How to Improve Agility Skills?
Have you ever watched a baseball game and seen an outfielder’s feet become tangled up going back for a high pop fly? Or have you noticed how many times basketball players get crossed up when the person they are guarding makes a great double move? How about the football cornerback or linebacker trying to move backwards while covering a quick receiver or running back out of the backfield- one great move and they are thrown off balance.
Retreating and Moving Backwards
Retreating, or going backwards (giving ground), can be a tricky skill if not practiced often. The reasons are the athlete doesn’t have vision of each step, and frankly it is not a common practice. Ever watch a little child when they first learn how to walk backwards? It is like a balancing act. The body is not designed to move backwards naturally. We have to create ways in which backwards movement is strategically natural.
Here are some of the ways athletes improve agility skills by move backwards:
1. Tall standing long stride backward running – often seen when a basketball player is getting back, ready to play defense.
2. Short stance (knee bent) backward running – this is what most cornerbacks will do during a football game when covering a receiver in the first few steps.
3. Backwards shuffle – often seen in soccer and basketball when trying to keep orientation on the court or field.
4. Backward movement but forward crossover – Seen in basketball defense, soccer defense, softball/baseball infielders, and tennis players when retreating for a ball.
5. Continuous hip turning while moving backward – this is a defensive tactic to keep nimble in order to go wherever the offensive may explode past you.
6. Skate backward – obviously in hockey and ice skating
The bottom line is in sports there are many times when an athlete must move backwards to make a play, keep orientation, or to read what the offense is doing.
Teaching young kids how to move backward in as many ways possible is a great way to develop body awareness and skill. When, at a young age, athletes develop the sense of footwork, body control, body positioning, and speed changes they will be able to adapt much easier when they are forced in to game situations that require retreating skills.
Here is an easy progression you can use to introduce moving backwards to young kids but at the same time use as a warm-up for experienced or older athletes.
1. Walk backward in tall standing – emphasize longer strides with appropriate arm action.
2. Walk backward in short standing – squat down and walk back with shorter steps and the head out over the feet. Lead with the hips.
3. Tall backward walking in an “S” pattern – this will begin to develop spatial and body awareness plus make the body proprioceptive aware.
4. Short backward walking in an “S” pattern – same benefits as tall backward “S” but now the range of motion of the ankles is greater. Plus the athlete must control body better.
5. Follow the first four steps, but now move quicker (walk, jog, run…)
6. Retreating shuffle with the head facing forwards – develops spatial awareness and body technique.
7. Retreating crossover with the head facing forwards – develops spatial awareness and body technique, plus a joint range of motion in hips and ankles.
8. Combination of shuffle to crossover to shuffle and so on. This develops body control, how to reorganize body position, and thought process.
9. Continuous hip turn with shuffle – the athlete will begin to develop lightness of footwork and learn to pick the feet up and reposition around the hips.
10. Continuous hip turn with crossover – develop footwork and repositioning of feet around the hips.
This template will allow you to create any combinations you want. It is a great teaching progression for young kids to learn, but also a great warm-up for advanced athletes to prepare the body for practice or competition.
Ground Breaking 2 has a great section on athletes body control and how to retreat with control and acceleration. Click here to learn more.