Heads Up On The Ladder Drills

Agility Ladder Pic

Keep your head up!!

 

Ladder Time

If you’re like most strength & conditioning coaches, agility ladder drills are part of your program.  Some coaches use them as a warm up while others use them to develop footwork and agility.  While there are numerous drills that can be used, there should be one constant.  What is that, you ask?  The athlete should keep their head up during the drill.  Let me repeat that – the athlete should keep their head up during the drill.  That’s kind of a pet peeve of mine.

Heads Up

How many sports that use agility can you name that are played with your head down?  Football, soccer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, softball, volleyball, etc all require you to keep your head up if you are going to be a good player.  Because of that, why would we encourage head down behavior in our drills?  Shouldn’t we teach athletes to keep their heads up?  When an athlete is just starting to learn a particular ladder drill, they might need to keep their head down.  However, once the athlete has run through the drill a few times, they need to try to keep their head up.  Will this slow them down?  A little at first, but once they get used to it, the skill will transfer better to their sport.  Isn’t that what we want?  Ultimately we want athletes that are quicker and more agile on the field or court, not just during a drill.

So how do you get athletes to keep their heads up?  Just coach them to do it.  If that is the expectation, your athletes will start to do it.  Of course, you can give them some help by making the skills more complex.  For a few ideas, check out my post on using tennis balls.

 

Mark

Share

Building The Agility Toolbox

Tools Pic

Are you giving your athletes the right tools to succeed?

Many times when I talk about agility training to my athletes, I explain to them that I am trying to give them a set of “tools” to help them to compete better. I like using the analogy of tools because I feel that it works well for what we are trying to accomplish.  As I tell the athletes, most of us have a toolbox at home.  It usually has a hammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc.  If I need to hammer a nail, I go and get the hammer.  If I need to loosen a bolt, I grab a wench.  In some situations I don’t need the hammer, and in some situations I don’t need a wrench.  I pick the most appropriate tool for the task and use it. It doesn’t matter what sport an athlete plays – football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, or anything else, many of the agility movements are hard to predict and practice for.  My job is to give athletes the tools (skills) and teach them how to use them.  I explain to them that once they are in a competition, I want their body to be able to react by instantly making the most efficient movement possible at that moment.

How do I accomplish this?

  • Evaluate the athlete and the skills that are needed for their sport
  • Teach them the basic skill(s) that they need to learn
  • Have them learn simple drills using the skills
  • Once they have begun to improve, make the drills more complex

It’s really just basic coaching/teaching.   I do try to show my athlete what I want them to learn out of each drill and help them to understand why the skill is important in their sport.  When they have gotten better at a particular skill or drill, I will make the drill more complex.  I do this by either adding a reaction component or incorporating another skill at some point in the drill.  Either of these will make things more difficult for the athlete and will further begin to cement that skill into their “toolbox”.  As the drills get more complex, it also takes them closer to the point of being sports specific.  I know, the only thing that is truly sports specific is playing the sport itself.  We still need to strive to get drills as close to what may happen in a sport as possible.  This definitely includes making the athlete react to something as part of a drill.  (I’ll write more about this in a later post).

When you plan out agility training, make sure that you are stocking your athletes toolbox with tools that they can use.

Mark

 

Sports Upgrade 

 

 

Share

3 Reasons to Use a Tennis Ball During Drills

Tennis Ball

What can a tennis ball do for your training?

Sports performance people are always looking for new ideas to use when training athletes.  I thought that I would share something that has had good results with my athletes.  One of the things that I like to use during agility and ladder drills is a tennis ball.  Now, I don’t use it all of the time and I don’t use it with beginning athletes. Otherwise, I try to find ways to incorporate it into the drills frequently.  I have them catch it during the drill, catch it as they finish a drill, catch it and toss it back to me, or anything else that I can come up with.  So why do I use it?

Reasons To Use A Tennis Ball

  1. It forces the athlete to keep their head up.  I understand an athlete keeping their head down while doing ladder drills for the first few times.  However, as one coach used to tell kids “The ground has been there for millions of years.  It’s not gonna move.”  Once the athlete has a feel for the movement, they need to keep their head up.  If you play sports with your head down you’re in deep trouble.  This is when I will toss them a tennis ball during the drill.  It forces them to keep their head up (or get bopped in the nose).
  2. It makes drills more complex.  You should always have a way to progress a drill.  It should start out simple and then progress to something that is more complex.  When you add something to a basic ladder or agility drill, it makes it more complex.  In sports, athletes have to adapt and react to what is happening on the court or field. They must make combine simple actions into more complex ones.  By making an athlete catch or throw a tennis ball while doing a drill, you have taken a simple action (footwork to complete the drill) and made it more complex.
  3. Helps teach transitions.  Almost any sport is full of transitions from one action or speed to another action or speed.  Think of a soccer player running up the field who must then trap a ball that is passed to him.  He has to transition from pure running to the action of trapping the ball.  By incorporating a tennis ball at the end of a drill, an athlete is forced to change from one action (the drill) to another (catching the ball).  The goal is to make this transition as smooth and quick as possible. I like to have an athlete catch the ball at the end of a drill and then sprint a few steps.  This forces them to transition from the drill to the catch and then again to the sprint.

Now, I’m sure someone is wondering why I use a tennis ball and not some other type of ball.  I do admit that for true sport specificity, a tennis ball may not be the best thing.  If you are training a football player, you should use a football.  However, I do have my reasons for using tennis balls:

  • Tennis balls are fairly harmless so if the athlete doesn’t catch it, there isn’t any danger.
  • Tennis balls are cheap.
  • Tennis balls are easy to keep with you.
One additional bonus is that working a ball into a drill tends to make it more interesting and challenging for your athletes.  Sometimes a simple addition like that to a drill will liven things up and break the monotony.  Give it a try!!!
Don’t forget to visit our main Sports Upgrade site.
Mark
Share

Put Your Feet In The Sand

Feet In The Sand Pic

Ahhhhh… the title of this post probably makes you think of the beach – the soft sand, the waves crashing, the sun warming your body.  Sounds like a great day.

Of course, since this is a blog about training athletes, we all know this post isn’t about fun in the sun.  While we usually think of the fun that we have at the beach, it’s also a place for your athletes to get some good speed & agility work in.  Now I know that you’re wondering “why would I take my athletes to the beach to train?”.  The question should be “why haven’t I been taking them?”. 

Benefits of Sand Training

  • Deceased forces on the body due to shock absorbsion of the sand
  • Increased use of muscles due to instability of the sand
  • Increased challenges to balance and coordination due to instability of the sand
  • Increased ankle strength

Once you read through the list most of it probably makes sense.  Many of the benefits do come from the fact that the sand is an unstable surface.  I have heard former NFL players claim that they never had ankle injuries in their career due to training in the sand.  That benefit in itself is huge for most athletes. 

I know that there are people on all ends of the “functional training” spectrum.  Some coaches design their entire program on balance pads and inflatable balls.  Others don’t do any exercises on either of them. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle.  The thing about sand training is that it can keep both sides happy.  It allows you to do “traditional” agility and speed drills while also incorporating an unstable component.

So how do you design a sand workout?

First off, I wouldn’t plan on using the sand every day.  It can be taxing on the legs.  Plus, when it comes to sport specificity, unless you play sand volleyball you need to spend time on the court, grass, etc.  As for what to do, almost any type of cone drill, mini hurdle drill, jumping drill, or speed drill can be adapted to the sand.  Let your imagination go wild!! 

What do you do if you don’t live near a beach?  If you don’t want to build your own sand pit, you will have to look around a little.  Many places have parks with sand volleyball courts that you can use.  Some lakes have a recreational beach that has sand.  See what you can find that will work for your training.

Good Luck!

 

Share