Agility: Why, What, How

Updated: Jan 20, 2018

Agility, in its current form, can be defined as “the ability to change speed and direction of a movement rapidly and accurately” (Jeffreys, 2011; Sheppard, Dawes, Jeffreys, Spiteri, & Nimphius, 2014). Superior agility is one of the most effective tools an athlete can have in his or her toolbox. When done well, it allows athletes time to make better decision and places athletes in to more opportunistic positions, which may allow them to better dominate in their respective arenas. In most sports, agility alongside speed, makes athletes into kings. When done poorly, however, it can result in poor performance, and potentially lead to injurie. Potter et al. (2014) have reported that sidestep cutting maneuvers, which is seen in agility and change of direction activities, appears to place the athlete at most risk to potential injuries. These factors are often contributed to poor biomechanics of the lower extremities such as knee valgus and improper functioning of the hip musculature (Potter et al., 2014). Interestingly, (Young & Farrow, 2006) reported on their findings that during unplanned movements of agility, there was a significantly higher load placed on the knee joint. It would potentially appear that agility training, should not only be considered for improvement in performance but also for prevention of injuries.

With that said, however, agility, is one of the most difficult and elusive skills to teach, train and develop. Even the word itself has been challenging to define. Over the last 50 years, we have seen countless changes in the definition, and in exclusion and inclusion of traits to describe agility. However, there are some factors that appear to be consistent and that do differentiate elite athletes from non-elite.

What Does and What Does Not Work?

Change of Direction Ability and Training(COD)

Having superior change of direction ability does not necessarily translate to better agility skills. When looking at change of direction ability, or pre-planned movement, studies show low correlation (Hojka et al., 2016; Sheppard & Young, 2006). However, what has been shown to work is a combination of COD exercises and Agility exercises. Chaalali et al. (2016), showed that a mixture of COD and agility training work over 6 weeks with youth soccer players, significantly improved agility with and without the ball.

Straight Line Sprinting (SLS)

SLS does not appear to improve agility or COD ability. Numerous studies have shown that a change in straight line speed is a specific skill to specific task, as is the case with agility and change of direction tasks which involve lateral maneuvering (Young & Farrow, 2006).

Foot Speed

Foot Speed has seen its popularity rise due to YouTube stars showing off their foot speed and quickness capabilities, in various drills. However, even though it looks impressive, it is unlikely that it will yield improvements in on-field performance. In a 2017 study by Eke, Cain, & Stirling (2017) reported that the difference between well executed and poorly executed

agility/COD came down to four factors. One of those factors was fewer foot contacts into the turn. Fewer foot contacts potentially allow the athletes to enter the deceleration phase with more force, which in turn may provide the athlete more force to redistribute into the acceleration phase. This could be an essential and useful outcome for many field sports athletes. As reported by Faude, Koch and Meyer (2012), change of direction and sprint/acceleration ability was one of the top 4 skills that preceded a goal in the Bundesliga. Subsequently, if an athlete cannot accelerate out of an agility task and pick up speed, they are going to struggle to create chances for themselves.

Practical Application

So how do we apply this? There have been numerous charts, and suggestions made that encompass all attributes that may have a potentially positive effect on agility performance. In Figure 1, three of the most recent models are displayed. However, as Hojka et al. (2016) have suggested, even the templates such as provided Figure 1 need to be further examined. It would still appear that if you want to improve agility, agility specific drills need to be applied. Also, agility training should be approached differently for all athletes and all different sports. Below I have posted a few of my favorite drills that I have used to improve my athlete’s agility.

Potential Agility Drills

Ball Toss

Ball Toss Mirror Game

1 Vs 1 Ball Toss


Chaalali, A., Rouissi, M., Chtara, M., Owen, A., Bragazzi, N. L., Moalla, W., ... & Chamari, K. (2016). Agility training in young elite soccer players: promising results compared to change of direction drills. Biology of Sport, 33(4), 345.

Eke, C. U., Cain, S. M., & Stirling, L. A. (2017). Strategy quantification using body worn inertial sensors in a reactive agility task. Journal of Biomechanics, 64, 219-225.

Faude, O., Koch, T., & Meyer, T. (2012). Straight sprinting is the most frequent action in goal situations in professional football. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30(7), 625-631.

Hojka, V., Stastny, P., Rehak, T., Gołas, A., Mostowik, A., Zawart, M., & Musálek, M. (2016). A systematic review of the main factors that determine agility in sport using structural equation modeling. Journal of Human Kinetics, 52(1), 115-123.

Jeffreys, I. (2011). A task-based approach to developing context-specific agility. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(4), 52-59.

Potter, D., Reidinger, K., Szymialowicz, R., Martin, T., Dione, D., Feinn, R., ... & Garbalosa, J. C. (2014). Sidestep and crossover lower limb kinematics during a prolonged sport-like agility test. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 9(5), 617.

Sheppard, J. M., Dawes, J. J., Jeffreys, I., Spiteri, T., & Nimphius, S. (2014). Broadening the view of agility: A scientific review of the literature. Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning, 200(3), 6-25

Sheppard, J. M., & Young, W. B. (2006). Agility literature review: classifications, training and testing. Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(9), 919-932.

Young, W., & Farrow, D. (2006). A review of agility: Practical applications for strength and conditioning. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 28(5), 24

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