Messi, R9 (i.e. the original Ronaldo), Maradona, Mbappé. These legendary footballers all share one of soccer’s most prized qualities: the ability to quickly change direction, the quick turn of pace that frightens even the best of defenders.
When you think of agility at the highest level, with these special players, it’s easy to think that it’s simply a gift from the gods, a lottery win destined at birth.
And even though this is partially true, of course, agility can be developed, honed, and improved. Even if you play soccer like NBA great Dirk Nowitzki, there is hope for you yet.
Agility in Soccer: Enhancing Change of Direction Skills
Why Position-Specific Training Matters
Research has shown that generalist training sessions – in other words, the entire squad training together – generate inferior results to targeted methods.
For example, Liverpool’s Thomas Grønnemark made a significant contribution to his team’s title-winning campaign by acting as a focused throw-in coach. The possession success rate promptly increased from 45.4% to a very solid 68.4%.
This also works when it comes to training by position. The Three Lions added a specialist attacking coach to the fold, and no one will argue with Southgate’s results at the helm. For positions like goalkeeper, not an outfield position, specialist training is highly recommended.
Why You Need Agility Training
The answer seems obvious, right? To inject a little bit of Messi-esque action into your play. But there’s so much more to agility training than just that quick turn of pace:
- Speed. Agility improves change of direction but also enhances your overall top speed in most cases.
- Coordination. When playing soccer, staying balanced is key in most aspects of the game, whether shooting, dribbling, or passing.
- Endurance. James Milner isn’t known for his speed but for his sheer determination to slog it out. He’s still going strong now, signing a contract for Brighton at 37.
- Preventing injuries. Agility sessions will help you develop the strength to absorb movements in soccer that affect vulnerable areas, such as your ankles and knees.
- Silky skills. Bergkamp was never that quick, but he did have the smooth skills that had him on the highlight reels every week. Agility training will help you get there.
Training Methods to Implement
These are just a few base training methods you can employ to improve your levels of agility. If you have yet to embark on this type of training, you should see improvements quickly. For more advanced programs, you will need a tailored approach to maximize results.
You’ll see every single professional club employing agility ladders in some way, shape, or form. It’s quite demanding on your body, but that’s exactly what you’re looking for, targeted training.
Agility ladders usually come in bundles of 8-10. Place each one approximately three feet from the other. Each separate exercise should be done 3-4 times, depending on your starting point:
- One foot in, one out. You’re essentially running from one ‘section’ to the next, one foot in each one.
- Two-step. Instead of a fluid running motion, each foot needs to land in a section. Alternate between the leading foot for each repetition.
- Lateral two-step. Pretty similar to the one above, except you’re moving sideways. Alternate your body position to tackle each side for this one.
These basic drills are just that, basic, but they form the cornerstone of any proper agility training program. Getting your hands on agility ladders is easy and inexpensive, so no excuses.
Call the Cone
This one is a favorite of Theo Walcott’s, one of the speediest wingers ever to grace the Premier League. He’s all about acceleration, quickly turning, and leaving his man for dead.
This drill is super easy and just requires a few cones. They just need to be of different colors. Place them on the pitch to form a square (one in each corner), with the player going in the middle.
The coach will then shout a color, after which the player has to quickly sprint to the relevant cone and back to the starting point. The coach then immediately shouts out another color, with the player quickly having to turn their body to sprint to the correct cone. This is what helps the agility and acceleration component.
You can ‘soup up’ this drill by adding a ball to the equation. The player will receive a ball in the center, the coach will shout the color, and the player dribbles at full speed, leaving the ball in the corner. Once the player has returned to the starting point, a new ball will be passed and a color assigned.
These are just two specific drills you can do, but there are a multitude out there for you. Ultimately, agility training is all down to the player and the quality of the coaching staff. If there is a cohesive structure and training is targeted to each individual, it is possible to make significant strides in levels of agility in every session. Of course, every situation is different, but significant improvement is near guaranteed for every player.