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A spartan approach to agility training.

Agility training plays a major role in the development of all athletes. A varied blend of practices employed. None of it is bad, most of it has merit, but there are definitely better and best categories.

A glaring problem with some of the approaches currently in vogue is a lack of adherence to the specific principles of motor skill development.

As you evaluate each of the drills in your agility-training package, you must ask yourself whether the drills have the positive carry-over to your athletes' movement requirements.

The carry-over might be as elementary as footwork specificity, or as cognitively involved as responding to a host of visual and/or verbal cues while on-the-run. In any case, however, you do not want to be guilty of executing an assortment of mindless merry-go-round drills that elevate the heart rate, but do little to elevate skill development.

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This segment will take a closer look at how we construct our agility drills--based upon the set goals and motor skills we hope to improve--and then package them according to their appropriate category.

First off, though, a little bit of motor learning science would be beneficial.

CLOSED AND OPEN CONCEPTS

All movements are classified in the motor learning literature as either closed or open. These categories involve very distinct functions of the central nervous system (CNS) and require a host of very unique interpretations of neuromuscular stimuli, receptor information, memory recall capabilities, and efficient response mechanisms.

In simplistic, practical terms, here is basically what happens in each case:

Closed Skills: These are at the low end of the movement continuum, as they usually take place under relatively fixed, unchanging conditions. They are highly predictable and envelop very clearly defined beginning and ending points.

Feedback (i.e., "messages" from the involved musculature to the CNS) plays a minor role in the execution of the skill. In other words, very few corrections from the muscle's proprioceptors are required as a result of the information this feedback provides once the skill is set into motion.

Proprioceptors are mechanisms in joints and muscles that provide the CNS with information on the correctness of the movement and any changes that must be made while it is in progress.

The main elements of the skill are self-paced in that the athlete initiates the movement at his own discretion.

Examples: Golf, bowling, archery, most track and field events, competitive weightlifting, and tee-ball all have the requisites of closed skill sports.

Open Skills are at the high end of the continuum, and they usually take place under ever-changing conditions. Feedback is essential in the decision-making process, as adjustments are paramount to the successful execution of the movement.

This feedback might involve proprioceptive information such as incorrect body posture or a "pressure" cue (e.g., the physical contact of a defensive lineman with an offensive lineman) that must be addressed with the appropriate adjustment.

Other times, it is a visual cue (e.g., a shortstop reacting to the batter's contact with the ball), or a verbal cue (e.g., basketball players responding to the auditory play call from the point guard).

Basically, the rudiments of open skills are punctuated with the necessity to adjust to ever-changing stimuli after the movement has been initiated.

These are known as forced-paced skills--they are extremely complex in organization and execution due to the fact that the athlete must make split-second decisions and react with precision.

Due to their variability, dependence upon feedback, and the mental pressure to make instant judgments under duress, it is evident that open skills require a higher level of learning and specific training.

The point of this discussion is to urge you to incorporate into your agility drills as many of the teaching cues you use in practice and game situations as possible.

Keeping these simplified motor learning concepts in mind, each coach will be better equipped to design and administer agility drills that are movement-specific to the sport.

FIELD OF SCHEMES

Whenever possible, agility drills should be task-specific; in other words, all of the teaching cues, environmental considerations, and equipment used in a game situation should be evident. That's the perfect world.

Problem is, we are not living in a perfect world year-round.

What do we do when we are required to conduct drills with little or no equipment?

Last month, we discussed skill pattern training for football. This approach is adaptable to all sports-coaches merely have to take it upon themselves to devise a plan and work within the rules.

What about something that just about every coach of any sport can apply?

Here are some suggestions:

We are fortunate to have an indoor facility with a full football field composed of an artificial surface and the newer ground rubber technology. It provides us with a year-round surface to execute all of our agility and conditioning procedures for a spectrum of men's and women's sports.

A football field is a natural setup for agility drills. The sidelines, yard lines, and hash marks provide natural reference points and visual indicators. In many cases, no additional equipment is needed.

Throw in a few cones and/or other accessories when necessary and you have a spacious, highly functional training area for all sports.

The following are some of our favorite "Across the Field" drills that we incorporate over the width of the field. The drills can be lengthened or shortened at the coach's discretion.

A key advantage of using a football field is the fact that you can train a large group of athletes with excellent spacing and maneuvering room. Additionally, the coach providing the visual and/or verbal cues for change of direction is in the perfect position for administering each drill.

The three drills described here are multi-directional and sequentially more difficult. The presented order represents the way we introduce and teach them.

We urge you to take a close look at them and, if necessary, make the applicable modifications to match the footwork and other vital mechanics involved in your sport.

DIAG. 1: LATERAL AND BACK:

On command, the athletes sprint from the sideline to the near hash mark and "break-down" with proper power angles (i.e., bend) in the ankles, knees, and hips. They maintain a flat back, keep their heads up and eyes on the coach.

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This is the so-called ready position, which is essentially the body posture assumed by linebackers and infielders prior to a play or pitch. The coach may want the athletes to buzz or chop the feet in place while waiting for the next command.

The coach will then point either right or left, or give a verbal cue indicating those directions. The players react to the cue by sprinting to the yard line in that direction, touching it with the indicated hand (coach's discretion), then sprinting back to the starting line and assuming the ready position. The drill is repeated--in both directions--for as many reps as the coach desires.

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He will conclude the drill by pointing them forward or giving them a verbal cue to finish, and the players will sprint through the far hash. They will conclude with a stride to the far sideline, and then turn around to repeat the drill in the opposite direction.

Variations of this drill include shuffles, backward runs, and crossover runs to the indicated line. Again, the diagram merely provides a template for any type of footwork the coach wants to plug-in. The one constant is the return to the starting line after the directional move to the next yard line.

DIAG. 2: ONE CONE/LATERAL AND BACK:

Everything described above is in effect, with the addition of cones that are placed midway between two yard lines, and five yards from the hash mark.

The coach now has the option of pointing to a cone, and the players have to sprint up to the cone, touch it with one or two hands, and then open to their starting position and sprint back to it. Upon return to the starting position, they square-up, assume the ready position, and look/listen for the next cue.

Variations of this drill include shuffles, backward runs, and crossover runs back to the starting line. Also, the coach can use numbered or colored cones and call out the number/color for a verbal cue rather than a visual cue.

The finishing procedure is the same as Drill #1.

DIAG. 3: TWO CONES/LATERAL AND BACK:

A third component is now added with an additional cone set behind the players' starting position. This cone is also midway between yard lines and five yards from the hash.

Now the coach has four directional options: yard lines to the right and left, and cones to the front and back.

The players can be instructed to open and run, backward run, shuffle, etc., to the rear cone, and then sprint back to their starting point.

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Let your coaching innovation and desired results take over from here. As you can imagine, there are numerous movement options from this set-up.

Virtually every movement--laterally, diagonally, forward, and backward--can be incorporated into this design. All of the drills mentioned above can be performed within a comprehensive, multi-directional schematic.

FINAL REP:

There is also a competitive feature to these drills, as the players will be challenged to complete the designated drill with accuracy and be the first to return to the starting point for the next command.

These drills represent but a fraction of our agility package, but our hope is that we have provided you with a strategy and a template from which you can design drills that fit the needs of your sport.

Note: The athletes begin each drill lined-up where the sideline intersects with a yard line. A verbal or visual cue can start the drill, specific to the sport or position group executing the drill.

RELATED ARTICLE: TIP FROM THE TRENCHES

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Water is a critical nutrient for growth, development, and overall health. As a matter of fact, it is the most required nutrient in our diets and the most abundant in our bodies. Water is needed for digestion, circulation, absorption of other nutrients, excretion, maintenance of body temperature, and functioning of every living cell.

For athletes, staying properly hydrated is crucial for both health and performance. As little as a 3% dehydration level will negatively affect performance. Approximately two hours before practice or competition, at least 16 oz. of cool water (50-59 degrees F) should be gradually ingested. During the activity, 8 oz. of water or a non-carbonated sports drink should be ingested every 15-20 minutes. Post-practice/competition fluid intake should be around one quart per 1,000 calories expended.

Athletes should monitor their urine. Dark urine with a strong odor is a red flag for dehydration, and is an indicator to gradually ingest additional fluids and/or a sports drink.

--KM

By Ken Mannie, Strength/Conditioning Coach

Michigan State University
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Title Annotation:Powerline Sponsored by Philips
Author:Mannie, Ken
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:1828
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