The importance of agility and COD training in sports

Agility and COD are closely connected and share certain underlying biomechanical components in acceleration, deceleration and body positions.

In team sports such as volleyball, the players need to respond quickly to the movements of the others as well as the ball.   -  Getty Images

Agility can be defined as a whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus. — Young, et al., 2015.

There is a common misconception relating to agility and change of direction (COD) training. Many coaches and trainers feel that both are the same, but there is a perceptible difference between the two in terms of performance and technicality.

Agility and COD are closely connected and share certain underlying biomechanical components in acceleration, deceleration and body positions. But the difference lies in the cognitive and reactionary aspects of the two.

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Movements in sports — both on field and on court — are complex and dynamic. The players accelerate, decelerate and execute patterns while also reacting to stimuli and predetermined mental-processing.

Both agility and COD have a common component in decision-making, which can be predetermined in the case of COD or reactive to stimuli in accordance with the definition of agility.

What is agility?

Agility is the body’s ability to change direction through movement in response to a given external stimulus. This can be through acceleration or deceleration, or can be a part of COD movement.

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An athlete must accelerate as quickly as possible and decelerate instantly, and change position in a different direction in the shortest time period possible. This requires quick reflexes, coordination, balance, speed and the correct response to changing situations. Such movement is a prime requisite in most sports and is a very important component of fitness as well – it can make the difference between a good athlete and an average one. In the case of high-performance sports, visual perception and quick decision-making are key components of agility.

Key components of agility training

  • Visual perception
  • Quick decision-making
  • Reactive mode
  • Proactive mode
  • Reaction time
  • Information processing

If you are agile, you are able to respond to your surroundings, process the information you receive and translate it into body positioning with speed, balance and control. You are able to get into the best position for the next move, such as catching the ball or tackling an opponent. An agile player is able to get into the right position at the right time to execute the required action flawlessly.

In team sports such as football, basketball, hockey, volleyball and cricket, the players need to respond quickly to the movements of the others as well as the ball. In individual sports like tennis, squash, table tennis, racing and badminton, they have to respond to the position of the ball or some other object. In the case of aquatic sports such as surfing and winter sports like snowboarding and skiing, the players need to be agile enough to respond to the changing conditions of the surface of the water or snow, as the case may be.

What is COD training?

By definition, COD is preplanned and thus does not entail a reaction to stimuli and the subsequent change of direction and velocity. COD drills are “closed” agility drills — pre-programmed movements that an athlete must complete without any sudden reactive movements.

COD drills are great for introducing certain models to athletes, including:

  • Acceleration
  • Deceleration
  • Body positioning
  • Posture control
  • Force production
  • Force reduction

For example, if an opposing player comes at you at full speed in a game of football, you need to change direction immediately to avoid a collision or losing possession of the ball. This is agility.

Running or dodging through a series of cones as fast as possible is COD training.

Why knowing the difference is important

The difference between agility and COD training lies in the reactive mode.

Agility training is beneficial to develop:

Coordination

Balance

Stability

Timing

Direction change

Body control and positioning

Strength — be it eccentric, isometric or concentric

COD training lays the foundation for agility training. Mastering the former and progressing to the latter ensures a smooth transfer for peak performance.

Doing closed-skill drills or COD training helps one understand the basics of eccentric, isometric and concentric strength for deceleration, body position, limb angles, core engagement and force application for re-acceleration, which ultimately transforms into enhanced agility. Once you are proficient in COD drills, you can incorporate agility drills in your training.

Including both agility and COD drills in your training regimen is important to continually challenge yourself and elevate your ability to adapt and react to game-time situations under unexpected conditions. While progression is key to adapting in sports, an elementary understanding of the basics of movement can help bring out your best. But ensure that you understand and master the fundamentals before advancing to a challenging level as these will lay knowledge base for you to progress to a more reactive environment.