Soccer is a game that is heavily reliant on the ability to change positions quickly and efficiently. Since the game is not a unidirectional sport, the importance of training physical qualities like coordination, balance, power, and strength cannot be overstated. Of course, the greatest professional players have superb technical skills, but many dominate the game because of their elite ability to create space. This highlights the fact that agility training is vital for athletes trying to gain an edge on the pitch. For personal trainers training athletes wanting to improve agility, here are five agility drills that require little to no equipment. All you need to do is find some open space and get to work!
As with any sort of exercise or training, an adequate warm-up is important for getting the most out of your workout and preventing injury.
Since agility training requires significant muscle recruitment for change of direction, it is important to have diverse preparatory exercises that target each group. Here is an example of a good warm-up to do before your agility training:
Mark off 10-15 yards and do each exercise there and back.
- Light jog
- High knees
- Butt kicks
- Open/close the gate hip opener
- Frankenstein kicks
- Side Lunge
- Side shuffle (each direction)
- Karaoke (each direction)
This is a minimum suggestion. Adding more sets or reps is absolutely fine! Make sure your client is good and warm before jumping into the agility training itself.
Now that your client is warmed up it’s time to dive into the agility drills!
1. Plyometric hurdles
Take 5 agility hurdles (or cones, shoes, whatever you have) and place them 3-5 feet apart. Perform the variations below 2-3 times each.
- Two-foot hops: Start with feet shoulder-width apart and hop over each hurdle, landing on toes and exploding right away into the next jump.
- Single-leg hops: Perform the same drill only on one foot this time. Go through 2-3 times on each leg. (you may need to move the hurdles slightly closer)
- Alternating single-leg hops: Perform the same drill as the single-leg hops, only this time jump off of one leg and land on the other as you go through. (Be sure to land soft with knees to reduce chance of injury)
- Lateral two-foot hops: Turn sideways to the hurdles and jump laterally over each with both feet. (Be sure to go through facing one direction then switch and face the other direction)
- Lateral single-leg hops: Turn sideways to the hurdles as above and jump laterally over them off of one leg. (Be sure to land soft)
2. Agility Ladders
For the following drills use an agility ladder (or 8-10 cones set up about three feet apart). Perform each variation 2-4 times going through as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- One foot in each box: Go through as quickly as possible tapping one foot into each box (almost like just running through)
- Two feet in each box: Same as above, going as quickly as possible, one foot after the other, but ensuring both feet land in each box (or between each cone).
- Two feet in each box (lateral): Turn sideways and do the same thing with both feet going into each box one after the other travelling sideways. Make sure to switch which way you are facing.
- Hopscotch: Start with both feet outside the box, then hop into a box with both feet while moving up the ladder.
- Icky Shuffle: Think in-in/out-out. Start with right foot outside the box, the left inside. Tap the right foot inside the box, while the left taps outside the box to the left. The right taps back into the box, followed by the left, and then the right moves outside the box again. Continue this pattern moving side-to-side up the ladder. One foot should always remain in the box.
3. Four Cone Agility Drills
For these drills you will need four cones arranged in a box with about 5 yards of space between the cones. As with all these drills, go through them as fast and as controlled as you can. Perform each variation 2-4 times.
- Variation #1: Start at the bottom right corner of your square. Sprint to the cone directly in front of you and side shuffle to the cone to your left. Then backpedal to the cone directly behind you and finish by side shuffling back to the cone you started at. Repeat 2-3 more times then switch directions by starting at the bottom left corner of the square and reverse direction.
- Variation #2: This variation moves in an hourglass shape. Start at the bottom right corner of the square. Sprint diagonally to the cone across the square. Then side shuffle to the right to the top right corner, backwards shuffle diagonally to the bottom left corner of the square, and finish by side shuffling to the starting cone. Repeat 2-3 times and then change directions by starting at the bottom left corner of your square and reverse directions.
4. Slalom Drills
For these drills you will need 6-10 slalom poles (or cones) set up in a straight line 4-5 feet apart. These drills can be done with or without a ball, but as always, perform them as quickly and as controlled as possible. Repeat each drill 3-5 times each.
- Forward Slalom: Facing forward, run weaving in and out of the cones as fast as you can and finish with a 10-yard sprint back to start after coming emerging from the last pole (or cone).
- Lateral Slalom: Facing sideways to the poles, weave in and out by backpedalling and stepping forward as fast you can. Once reaching the last cone, turn and finish with a 10-yard sprint. Make sure to switch what direction you are facing and do both directions 3-5 times.
- Backwards Slalom: Start with your back to the cones and weave your way through the poles backwards as fast as you can. After emerging past the last cone, open the hips, turn, and finish with a 10-yard sprint.
5. Sprint-Backpedal-Turn Drill
For this drill, you will need three cones set up in a straight line, spaced 5-7 yards apart.
- Start at the first cone and sprint to the third, skipping the second. Decelerate and explode into a backpedal to the second cone. Open the hips and turn back towards the starting cone. Sprint through and repeat the drill 6-10 times while switching the direction from which hips turn open on the turn. It is important to be able to perform both ways!
Another important (but often underutilized) part of a workout is the cooldown. The cool down at the end of a workout that employs some easy movements and stretching allows the body to gradually return to its normal state and can help to reduce muscle soreness and reduce injury risk. A good cool-down allows your heart rate to return to normal safely, slows breathing, and allows your client to reflect on all that awesome hard work they just put in!
Here is an example:
- Walk 2-3 minutes
Mark a spot about 15 yards away. Perform the following stretches, taking a few steps and switching legs until you reach your spot. Turn around and go back, performing the next stretch.
- Quad stretch (grab ankle)
- Knee pulls (pull your knee up towards your chest)
- Donkey kicks (let one leg swing behind you and lean forward until you feel a nice stretch on your plant leg)
- Forward lunge with a twist
- Side lunge
With agility being such an important part of the game of soccer, honing it can develop a notable advantage over an opponent. Give these drills a shot to gain that advantage! Training consistently is key to see improvements. As always, instruct your clients to listen to their body for indications of pain, injury, or overexertion. Prioritize safety when performing these agility drills, including a good warmup and cool down! Encourage your clients to embrace the work and also have fun!