Developing speed and agility in sport is specific to the game or sport an athlete plays. In team or court-based sports, it differs from the technique of a 100m sprinter, in that the track athlete can run flat-out, with maximum stride length and stride rate in a straight line.
For example, the speed and agility requirements in a court-based sport are very different to those of a field-based team sport. In badminton, because of the very small court, an athlete will take a maximum of one or two steps in a particular direction to cover the court, involving a high frequency of diagonal, lateral and forward and backward movements.
A netball, hockey, or rugby player, on the other hand, would rarely travel more than thirty metres, so the most important qualities are very different – acceleration and the ability to change direction rapidly, are key in team sports.
To improve speed and agility, strength and conditioning coaches would include specific workouts targeting that physical quality into the weekly programme of an elite team sport athlete, in addition to the endurance or strength training they were doing.
To produce an enhancement in performance at elite level, requirements of what the player or sport specifically needs are carefully considered, before drills which develop the skills are designed, mostly concentrating on acceleration and change of direction.
In rugby or hockey, a player would accelerate into position, either to find space, or to make a challenge, but those movements are often angled runs, changes of direction whilst running, or running in a curve, so any exercises or drills designed to improve that ability, would, necessarily be sport-specific.
Technique is vital, according to EIS Strength and Conditioning Coach, Raph Brandon.
“Improving speed and agility is more of a skill, than physiological ability, such as strength. Most training sessions would involve very specific, high-quality sessions, with plenty of rest, rather than lots of reps.
“It is diffuclut to define one set of agility exercises, although there are certain general exercises that are useful for developing footwork skills – agility ladders, side-stepping, basic cross over and forwards and backwards and shuttle runs – which can be useful for a number of sports,” he said.