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Creating Agile Athletes

Athletes who can stop, start, and change direction quicker than their opponents will almost always have the advantage. That’s why agility training is so important. One of the best ways to develop these skills is to incorporate agility bags into your conditioning regimen.

Doug Heslip, owner of Heslip Elite Sports Performance Training in Negaunee, Mich., and contributor to IYCA.org, says that agility bags are one of his favorite training tools. He believes the bags offer a fun way to teach reactionary skills, which will help keep athletes safe and performing at a high level.

Agility bags essentially represent an obstacle in the athlete’s way, typically an opponent. As athlete’s step over, jump over, or cut past the bags, they will develop coordination, footwork, and body control.  This can also help them develop spatial awareness and the ability to use peripheral vision, giving them the ability to keep their eyes on the play while knowing what is around them. 

If you don’t have agility bags at your disposal, many of the same drills can be done with cones or small hurdles. Here’s a list of the drills that Heslip recommends:

Drill 1

Place six bags on the ground. The athlete can start in the middle of the six bags or at either end of the bags. You should stand at the third bag a few feet away with a ball. The ball you have can vary based on the sport. For most sports, you will hold the ball in your hands, but if you’re coaching soccer then keep a ball at your feet.

Point the ball to the left or to the right, and the athlete will follow the ball in the direction pointed. Then, point in the opposite direction and the athlete has to change direction to follow the ball. You can change direction at any time. If you are coaching soccer, you can just use your arms to direct the athletes.

When you want the athlete to transition from two-ins frontal plane to one-ins sagittal plane, yell “Score,” or another word of your choice. When you yell the word, toss/pass them the ball and they will perform one-ins until they reach the end of the six bags. This could be modified for soccer by having them dribble between the bags.

Drill 2

The bags are set up the same way as in Drill 1. The difference is you play catch with the athletes as they travel in the frontal plane performing two-ins. This is where peripheral vision must really be utilized. For soccer players, you can pass the ball back and forth as they go through the drill.

Travel up and down the six bags at first while playing catch/passing with the ball.  As the athlete gets used to this drill and is confident going over the bags while playing catch/passing, you can change direction on them and have them respond. If they are late getting to the ball and it hits the floor, the drill is restarted.

Drill 3 (Mirror Drill)

Take four bags and lay them on the ground. Take another four bags and lay them right across from the original four bags. Have each set of four bags approximately one yard from each other. For this drill, you need two athletes at a time. One of them will be the “lead” while the other will be the “responder” and will mirror the lead’s movement. You can choose how sport-specific you’d like the drill to be by utilizing balls or other implements.  

The lead will initiate the movement by moving laterally with two-ins. The responder will follow with two-ins. The lead can go up and down the four bags a maximum of six times. The lead can change direction any time they want to, and before the sixth rep, they have to transition from lateral movement to straight ahead one-ins. Have a coach approximately ten yards away with their hands extended out to their side, shoulder level. The first player to slap the coach’s hand wins. You can use six to eight bags. Heslip says this drill is very fun and competitive.