Having great change-of-direction speed (agility with quickness) allows the athlete to beat her or his opponent "to the stop" or recover from mistakes in positioning.
How many times have you seen a player with "not great speed" repeatedly make plays to help the team win. This is not an accident. You can improve your change-of-direction speed with proper training.
As with any athletic move, core strength is critical. Overall body strength is also important.
Before an athlete begins to train for speed and power, the foundation should be laid with sufficient core and body strength. Failure to lay this strength foundation will lead to certain injuries for the athlete.
Body positioning is critical if you want to improve your change-of-direction speed. You will need dynamic balance. In many sports, it is not that easy to change direction and accelerate because the athlete is often off balance.
Some sports, such as football and basketball require running with or bouncing a ball. And, other sports, such as soccer require moving a ball with the feet. The best running backs, tennis players, basketball players, shortstops, etc. all have great dynamic balance.
Having great dynamic balance means that the athlete is able to maintain her or his center of gravity over a constantly changing base of support. Thus, quickness and agility drills help the athlete to improve dynamic balance and change-of-direction acceleration while not wasting motion.
To improve change-of-direction acceleration, the athlete should have a shin angle of approximately 45 degrees for the first few steps. The shoulders should also be slightly leaned forward.
The body lean should be at the ankles and not the hips. Having the feet just wider than shoulder-width apart will give an athlete the most stable base of support. This is not always possible during athletic competition.
Therefore, stability needs to be added by lowering the center of gravity. Change-of-direction acceleration could be laterally, at an angle or forward (when back pedaling) and will catapult the athlete to near maximal speed quickly.
The first step in the change-of-direction is important. If this step is too long, the athlete will over-stride and bring the shin to a vertical angle instead of 45 degrees. This will slow you down. So, the first step should be under your hips. Again, the body lean should be at ankles and not the hips.
When running forward or back pedaling, it is often necessary to slow down, change direction at an angle and accelerate in a straight line. As a defensive back, I often had to back pedal before accelerating in a different direction.
This meant that I had to plant my foot aggressively (with my knee inside my ankle) to accelerate quickly out of my cut. Failure to do so meant that I was "burnt toast" for the laughing receiver!
This positioning was also achieved by forcing the plant leg (opposite the direction I wanted to go) into the ground while my shoulders remained in the same position (slightly leaned forward). If my shoulders were out of position, I wasted motion and accelerated at a slower rate (burnt toast!).
Lateral change-of-direction technique is similar. Shin angle remains important. Shuffles are often followed by sprints. The athlete will use short, quick steps to decelerate and bring the body under control. A "jump stop" can also be used to change directions. The athlete's knees and hips should be bent with the shoulders aligned over the knees and toes.
Shuttle drills, lateral shuffle/cuts, back pedal/turn and run, back pedal/lateral break, back pedal/diagonal break, crossovers, cariocas, tapiocas, ladder drills, etc. can all be used to improve change-of-direction speed. The athlete should perfect technique at half speed before progressing to full speed drills.
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Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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