Recently I had the opportunity to work with a freshman team sports physical education class. I don’t remember what our first unit was, but I remember what I did on day one. I started with agility drills. If we were going to be teaching a group of youngsters how to play sports, we had better teach them some basic skills that would apply to all of our sports before I went over dribbling and shooting. Sport skill is important, but so is the ability to move up and down the field, court, rink, etc. For many coaches this is a difficult and almost overwhelming task to incorporate into a training program. Below are my tips and suggestions for programming agility drills at your school.
When to Implement Agility Drills
Generally speaking I find that agility drills are fantastic ways to begin a practice, workout, class, etc. A warmup of general to specific movements is a great template, slow to fast. This allows the body to warm up and the athlete to focus. For my physical education class, we begin with a general warm up such as laps around the gym, followed by a brief dynamic warm up and then into our agility drills. This winter, we started our after-school program with a dynamic walking warm up, then into movement drills, and then to the platforms to start our strength training.
Agility Implementation for Teams
Adding agility drills to your program often comes down to seasonality, the organization of your sport teams, and facility restrictions. In the winter, our off-season athletes have access to our air structure and it rotates on a daily basis by sport. During these months we typically are lifting 4 days a week and running in the bubble just once. We spend our warm-up period not doing as much agility in the room, and when we do we focus a lot on lateral-burst type drills and short compact agility drills. On the days they get into the structure, we focus on more of a wide open approach to agility.
Now that it is getting into the spring, our programming is changing to a 3 day lift, with 2 days outside to run through our agility workouts. For our fall sport athletes, this follows a build-up plan that will have our kids running daily in summer as we are getting closer to their sport season. Another example of programming vs organization is our football team in the summer. We will have our linemen lift first while skill guys are outside working on agility. We then rotate the groups before coming together as a team at the end. I feel that I want the thoroughbreds running first and the workhorses lifting first.
Our court sport athletes spend time on agility first. Their warm ups lead into agility work and serve as a great warm up and motivator leading into the strength training workout. The nice thing about agility training is that the improvements by the athletes are highly-noticeable. Coaches can see how they are moving and there is always a stopwatch to prove it. The short shuttle is a real quick and easy test of movement and doesn’t stress the athletes’ bodies.
Periodizing General and Sport-Specific Agility Drills
In terms of overall periodization with athletes, my approach is simple. Early in the off-season I am going to focus on general movement patterns at moderate intensities to improve movement and build up a general volume base. As the training block progresses, we add intensity and difficulty to the agility drills to induce positive changes in quickness and change of direction. As the athletes get closer to their sport season, we incorporate sport-specific agility drills to ensure the abilities they’ve built in earlier training cycles transfer to their sport.
Check out our Wayzata Speed Agility Conditioning Manual that we put together with the help of Cal Dietz.
Johnson is a graduate of Normandale Community College, Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota, playing football at both NCC and Augsburg. “RJ” teaches physical education at Wayzata High School and is the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for Wayzata Public Schools, a position he began in 2000. Wayzata Athletics have captured 52 team state titles in histenure; Johnson works directly with the three-time state champion football program as Director of Operations and Player Development. He is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as a Registered Strength and Conditioning Specialist – both certifications with Distinction and is the Minnesota NSCA State Director. NSCA awards include Minnesota High School Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year 2010; State Director of the Year 2013; Strength of America Award 2015; and 2017 National High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. In 2017 he became a founding Board Member of the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA); and serves as a Regional Director for the organization. A former volunteer firefighter, he also received an Award of Merit from the Minnesota Department of Health and Safety for participation in a lifesaving CPR/AED effort to revive a player that suffered sudden cardiac arrest while at practice. Johnson is a frequent clinician, speaker, author and his Wayzata Trojan Power program has been visited by over 50 other high school and small college programs. He also volunteered his time in the Rockford School District where he and his wife and four children reside by serving as the Rockford Area Youth Athletic Association President and Youth Football Director.