Agility is a vital component of performance in field hockey.
The ability to change direction, accelerate, and decelerate quickly is a component of performance on the pitch. In this blog, I’ll explore several key strategies to help you become a more agile field hockey player.
Firstly, what is agility? Agility is a “rapid whole-body movement with a change of direction or velocity responding to an external stimulus” (Sheppard & Young 2006).
The key thing to consider here is that it is in response to an external stimulus. In hockey, this means responding to a player’s movements. Not responding to a cone, a sound, a light or any other non-specific stimulus. How effectively you improve your agility is limited by how relevant your training is.
In a previous article, I have broken down the problems with training for ‘footwork’ in hockey. This highlights the fact that training must be specific to be effective.
The best way to approach training for agility, therefore, is to improve the elements that contribute to it. These include things like strength, reaction time, and processing speed.
Here are 10 ways that you can improve your agility:
- Strengthen Your Lower Body:
A strong lower body is essential for agility in field hockey. Focus on exercises that target your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Squats, lunges, and plyometric drills can help improve your leg strength and explosiveness. Strong legs provide a solid foundation for quick movements and directional changes. Most importantly, aim to make this eccentrically focussed, to enhance your ability to decelerate quickly.
- Develop Your Deceleration:
A lot of time is spent focussed on acceleration work, at the cost of deceleration. Fare more high-intensity decelerations happen in hockey than accelerations, meaning that this is a far more important component to focus on. During agility movements, there is first a high-speed deceleration in response to a stimulus (opposition, ball or team mate). Therefore, if you can’t decelerate effectively, it doesn’t matter how well you can accelerate. Aim to complete specific 1 v 1 deceleration drills as well as complementary eccentric strength training exercises.
- Enhance Mobility:
Mobility is a key component of agility. Perform regular stretching routines to improve your range of motion. Focus on your hip flexors, hamstrings, and quadriceps to allow for smoother movements. Yoga and static stretching can help increase flexibility and reduce the risk of injuries. Lack of mobility can also lead to injuries if you’re asking your body to achieve ranges that it cannot. Keep on top of your mobility training to improve your agility and performance!
- Speed and Agility Drills:
Practice specific drills designed to improve your speed and agility. DON’T do cone drills and ladder drills. These drills do not provide overload or a specific stimulus, so are ineffective for developing agility. Instead, practice drills such as cat-and-mouse sprints, mirroring exercises and shuttle sprints incorporating hockey skills.
- Work on Ball Handling Skills:
To be truly agile in field hockey, you must have excellent ball-handling skills. Spend time dribbling, passing, and receiving the ball to develop better control. The more comfortable you are with the ball, the more effective you'll become in your movements.
- Improve Reaction Time:
Agility also involves quick decision-making and cognitive processing. Enhance your reaction time by practising drills that require rapid responses to SPECIFIC visual or auditory cues. These exercises will help you anticipate the game's actions and react accordingly.
- Plyometric Training:
Incorporate plyometric exercises into your routine to boost your explosive power. Plyometrics are high-velocity movements that incorporate the stretch-shortening cycle. These include high-velocity jumps and movements that can improve your acceleration and agility. Exercises like drop jumps, pogo jumps, and bounds are effective for enhancing agility. This is because they develop the reactivity of the muscle-tendon unit.
- Develop Trunk Stability:
A strong trunk is crucial for agility and control on the field. Incorporate exercises like single-arm exercises, leg lowers, and lateral flexions into your training programme to strengthen your trunk muscles. A stable trunk allows you to brace, rotate, and turn with control, helping you maintain control of the ball whilst changing direction.
- Mental Agility:
Agility isn't just physical; it's cognitive (brain) too. Work on your mental agility by improving your decision-making at speed. This again means practicing highly specific scenarios which challenge your ability to react quickly to a stimulus. Close quarter 1 v 1 and 2 v 2 drills are effective for this.
- Game Simulation:
Finally, incorporate game-like scenarios into your training. Play small-sided games or training with teammates to apply your newly acquired agility skills in a realistic context. This will help you adapt to the fast-paced nature of field hockey and refine your agility in actual gameplay.
In conclusion, agility is a fundamental attribute for success in field hockey. By dedicating time and effort to strengthening your lower body, improving your core stability, enhancing flexibility, and practising specific agility drills, you can become a more agile and effective field hockey player.
Remember that agility encompasses both physical and mental aspects, so be sure to work on your reaction/cognitive skills as well.
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Sheppard JM, Young WB. Agility literature review: classifications, training and testing. J Sports Sci. 2006 Sep;24(9):919-32.