Agility vs. Change of Direction [Video]

athletes performing agility workout drillsOne of the hot topics in the world of strength & conditioning and sports performance is how to actually train for improving agility. The debate comes down to the definition of agility and how it differs from change of direction, and ultimately what you are actually training. There is one significant difference between the two terms, which changes how you train for it, as well as the results that the training yields. Continue reading to learn more about the differences and I’ve also included 4 reaction agility workout drills as well!

Change of Direction

Let’s first start with the definition of “change of direction”. This one is pretty simple – The ability to start moving in a different direction. For athletes, it typically involves a rapid deceleration and then a cut to move in a different direction from the current path of motion.

Change of Direction Training

Training for change of direction involves utilizing “closed drills” or “predetermined drills”. These are typically done using lines or cones to set up a predetermined pattern to which the athlete is instructed to move. The athlete will be cutting back and forth or to and from specific lines. An example of this would be a Pro Agility or 5-10-5 drills, or variations of those types of drills. Cones could be set up on a square or different shape and the athlete would be cutting around or through them in a specific pattern or route.

Agility

Agility, however, is different and is defined as the ability to change direction or velocity in response to a stimulus. It’s cutting and changing how and where you are moving in reaction to something else. In sports, it is typically a visual stimulus, and the athlete is reacting to another person or an object like a ball or puck for example. It could also be an audible stimulus that causes them to change direction. The key difference is that the athlete is reacting to something and there is decision making that occurs after.

Which is More Important for Athletes?

So the obvious next question becomes, “Which one is more important and which one should you train for?” The answer is both, but more time should be spent on agility rather than strictly change of direction. Studies have shown that there is little carryover to sport from doing closed, predetermined change of direction drills. When you get really good at cone drills, it just means you are really good at cone drills. It doesn’t really help you that much in your sport.

That being said though, I do think it’s important for younger athletes to develop proper mechanics for decelerating and changing direction. That takes practice and repetition, and the easiest way to do that in a controlled situation where the outcomes and processes are clearly defined is with closed, change of direction drills. When those basic skills are acquired, more time can be allotted to reactive drills.

Reactive Agility Workout Drills

In the past year or so, we have shifted our focus to training for agility rather than change of direction. There are some simple ways to start including reactive drills into your workouts.

  •  Mirroring Drills: Two athletes face each other, one leads, the other follows by copying and mirroring the leader. Start with simple shuffles, and move on to more complicated movements in multiple directions.
  • Cat & Mouse Games: The cat (follower) chases the mouse (leader) wherever they go. The mouse changes speeds and directions throughout.
  • Tag Games: Great for practicing real-world agility.
  • Reaction Drills: Drills where the athlete must react to another athlete or situation and change direction as a result it. These can be made more complicated by adding more variables. The possibilities are endless.


The video shows some simple examples of different agility drills using partner reaction. If you want to take your agility training to the next level and work on things that will improve your athletes’ performance in their sport, I highly recommend including these types of drills.

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