Quickness and Agility

Aldan Performance

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By: Brandon Aldan – Bio


Quickness and agility are arguably more important than straightaway speed. Follow an NHL player throughout an entire shift. Much of the time on the ice is spent changing speeds and directions and only taking a few high-speed forward strides at a time before transitioning to a different skating maneuver or direction.

Martin St. Louis, Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby are great examples of NHL players that effectively utilize their superior agility. They are all relatively fast skaters although, often not the fastest player on the ice but, they can quickly and effectively move in and out of traffic to create time and space for themselves and their teammates.

Agility is typically defined as the ability to change directions quickly. The term quickness is ambiguous and tends to lack a standardized definition. Quickness could be described as the ability to make quick bodily adjustments using joint proprioception and the vestibular system. Quickness often involves moving the feet at a high rate and small area maneuverability. It could be argued that quickness is a requisite or component of agility. Some would also make the contention that the distinction would lie in the amount of displacement of the center of gravity with agility requiring larger displacement.

Many coaches believe that agility and quickness are traits that athletes are born with but, research shows that quickness and agility are highly trainable although, absolute potential may be genetically governed. This article will cover some of the effective off-ice methods to develop quickness and agility.

Research shows that simple progressions breaking down technique to focus on basic qualities and predictable patterns show the greatest initial benefit then plateau and complex, chaotic drills replicating the dynamic nature of sports like hockey provide slower but, continuous progress. I utilize a combination of both methods beginning with learning proper loading positions for stopping and starting then learning how to absorb and produce force out of these positions. Next, are drills that utilize these positions in predictable movements like cone patterns. Then the drills progress to reactive drills eventually, adding a cognitive component requiring fast decision-making to enhance carryover to hockey. Spending excessive time on predictable patterns and failing to incorporate less predictable, reactive drills severely limits usefulness in advanced athletes. In fact, research in motor learning and neuroscience shows that advanced athletes can even regress in performance when neuromuscular and cognitive demands aren’t continuously increased. Basically, athletes should spend more time in the initial stages of training working on loading positions and learning to absorb force and practicing these skills in predictable patterns. As the athlete advances, they should still spend only a small amount of time working on the basic drills but, most of the time should be spent on reactive training.

Foot quickness drills can be fun and improve the ability to move the feet quickly and make small bodily adjustments while moving at high speeds. Agility ladders can be useful for coordination and foot speed. There are countless agility ladder drills challenge hockey players. It’s important to note that the ladder’s effect on agility begins to diminish quickly for reasons previously mentioned but, still have their place in advanced players’ workouts. The main point is to avoid spending excessive time on the ladder which will detract from more advanced drills. I like to use it with my players near the beginning of a workout immediately after the dynamic warmup for neuromuscular potentiation which is basically, priming the nervous system and preparing for the complex, high-speed movements that follow. Five minutes is often sufficient for advanced athletes.

Learning to stop and start efficiently is often overlooked in agility training. Stopping in particular, requires fast, eccentric muscle actions and can place tremendous stress on the joints when not performed properly. When the athlete develops proficiency in the loading positions, they can then learn to absorb and produce force from these positions. The basis of this is a series of drills I call off-ice power skating which is basically mimicking the optimal skating positions and movements. Strength training with unilateral (single-limbed) exercises such as, single-leg squats and skater squats will also form the stability foundation for learning to control forces. Drop jumps will begin to teach athletes how to absorb force at higher speeds. This involves dropping off a 6-12” box, landing in a fully stable ready position from which all other drills originate. An important technical consideration is to ensure all players are aligning their legs properly and not moving into a valgus knee position where the knees fall inward. When players become proficient at this drill, they can do the single-leg version.

Controlling horizontal forces is trained by having the athlete do a run-up then stopping in that same stable position. This can be done with forward, sideways and backward stops. Start off with slow run-ups then gradually progress to stopping at full speed.

Dead-stop starting drills are typically done with acceleration and speed training so won’t be covered here but, a related skill is the ability to re-start and transition to a new movement and/or direction. When an athlete stops properly, they should be in a great position for loading and moving quickly in another direction. Plyometric movements such as, skate bounds and depth jumps are also effective means of learning loading and transition. Transitional speed should also be trained by having the athlete perform a basic movement like running or shuffling and changing direction after a properly loaded deceleration. The two-step shuffle and skate-bound to a sprint are great examples.

The next step in the progression is to have the athlete work on the aforementioned skills in predictable patterns. Cone drills can provide countless options. Have the players utilize a combination of sprinting, shuffling, backward running, skate bounds, etc. being mindful of getting into proper loading positions and controlling the center of gravity at each transition. The four corner drill is a popular basic cone drill. The athlete begins by sprinting forward five yards and making a sharp cut shuffling five yards directly to the side then making another sharp cut running backward five yards and ending with a five yard shuffle to the starting position.

Another important skill to develop at this stage is learning to minimize speed loss in maneuvers that require a direction change without a complete stop such as, weaving or circular patterns. This can have a carryover to on-ice maneuvers such as, crossover, power turns and transitions. The best skaters can even accelerate coming out of these movements. Here is an example of a youth hockey player learning to minimize speed loss while changing directions, cone circular turns.

Vestibular training, which may include basic tumbling or spinning can also be introduced at this stage. The vestibular system is very important in terms of righting body position to maintain or regain balance and as a feedback mechanism determining the body’s position in space. It’s also an important part of a player’s awareness of spatial relationship, understanding the position of yourself relative to the other players on the ice.  Examples include, seat roll to a sprint and 360⁰ turns at each corner of a four corner drill.

Once predictable patterns are mastered, the drills will become more complex and less predictable requiring them to react and shift to an external stimulus. A basic example is the reaction shuffle where the athlete begins shuffling to one side then the coach points to the opposite direction at random intervals. With enough space, several athletes can go at once and multiple directions can be added to increase difficulty. Partner mirrors are another great drill where one player is designated as the offensive player and the other as defensive. The objective is for the defensive player to mirror the movements of the offensive player. It’s best to limit the movement options at first. For example, have the partners face one another a yard apart and the offensive player will shuffle side to side continuously changing directions and trying to fake to defensive player. Another option is where the offensive player will begin moving forward while mixing in jukes and fakes while the defensive player tries to maintain gap and contain the offensive player. A more difficult drill is to randomly arrange several cones and the offensive player will run through that area going around 3-4 cones of their choice while the defensive player chases him or her going around the same cones. In these drills, the offensive player has the advantage so it’s important that they try to challenge and not exceed the defensive player’s abilities.

The final step is neurocognitive training which emphasizes quick decision-making, problem solving and visuo-spatial skills while reacting to the environment. This is the step that has the most potential for performance enhancement but, I’m currently in the process of refining these drills through consultation with neurologists and cognitive neuroscientists so my neurocognitive agility programs won’t be available until mid-December.

Quickness and agility training must be done with minimal fatigue. A common mistake many coaches make is to try to pack in too many reps and/or keep the rest periods too short. Players should have complete or near complete recovery between reps to maximize quality and neuromuscular development. Depending on the team’s ice schedule, agility and quickness training should only be done 1-2 days a week to maximize effectiveness.

2 Step Shuffle: View Video

Skate Bound To Sprint: View Video

Circular Turn Cone Drill: View Video