Vol.2, No.3

High school football agility drills

A new look at agility training for high school football players.

Two players run down the field
Photo Credit: Matt Matthews
In recent years, the benefits of agility training have been examined thoroughly when applied to high school level football players. Agility is the career-building ability to maintain balance while changing direction, stopping, starting, and slowing or increasing speeds quickly. Based on this definition and its demonstration by players like Randy Moss, Deion Sanders, and Michael Vick, it is readily obvious that heightened agility improves player speed, while enabling the player to maintain good balance for ball catching and handling. In addition to balance, agility training helps players to develop neuromuscular coordination and kinesthetic awareness, allowing for increased body control and prevention of injuries.

But, the key to agility training is speed. Speed, reaction time, explosive movement, balance, footwork, and acceleration are the easy answers to the agility goals of any coach or trainer. To achieve these goals, coaches have traditionally turned to standard training models like standing broad jumps, or repeated short distance runs and/or dashes performed over distances of 5-30 yards to develop explosive starting skills.

Other dependable training methods have included tire or ladder drills where players shuffle, high-step, or run through a predetermined pattern or sequence of tires or rope ladders. Lateral or vertical cone hops offer applied plyometrics when a line of cones are placed approximately 3 yards apart, and the player moves through the grid by jumping over the cones. This drill is generally performed with the player facing forward or sideways, and encourages hip and leg strength and explosive driving ability.

Today's high school players are often bigger and stronger than those of years past, calling for more intense and aggressive agility training. Competition is keener, sending trainers and coaches in search of the next "big" thing. One of the newest additions to agility training is the inclusion of PROPRIOCEPTION training. Proprioception training is generating a great deal of excitement among professional and college trainers, with the knowledge and benefits just beginning to reach competitive high school levels.

Proprioceptors are specialized biomechanical receptors located in muscles, tendons, joints, and the inner ear. Collectively, they provide us with uninterrupted knowledge about the general position of our body in space, prior to and during the performance of a wide variety of movements, including running and jumping.

Proprioception uses controlled destabilization to multiply strength and sharpen speed reflexes. Proprioceptor training places high demand on the player's core musculature, developing abdominal and back strength, as well as balance. Balance is a function of joint stability. Core musculature is of particular importance to runners, in that it helps to relieve impact forces by improving balance.

Forcing players to work on unstable surfaces has been shown to develop new and significant strength and endurance. Controlled imbalance also forces players' muscle fibers to learn new responses to stress, and to fire more rapidly, speeding trained players past defenders almost as though they possessed bionic knee and ankle joints. This training, with its built in plyometric components also works to injury proof players at all levels.

Tools used in Proprioceptor training might include the conventional cones, plyoboxes, weighted balls, rope or flat-rung ladders and agility dots or mats. New training inclusions, specific to Proprioceptor training, are items like mini-trampolines, rocker or wobble boards, the bosu, or dyna-discs, all of which offer balance challenges.

Suggested drills might include:

(1) One-legged squats. As the name indicates, the player will lift one leg for 2 sets of 25 squats on each leg. These can be done with or without light (max. 15 pounds) weights. Initially, they should be done on flat surfaces, with unstable surfaces introduced as the player grows stronger.

(2) Step-ups. Using plyoboxes, have player step up onto one leg and balance for 5 seconds, then return to the floor with a slow and controlled motion for 2 sets of 25 steps for each leg. These can be done with or without light weights. For advanced players: once the player is standing on the box, toss a weighted ball (approximately 2.2 kgs.) to the player, then have him toss the ball back and step down (repeat for 2 sets of 25 reps).

(3) Vertical leap. Position the player next to a wall with a piece of chalk in hand. Have him squat, with arms hanging long, then leap straight up. Check the measurement and repeat for five successive leaps. Marks should be measured for height. Ideally, successive leaps will yield trained muscles and greater explosive movement.

As with any exercise, when preparing to train, be sure to do an adequate warm-up, pre-stretch, and active warm-up, under competent supervision. Full drills should be focused, with speed and simulated game conditions assumed. Rests between reps and sets should be timed (at a minimum) for an overall conditioning effect, and drills should always be performed on an appropriate surface for player safety.