When you look up the definition of agility in the IYCA’s Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning textbook, it states “agility is the ability to stop, start, and change directions.” This is exactly what athletes do all the time, specifically team-sport athletes who must react to the movements of opponents. It’s important for coaches to help athletes develop these skills while incorporating sports skills and the ability to react to opponents.
I work with a lot of football players, but the principles of agility are similar for many sports. Athletes must learn how to juke, feint and react to opponents in order to make plays and avoid bone-crushing hits. Being able to change direction quickly can often be the difference between making a play or getting knocked out of a game, so it’s important that we help athletes develop these skills for both performance and safety.
So, how do we develop these skills and what tools can be utilized?
Of course, I could give all the easy answers; lift weights, nutrition, study film, recovery, etc. I am not saying these easy answers are not important, but one of my favorite ways to develop these skills is through the use of agility bags. Agility bags represent obstacles on the ground. Sometimes they are bodies that end up on the ground during a play. Your athlete has to get their feet over the bodies to avoid being tackled. Believe me some of your athletes will get tripped up by a “body” on the floor. This is your chance to have some fun with them and teach reactionary skills that will keep athletes safe and help them make plays.
Using agility bags can develop coordination, footwork and body control. It will also develop spatial awareness and the ability to use peripheral vision. It’s important that athletes in many sports use peripheral vision so they can keep their eyes on the play while knowing what is around them. Peripheral vision can actually be developed and agility bags are one tool that allows you to work on this.
There are all sorts of drills that can be done with agility bags. You’ve probably seen many of them that include shuffling, hopping, etc. Many of them can be replicated with cones or small hurdles, but I like to use bags along with including a reactionary component. Here is a short video of a few reactionary drills that can be done with agility bags.
BAG DRILL 1
I place six bags on the floor. You can have the athlete start in the middle of the six bags or at either end of the bags. I stand at the third bag a few feet away with a football in both hands.
I will point the football to the left or to the right and the athlete will follow the ball in the direction pointed. I will point, then point in the opposite direction and the athlete has to change direction to follow the ball. You can change direction at any time.
When I want them to transition from two-ins frontal plane to one-ins sagittal plane I say “SCORE.” When I say “SCORE,” I toss them the ball and they perform one-ins until they reach the end of the six bags.
BAG DRILL 2
Bag drill two is set up like bag drill one. The difference is you play catch with the athlete as he travels in the frontal plane performing two-ins. This is where peripheral vision must really be utilized.
I will travel up and down the six bags at first while playing catch with the ball. As they get use to this drill and are confident going over the bags while playing catch, I will change direction on them and they have to respond. If they are late getting to the ball and it hits the floor, the drill is restarted.
I sometimes lay out pads at the ends of the six bags on the floor and have my running backs dive onto the pads to simulate diving into the end zone.
BAG DRILL 3 – MIRROR DRILL WITH BAGS
Take four bags and lay them on the ground. Take another four bags and lay them right across from the original three bags. Have each set of four bags approximately one yard from each other.
You need two athletes. One of them will be the “lead” while the other will be the “responder” and will mirror the lead’s movement. Both will have footballs properly secured with pressure points if you’re working with football players. You can choose how sport-specific you’d like the drill to be by utilizing balls or implements.
The lead will initiate the movement by moving laterally with two-ins. The responder will follow with two-ins also.
The lead can go up and down the four bags a maximum of six times. He can change directions anytime he wants to and before the sixth rep he has to transition from lateral movement to straight ahead one-ins.
Have a coach approximately ten yards away with his hands extended out to his side, shoulder level. The first back to slap coach’s hand wins.
You can use six to eight bags. This drill is very fun and competitive.
BAG DRILL 4
Lay two bags on the ground so they are parallel to each other. Take two additional bags and lay them a few yards away from the original two. Place these two bags in an L formation. Place another bad five yards away from the L bags.
The first two bags are used for one-ins. I will also have them jump cut through the bags when working with running backs.
Once they get past the first two, they will jump cut over the L formation of bags. I like to have them jump over a bag.
After completing the jump cut, the last bag acts as a defensive back. I like to hold this one upright and tilt it to the left or to the right. Your running back has to spin opposite the tilt.
So, if working with football players, the first two bags represents the line of scrimmage. The L bag formation is a linebacker and the last bag a defensive back. You can play around with this and have them make various moves at different bags. Nothing is set in stone, so use your imagination and knowledge of the sport to create movements the athlete will use.
Training is a long-term process, and teaching athletes both coordination and skills they can use on the field is important. Agility bags offer the coach an opportunity to teach sport-specific movements/skills while developing proprioception, coordination, body control and peripheral vision. Adding a reactionary component brings all of these things together in a way that helps athletes understand how the drills can help their on-field performance.
Doug Heslip is the owner of Heslip Elite Sports Performance Training in Negaunee, MI and the creator of Seek & Destroy – Elite Running Back Drills a video product for football coaches. He works with young athletes in a variety of sports and teaches football coaches how to incorporate speed & agility training into their sessions.