What Is Agility ?

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Contents of the article

  1. Summary
  2. How do you define Agility?
  3. What is the importance of Agility in sports?
  4. Exercises that are Agility-related Examples
  5. How do you measure Agility?
  6. Problems in measuring Agility
  7. Future Research
  8. Take home messages
  9. References


In sports, agility is defined as “a swift entire body movement that is accompanied by a change in velocity or direction in reaction to an event (or stimulus) (Sheppard 2005). The definition of agility requires an immediate reaction to stimulus like the goalkeeper reacting to save the penalty kick in football.

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Although the terms “agility” and “change of direction speed” are frequently used interchangeably, new research has distinguished the two. In simple terms, agility is agility in the face of unpredictable conditions and the speed of change of direction is based only on physical capabilities and is generally conducted in pre-planned settings. This implies that the conventional test of agility (e.g. the t-test or pro-agility) are not really effective in measuring agilityand can be described as speed tests for change of direction tests. Recent research has revealed that athletes of higher level have better results on agility tests than athletes at lower levels, however this is not the case to speed change tests.

How do you define Agility?

In the last few decades, “agility” appears to have been defined as everything that requires athletes to change direction quickly multiple times. For instance of this, the T-test Illinois agility test and arrowhead agility tests, along with the test for pro agility have all been described as agility tests due to the fact that they require the athlete to go through a pre-planned sequence of directional shifts as quickly as they can. However, it’s important to know that this that these test are not in fact a measure of agility but the test measures ‘change in velocity of direction’.

The topic of agility has been the subject of intense debate in recent times and has resulted in a number of experts trying to define it. Perhaps the most accurate current definition of agility is was proposed by Sheppard and Young (1):

  • Agility is defined as ”a swift whole body movement that changes of direction or velocity as a response to stimulus”‘.

The most fundamental terms to be remembered in this definition are “in reaction to a stimulus”. This part of the definition which separates an “true” agility assessment from a basic speed test that tests the change of direction (e.g. pro-agility tests) Thus, agility is a dynamic component. The reactive component is comprised of a variety of functional cognitive processes (1) like:

  • Visual processing
  • Timing
  • Reaction time
  • Perception
  • Anticipation

The absence of cognitive function in the traditional tests of agility (e.g. the t-test) which means that they are actually changing of direction speed (CODs) tests. The distinction between CODs and agility tests isn’t just semantics, they’re completely different characteristics of performance that have only a little or no connection to one another, if they have any (2 3 4,).

A defensive reacting to an attacker’s abrupt move is categorized as an agile-based action since it requires them take a reactive decision based on the attacker’s rapid motion. However, if an athlete is directed to run through a specific pattern of cones (e.g. T-test) The reactive element is eliminated and is simply an illustration that their CODs.

While agility relies on the utilization of cognitive components but it is also comprised of other characteristics, namely “physical” and “technical”. It is these three aspects (cognitive physical, mental and technical) that are believed to be the basis of the ability to move (Figure 1.). The combination of these characteristics, as well as the unplanned characteristic of agility suggests that agility has been described as a complex and ambiguous motor capability as a whole (5).

What makes Agility Important in Sports?

In simple terms agility is the key to performance in a variety of games (6). Consider the invasion/territorial sport (e.g. hockey, football, rugby as well as American football) as an example, in which the aim of every team is to break into the opponent’s territory in order to earn one or more point(s). In these games, the defensive teams attempt to take access to the ball by attacking opponents or making mistakes. This is why it is the goal for the attacker to stay clear of attacks, keep possession and to create scoring opportunities. To stop an attacking side from scoring defensive players must be constantly anticipating and react to attacking team’s movements.

To accomplish this effectively, defensive players must employ the cognitive abilities mentioned above, which are all elements of agility. For instance, if an attacker tries to advance past the defense and then the defender needs to have a quick reaction time to prevent this from occurring. This is a very basic match-play-related agility move however it shows the application of agility nevertheless.

Incredibly, athletes of higher levels have been proven to do better in agility tests than athletes at lower levels (3 3, 4, 7 8). This suggests that increasing an athlete’s agility could be essential if they intend to advance and be competitive at an elite level in their sport. In addition in contrast to agility tests elite players’ are not able to do better in COD tests when compared to athletes at lower levels which indicates that CODs may not be as crucial to athletes, as is agility.

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How do you measure Agility?

Recent research has shown that agility is cognitive components, the conventional methods of testing for agility (e.g. the t-test, pro-agility test or the Illinois test) are unable to do the job. Instead, these conventional tests, which are incapable of measuring CODs must be replaced with new and innovative tests that test the ability to move. It has resulted in the creation of a variety of new agility tests like:

  • Reactive agility test Reactive agility test Rugby League (3, 8)
  • Reactive agility test Netball (6)
  • Reactive agility test Reactive agility test Australian Rules Football (10, 11)
  • Stop’n’Go test for reactive agility (12)

The three top test (reactive testing of agility) all utilize the Y-shape (Figure 2.) using a screen or projector that plays videos of athletes performing a kind of movement. It is the sudden movement that the participant being tested has to react to. These tests require athletes to change direction to respond to a stimulus while moving at a high speed.

Although the traditional “planned” agility tests might not be able of measuring the agility of an athlete, they could be useful in the battery of tests. The table below (Table 1) taken from Bruce and co., (13) demonstrates how an athlete’s ability can be captured into smaller pieces to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of an athlete.

Problems with measuring Agility

While the new test has been created that include a reactivity stimulus however, there remains question marks over the proper use of certain tests. The uncertainties persist even though they are deemed to be reliable and valid. The most common uncertainties include:

  • If a sound or light stimulus is utilized rather than a video is it a reliable way to measure the athlete’s ability to a specific sport-related stimulus (e.g. an opponent changing direction)?
  • In testing, if just 10 videos can be used to test reliability If so, is there any learning curve for the person that is being tested i.e. have they watched that clip before and therefore react more quickly?
  • If the sole stimulus is directly in front of the athlete during testing, is this a way to negate peripheral reaction abilities?
  • If the stimulus for reaction is merely a player side-stepping is this really be the cause of the many other stimuli athletes could be exposed to during competition or training?

Future Research

Based on our progress in understanding of agility, the future research should be directed at one or more of the following:

  • The development of specific agility tests for sports. tests.
  • The potential for dual-response stimuli as an alternative to the present single-response test.
  • Relations between physical characteristics (e.g. the strength of a reaction and its relative strength) as well as CODs’ agility or performance.
  • Biomechanical/technical differences or even weaknesses when an athlete has to respond to a stimulus? So, does the wrong mechanics show up in an environment that is reactive?

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