Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily, including moving in different directions without losing balance. In football, agility is one of the most important attributes. Every professional footballer player will be more agile than the average person due to the fact they are elite athletes and that quick movement is vital. This is how football agility impacts performance on the pitch;
Quick Turns & Changing Direction
For all players, the ability to turn quickly is important. The game is played so fast that players are constantly twisting and turning to have an impact on the game. For example, attacking players turn and twist quickly with and without the ball to try and get around defenders or escape from their tight marking. This is done either by dribbling at speed with sharp turns, or twisting and sprinting away from a defender when they are making a run or trying to get on the end of a through ball. Both of these movements require agility.
Stop & Start Movements
You often see wingers and fast players come one-on-one against full-backs and defenders, and they manage to get past them without really using any skill. Often, these players are agile enough that they can slow down, or even come to a complete stop, then have a sudden burst of acceleration to get past the defender. The defender slows down with the attacking player but often lacks the agility and acceleration to stop this move when up against the most agile players. Examples of players who use this skill often are Sadio Mane, Neymar and Adama Traore.
Football Agility in Defending
As shown above, attacking players often use their agility to get away from defenders by dribbling or moving away from them to get on the end of a ball. Defenders are usually less agile than attackers, however it is helpful for defenders to be able to match attackers to defend more effectively against them. Centre backs are usually built as stronger and taller players on the pitch, and naturally this tends to make them less agile. It is usually an interesting battle between a pacey, agile striker and a strong, tall centre back, which often results in the defender being strong enough to hold off the striker in most situations, but agile strikers can often get in behind and poach goals due to their speed and quickness off the mark
Football Agility in Goalkeeping
Of course, the most important position for agility is probably the goalkeeper. Goalkeepers need to have cat-like reflexes and be able to dive around and reach every part of the goal to prevent the ball from hitting the net. To be able to not only react quickly but reach the corners of the goal, diving low or springing to the top corner, a keeper needs brilliant agility.
How do Footballers Work on their Football Agility?
In training, a lot of the focus for footballers is on short, sharp movements as these are the most useful types of movement in the game. Professional footballers would tend to have around 2 gym sessions per week in a regular week in the season. The gym sessions would comprise of lower body workouts to increase power and quickness. For example, players would perform single leg squats, box jumps, weighted lunges and sprinting with weighted sleds. These exercises help players improve their ability to run fast, jump higher, accelerate faster and also improve football agility. However, players also do specific agility work on the training pitch.
Due to the wide range of movements needed for a full match across the various positions, designing football agility drills for football can be challenging. However, by analysing the target movement specifications of the sport, coaches can classify football movements. Following this, coaches can put the movements into a basic structure and build an effective football agility programme. It’s helpful to determine what players are trying to achieve when breaking down football movements. Coaches can do this by using target classifications. At any given time, players are likely to be doing one of three movements:
- Initiation Movements – Starting or changing the direction of movement
- Actualisation Movements – Trying to move at maximal velocity
- Transition Movements – Waiting in transition to react to a football-specific stimulus
Examples of Football Agility Drills
Cone Shuttle Sprints
5 cones can be set out in a diamond shape, with one cone in the centre. The player begins the activity by sprinting straight to the middle cone and then shuffling to their right.
Once the player reaches the cone on the right, the player changes direction and sprints across to the far-left cone before shuffling back to the centre cone and then backpedalling back to the start. There are many variations of this drill that can be done, but the aim is to mimic the wide range of movements necessary in a match. This can be, and is often, adapted to a transition movement exercise where the coach would shout which cone to go to next so the player has to think quickly as well as shuffle quickly between each cone.
Some clubs use ladders placed along the floor to improve players’ football agility. The aim is to move along the ladder, stepping one or both feet in between each rung. The idea is that players have to use quick feet to shuffle along, concentrating to keep their feet within the gaps while moving at speed. This is a common drill at all levels of football and can have many variations.
Borussia Dortmund have a very interesting piece of training equipment called the Footbonaut. This is an arena which is round or square with 72 different gaps or ‘goals’ for the player to put the ball in. The robotic part comes from the automated feature which fires balls into the centre, where the player stands, at different speeds, trajectories, and angles. One of the goals then lights up, and they player must react quickly to put the ball into that goal.
This drill works on many things, but it is a fantastic bit of kit for reactions, improving vision on the pitch, first touch, awareness, but also agility as the players move around to retrieve the ball at maximum pace. Football agility is only as good as a player’s speed of thought, as the ability to react quickly already gives a player a head start. Having great agility is wasted if a player is slow in the mind, and the Footbonaut certainly improves that.
Examples of Goalkeeper Agility Drills
Goalkeepers also spend most of their training sessions working on football agility drills. The goalkeeper drills are also a lot more fun. A new popular drill is called Spike ball, where a bouncy net is placed in the middle of a group of 3 or 4 goalkeepers. The idea is for the keepers to punch the ball down into the net for the other players to keep the rally going without letting the ball touch the ground. The keepers often dive around to keep the ball up whilst slamming the ball down onto the net. This improves the keepers’ ability to react quickly and dive around easily.
Another way of improving football agility is for goalkeepers to face shots, but with obstacles in the way. Many things can be used, but the idea is that the ball hits the obstacle and ricochets and a completely unexpected and different direction, leaving the keeper very little time to react and save the shot.
The Most & Least Agile Players
The most obviously agile players in football tend to be attackers and wingers. Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly one of the most agile players in the game, as is Lionel Messi, as they both have the ability to dribble and sprint at pace while changing direction and maintaining perfect balance. Other examples are Gareth Bale and Raheem Sterling.
There are some players, for whom the skill to sprint, dribble and turn at pace with balance is just not part of their game. Obvious examples are centre backs, for example Harry Maguire, who’s lack of football agility can sometimes cause problems when he is up against pacey and tricky attackers. However, his dominating frame provides other advantages, such as being great in the air and scoring from set-pieces. Strikers can also be quite unagile. There are players like Salomon Rondon, Gonzalo Higuaín, and even the great Alan Shearer who were not the most agile players at all, but their skills lie in great hold up play, strength, and clinical finishing.
Overall, football agility is one of the most important skills in the aforementioned sport. Often, the best players in the world; the players that are also most deadly on the pitch, are players who are quick and can dribble at pace, changing direction without losing balance. Modern football has certainly shifted towards favouring the most athletic players due to both tactical styles of play, as well as advancements and focus on sports science, nutrition and fitness. It is clear that elite players these days are far more athletic and agile than the legends from the previous eras.