Agility training: how to develop an athletes reaction time

A training programme to improve your reaction time

Objective: to improve reaction, main focus on whole body response.

Suitable for: a variety of field and racquet sport players. Can also be used by sprint and other power athletes, as a means of improving their general reaction and coordination. Many of the drills require acceleration and agility plus reaction, which makes them particularly relevant to sport. Reaction is obviously crucial in numerous sporting situations, for example, for a football defender reacting to a striker who is turning to try to spin past them. If the defender is able to 1) react, and 2) crucially position their body in the most efficient position to turn and accelerate, then they will be all the more likely to dispossess the attacker of the ball.

Time in the training year: all year round – the drills can be incorporated into sports specific warm ups after body temperature has been increased by relevant CV exercise and preliminary dynamic mobility drills and sports specific practices have been performed – see dynamic warm ups

A bit more on reaction

Top sports coach Brian McKenzie defines reaction as follows:

‘Reaction time is the interval between the presentation of a stimulus and the initiation of the muscular response to that stimulus. A primary factor affecting a response is the number of possible stimuli, each requiring their own response to those that are presented.’

Basically Brian is saying that the more factors that could influence a decision, the longer the response may be. These are the types of situations that occur in field sports games, where a defender will perhaps not only have to ‘mark’ the player nearest to him, but will also need to adjust to his fellow defenders and the movements of other opposition players. Although beyond the scope of this PPP workout it should be noted that experience and being able to ‘read the game’ and visual acuity are also key determinants of reactive ability and are applicable to numerous sporting situations.
(Ref: www.brianmac.co.uk/reaction.htm)

Although reaction to opponents or team-mates or both is often dependent on anticipation in sports such as football and basketball, it can be improved through sport specific practices and drills. It is also important that the sportsman or sportswoman is ‘in the zone’ and concentrating when they train for reaction, otherwise responses and training transference will be reduced.

1) Kneeling to sprint 10–20m

Purpose: to develop acceleration – great for rugby and football players who will find themselves on the ground during match play.

Equipment: cones to mark the finish.

Description: kneel on all fours. On a command given by the coach or training partner react quickly and sprint 10m.

Technique tips: encourage the first step from the kneeling position to be made with the stronger leg, whilst maintaining a low driving position during acceleration.

Variation: include a sports specific skill, for example a rugby player could have to run into a tackle bag.

Do: 4 repetitions.

2) To the left or right reaction drill

Purpose: to develop change of direction reaction and acceleration – particularly relevant to all sports and field sport players.

Equipment: tape/cones.

Description: mark out three lines, each 10–15m apart. Straddle the centre line, assuming a ready stance with feet shoulder width apart and facing to the front. On the coach’s command  ‘left’ or ‘right’, react, turn and sprint in that direction
Coaching points: although this drill is fun, stress the importance of quick pushing strides to accelerate rapidly, after dropping the centre of gravity by bending the knees and pushing off from the turning foot . The accelerative strides should be made with the legs pushing behind the body.

Variations: change the commands of ‘left’ or ‘right’ to a clap and whistle – having informed the performer which sound indicates left or right

Do: 10.

3) Ball drop reaction drill

Purpose: to develop reaction and explosive first steps – suitable for all field and racquet sport players and sprinters.

Equipment: football.

Description: you’ll need a partner to do this drill. They should hold the ball at shoulder height and out to one side of their body and then drop it. You will need to react, accelerate and attempt to catch the ball before it bounces for a second time. Trial and error will be needed to establish the ‘right’ distance to make the drill most effective.
Coaching points: stress a snappy first step, with a dynamic leg drive and head up position.

4) ‘Falling’ starts over 10m

Purpose: to react in order to achieve a technically correct quick get away – suitable for field and racquet sport players and sprinters.

Equipment: cone.

Description: stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, keeping your body straight, start to lean forwards to lose balance. When you reach a position when you would fall, quickly advance one leg dynamically forward to ‘catch’ yourself and accelerate away. Try not to advance this foot too far in front of you as this will block your fall and slow the acceleration – learning to ‘catch’ the fall and initiating the drive from the same leg can give a footballer, for example, an extra half-yard on their opponent by teaching a smooth transition from a falling/ standing position when acceleration is needed. The acceleration movement should be made with the legs working ‘behind the body’ pushing against the ground. The movement should be initiated from the hip flexors – the muscles at the top of the thighs.

Coaching points: confidence is required for this drill and it should be progressed slowly whilst this gained. The aim is to achieve a fluid ‘fall and sprint’. Discourage a ‘step and sprint’ movement. During the acceleration phase a forward lean of the body should be maintained past the finish line at 10m.

5)    T drill with ball catch

Purpose: to develop agility plus hand eye and body coordination – particularly relevant for cricketers, racquet sports players, rugby and basketball players and football goalkeepers.

Equipment: 4 cones, ball (rugby, cricket, football, basketball depending on sport).

Description: use 4 cones to mark out a T shape (the base of the T should be 3m long, as should the bar). From the bottom of the T, sprint to the mid-cone in the bar of the T, drop into a squat type position and then sidestep to the left end cone and across to the right end cone, back to the centre cone and then back pedal to the start.

The coach should stand in front of the T holding a ball. At any time whilst the athlete is performing the drill they should throw the ball for the athlete to catch. Depending on the sport, the ball can then be passed back (for basketball, for example) or held until the drill is completed.

The drill could be included in a circuit or repeated 4-6 times with, for example, 30 seconds’ recovery between efforts. This would introduce fatigue, which is something that may lead to the break down of both the agility and reaction and catch aspect of the drill. Repetition would therefore develop specific endurance, which would reduce the potential of this occurring in a match situation.

Coaching points: remain light on your feet throughout the drill and make short dynamic steps. You will need to keep your head up in order to watch for the ball being thrown to you.

Do: 2-6.

6) Heads up – ball reaction drill

Purpose: to develop hand eye coordination, particularly relevant for field sport players.

Equipment: netballs, basketball, rugby balls, reflexive of the sport.

Description: players stand in a large circle approximately 3m from each other. Two balls are passed around the circle. In response to the coach blowing a whistle the direction of the pass is altered.

Coaching points: players should pass to the players’ chests and have their hands up and ready to catch. They should also communicate with each other, as they would in a game situation, in order to ready each other for the catch/catches

Variations:  introduce more balls dependent on the number of players in the circle.

Using two balls pass one anti-clockwise and the other clockwise. Players should not throw the ball into the back of one of their colleagues who may not be facing the pass (!) – rather, if this situation seems likely they should call out the player’s name to alert them and pause before passing. Players may also have to ‘think’ to slow down the passage of one or both balls in order to prevent them catching up with one another which in would in all likelihood lead to the practice breaking down.

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