What are the Technical Aspects of Agility?
Agility can be broken down into three components cognitive, physical and technical (11). The ladder or obstacles (cones, poles) are often used to develop the technical aspect of agility. These being feet placement, adjustment of steps to accelerate and decelerate, body lean and posture. It has been shown that pre planned side steps result in; greater lateral foot placement, greater lateral movement speed, increased hip abduction, greater forward foot displacement while showing lower knee joint angles and lesser forces through the knee than unplanned side stepping (1, 8, 12).
A study by Wheeler & Sayer (12), demonstrates and explains the technical differences between pre-planned and unplanned side steps. The researchers found significant differences in lateral movement speed and foot position between unplanned and pre-planned side stepping. Pre-planned side-stepping conditions demonstrated greater lateral movement speed and greater forward displacement of the foot compared to unplanned side stepping. The greater lateral movement speed in the pre-planned side-step indicates that movement was directed towards the intended direction change.
The greater forward displacement of the foot in the pre-planned side-step may have been due to the lack of reactive stimulus. The unpredictable nature of the unplanned side-step may benefit from having the foot closer to the centre of mass making movement in either direction easier. This research demonstrates a decision-making element limits lateral movement speed during a side-step and therefore, creates a technically different movement as foot placement patterns were different between unplanned and pre-planned side steps.
Another study also showed greater lateral foot placement and therefore greater hip abduction (away from the midline of the body) during planned vs unplanned side stepping (8). The authors also noted initial knee adduction (towards the midline of the body) moments during planned side stepping suggesting during early stance, movement of the centre of mass (CoM) is initiated toward the stance foot. However, during unplanned side stepping, knee moment was towards abduction indicating an immediate response to redirect the CoM away from the stance foot. Why is this important? According to the authors, these results suggest during the planned side-step, the subjects completed weight acceptance then executed the turn. In contrast, during the unplanned side-step, the subjects attempted to initiate the turn at initial contact.
CoDS drills do not replicate the technical aspects of agility as each of these technical aspects are preparing for a sharp rapid change in velocity in response to a sport specific stimulus. We know that pre-planned agility (CoDS) and unplanned agility manoeuvres are independent qualities . Running your feet quickly through a ladder or cones whether it be forwards or laterally, does not provide the same stimulus as preparing and performing a rapid step, the footwork and body posture do not match.
Additionally, when using pre-planned obstacle drills, athletes will often get into awkward body positions to manoeuvre around poles or cones. You only give the athlete one side stepping option through most pre planned drills where teaching the athlete a repertoire of side steps can allow them to apply different side-step manoeuvres in different situations.