Mobility + Ability = Agility
While you may never play in the WNBA, any player can benefit from proper agility training.
There may be no more beautiful sight in basketball than a player moving her body smoothly through the air in gravity-defying control. Spinning past one defender, throwing a head-fake to get by another, driving under the basket, and sinking an underhand layup will always bring the crowd to its feet and leave opposition players shaking their heads in wonder.
Although athletes often dream of making such a move, many don't spend much time working to become that agile. In fact, agility is perhaps the most misunderstood and undertrained quality of sport. Maybe it's because strength is easy to measure: How much can you lift? How many times?
Agility, on the other hand, is much harder to measure. Yet everyone knows agility when they see it and can benefit from working on their agility. As a matter of fact, athletes who work specifically on their agility often talk of the stunning gains in athleticism, no matter what sport they play.
So what exactly is agility, and how can you increase it? At its most basic agility is the ability to execute fast and fluid movements and the skill to stop and start rapidly, often while focusing on the ball or an opponent. Agility training helps you better control those fast movements -- making them more efficient, accurate, and explosive. Training agility, then, involves breaking down such skills into their basic components and learning them in controlled practices. Even such simple things as playing tag games can teach important components of agility, such as visual recognition, quickness, stopping, starting, and body control. Many athletes want to spend their time training at the top of the agility skill level -- by practicing game-like situations. However, spending time at the basic levels may be more worthwhile.
The first step in improving agility involves training balance. This sound elementary, but the fact is, good balance is the foundation of athleticism. This stage involves improving the ability to stand, walk, and stop by focusing on the center of gravity, posture, and foot placement. Examples of balance drills are: standing on one foot and moving the other leg in full range-of-motion, walking backwards with eyes closed, and standing or walking on a balance beam (a two-by-four works well).
The second step in improving agility is to do drills that refine coordination. A large part of coordination work is performed by breaking a skill down into parts, then slowly uniting the parts. Typical coordination activities include tumbling, rolling, footwork drills, and jumps. More difficult examples that combine balance and coordination are: walking on a balance beam while playing catch, or trotting along a line while a partner lightly tries to push and pull you off while try to stay on the line.
The pinnacle of agility preparation and performance comes in random agility. Here, you are forced to make split-second decisions with movements based upon visible or audible signals. This skill level is very close to the unpredictability of actual game-play, as you fight to control the situation. Tag games characterize random agility as do read-and-react tennis ball catches.
Here are a couple of fun ways to practice agility:
Read and React: In this drill, bounce a "crazy" ball (a multi-sided ball that takes unpredictable bounces) between yourself and another player. This exercise teaches lateral motion, body position, and body control.
Breakaway Games: Using a breakaway belt (a thin nylon belt with a Velcro strip at its midpoint that loops around two players' waists), one athlete attempts to break away, while the other tries to avoid the break by reading and reacting to the first athlete's movements. This drill typically last about 10 seconds per game.
By using the drills mentioned here (and any other you might devise), your mind will learn to make split-second decisions on how to regain balance, change direction, and stop and restart, while your body learns how to quickly make those decision happen with the right movements. In the end, your agility will improve, making you a faster, more precise, and overall better player.
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