A to stand 10m in front of Player B.
Player A accelerates as fast as possible towards Player B. When Player A gets close, Player B steps to his left or right. Player B must react by decelerating then reaccelerating in the opposite direction.
Can you see how this drill mimics a game situation? Congratulations, you are now training change-of-direction and reaction.
The goal from here is to sharpen up your change-of-direction and reaction to a changed environment as quickly as possible to be able to explode past defenders.
There you have it, how to program agility training.
So next time you decide to pull out the SPEED ladder, grab a mate, and practice changing direction whilst reacting to your mate's cue. Of course, after you have mastered deceleration (phase 1) and practiced the technique (phase 2) so that you are able to accelerate, decelerate, and reaccelerate explosively.