Agility and co-ordination are two of the many attributes required to become a successful player. Complex movements such as dribbling, turning, passing and intercepting often necessitate quick and large changes in speed and direction and correctly executing skills requires good body co-ordination.
Agility refers to the ability to change the direction of the body abruptly or to shift quickly the direction of movement without losing balance. It is dependant on a combination of factors such as speed, strength, balance and co-ordination. The ability to turn quickly, evade challenges and side-step calls for good motor co-ordination and can be measured using agility tests.
Elite athletes differentiate from the norm due to their high levels of agility and tests maybe used in talent identification. When testing agility, due to the explosive characteristics of soccer and the fact that players rarely sprint long distances, it is good to use a test lasting less than 15 seconds. Also, tests should mirror the types of activities seen in soccer, e.g. turning, running backwards and forwards. It is advised to measure performance in the early and late stages of pre-competition training and before and after specific periods of speed and strength training.
Various tests such as the Illinois Agility Run (Fig 1) or the Nebraska Agility Test (originally designed for American Football) can easily be implemented. Coaches can even devise their own tests (Fig 2). Please note that you can place the mouse cursor over each image to animate.
Co-ordination in soccer maybe defined as the capability of the player to handle soccer-specific and general situations in a confident, economic and rapid way. Like agility, co-ordination requires a high level of interaction between the motor and muscular systems. Evidence shows for example, that kicking performance is highly influenced by minimum variations in motor co-ordination.
Co-ordination also depends on a players sense of timing, e.g. when running onto a ball played into space, the player must judge the distance, speed and flight path of the ball and then use specific skills such as controlling, dribbling and passing. The mark of a skilled player is the ability to combine several techniques with fluid motion. Power, speed, reaction time and endurance are all elements that can influence co-ordination.
Coaches generally use their own judgement on co-ordination by visually evaluating player technique and actions. However, specific skill tests on techniques such as shooting, dribbling or turning with the ball (and combinations of these) can help provide valuable information, especially on younger players. More information concerning skill tests will soon be available in the Technique section of this site.
When undertaking specific agility training, the drills should preferably mimic the movements and demands of your position on the soccer field, e.g. central defenders tend to undertake more sideways and backwards running. Also, drills should be carried out at full speed to simulate game situations. Concentrate on deceleration, change of direction and acceleration to make these movements as efficient and automatic as possible.
Combining strength and power training with speed and agility is very important. Eccentric strength training (e.g., resisting the load during the down phase of a leg extension exercise) can help improve agility and to change direction due to greater forces generated from the stronger quadriceps muscles. Concentric muscle training may also play a role in improving turning speed especially by improving the push off phase during such actions.
Agility training can include shuttle running across small areas of the pitch with multiple sharp changes of direction as well as pressure drills with the ball such receiving and giving passes at high speed (see Fig 3 & 4).Such tasks will improve neuromuscular co-ordination through a better interaction between the nervous system and the muscles. Game related training plays an important part in improving agility. Studies on small sided games show that the regular changes of direction and speed required provide a good stimulus for increasing agility levels.
The main purpose of soccer technical training is to improve co-ordination and to automate movements. To a certain degree, co-ordination skills are developed automatically through simply playing the game although younger players can undertake general co-ordination training. Children will benefit from playing other sports such as rugby, basketball and hockey in addition to soccer practice games. Gymnastics and the trampoline can help train general co-ordination. They can also enjoy games such as standing in a line and passing the ball (to the player behind them) through their legs, over their heads and from side to side. Goalkeepers should have their own skill training drills to work on co-ordination.
More specific skills can be trained using different methods for players with good general co-ordination. Fig 4 shows a testing drill where a player must co-ordinate his running movements with specific ball skills such as passing, turning and dribbling. Otherwise, practices such as one on one drills with permanent pressure from the opposition can help the player to improve their co-ordination. Simple exercises such as uninterrupted passing the ball to a player (who is both moving and static) so he must control the ball with different parts of body and pass it back will help a player and coach to work and analyse specific co-ordination may also be useful. Coaches should attempt to improve co-ordination in testing conditions (as close to competition as possible) and combine various playing techniques.
Both agility and co-ordination are fundamental components of successful soccer performance and when utilised in interaction may optimally drive performance. Both depend on good motor co-ordination as well as factors such as speed, strength and balance. Speed and agility training should be incorporated into skill practices as much as possible along with strength work and much use of the ball to create a match like stimulus for improving performance. Coaches can test player capabilities using standardised field tests or by creating their own.