Agility for many years has been considered as the ability to execute fast movements and to stop and restart rapidly. As a result, the majority of agility research has been devoted to preplanned change-of-direction speed tests.
Recently, however, agility has been defined as a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus (4). Tests of agility that combine change of direction speed and cognitive measures are encouraged. Such new reactive agility tests include also anticipation and decision-making components in response to the movements of a tester. Sheppard et al. (5) have found that the reactive agility test distinguish between players of differing performance level in Australian football, whereas traditional closed skill sprint and sprint with direction change tests not.
In fact, agility skills that are characterized by 3 information-processing stages, such as stimulus perception, response selection, and movement execution, represent a crucial part of performance in many sports. Therefore, their assessment should be considered as an integral part of functional testing in young beginners and professional athletes alike. For this purpose, various versions of the Agility Test evaluating agility performance under sport-specific conditions were developed (8). Variability of the Agility Test is provided by different number of stimuli, distances between mats, number of mats, positioning of mats, foot and hand responses, sizes of the target, and so forth, to provide conditions close to particular sport.
Recently, the Agility Test in the form of competition has been designed to enhance the arousal level and motivation of young athletes. The level of arousal imposed by a competition is an important determinant of performance, particularly if it depends on fast and accurate decision making. Badminton, for example, is a sport that has a relatively high level of cognitive complexity and moderate motor control demands. These players may benefit from a moderate level of arousal according to the inverted-U principle (3). This states that increases in arousal are accompanied by increases in performance only to a point, beyond which further increases in arousal degrade performance. Therefore, coaches teach the athletes to adjust their arousal levels to optimally meet the task requirements. For this purpose, various arousal-adjustment techniques have been developed and are practiced by many athletes. One of the alternatives for improving this ability may be a competitive form of agility training. It may be assumed that a heightened level of arousal because of competition would contribute to better reaction time when compared with performance under noncompetitive conditions.
Similar simulated competitive conditions may be provided during testing. This can be beneficial mainly for young athletes to enhance their attention. Because attention is related to information-processing capabilities, it can place limits on athlete skilled performance. It was hypothesized that subjects perform better in the Agility Test under simulated competitive than noncompetitive conditions. Verification of the hypothesis was accomplished by comparison of reaction times in the tests of Agility Single and Agility Dual.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
Most of the physical fitness test batteries include various forms of agility tests. Recently has become available the version of the test that can be performed in pairs. It has been assumed that in such a test, the subjects would achieve better result than when it is performed individually. To prove this assumption, the reaction times in the Agility Test under noncompetitive and simulated competitive conditions were compared. Subjects performed randomly 2 versions of the Agility Test: Agility Single and Agility Dual. In both cases, subjects had to touch, as fast as possible, with either the left or the right foot 1 of 4 mats located in 4 corners outside of an 80 cm square. Mats had to be touched in accordance with the location of the stimulus in one of the corners of the screen. However, when the test was performed in pairs, a point was attributed to the subject with the fastest reaction, and the actual score was displayed at the bottom of the screen. The result in both tests was a total RT for all 20 reactions measured by a PC-based system FiTRO Agility Check (FiTRONiC s.r.o., Bratislava, Slovakia).
A group of 16 fit men (age 23.0 ± 1.5 years, height 175.6 ± 2.2 cm, weight 72.0 ± 3.2 kg) volunteered to participate in the study. They had no experience with agility training. Field players and goalkeepers were excluded from the investigation. Subjects were asked to avoid any strenuous exercises during the study. All participants were informed on the procedures and the possible risks and gave their written informed consent. The procedures presented were in accordance with the ethical standards on human experimentation and approved by an institutional review board.
Before the study, subjects were exposed to a familiarization session, during which both tests were explained and trial sets were carried out. After a standardized warm-up, they performed, in random order, 2 versions of an Agility Test: non-competitive Agility Single and Agility Dual in form of simulated competition. In both cases, subjects had to touch, as fast as possible, with either the left or the right foot 1 of 4 mats located in 4 corners outside of an 80 cm square. Mats had to be touched in accordance with the location of the stimulus in one of the corners of the screen. The test consisted of 20 visual stimuli with random generation of their location on the screen and time generation from 500 to 2,500 milliseconds. The result was the total reaction time (RT) for all 20 reactions.
Reaction time in both Agility Tests was measured by means of computer-based system FiTRO Agility Check (FiTRONiC s.r.o., SK). In one of our former studies (7), the reliability of the test procedure was verified and the protocol was standardized by examination of 196 subjects. Analysis of repeated measures showed a measurement error of 7.1%, which is within the range comparable to common motor tests. The mean of the best 8 reaction times in each direction has proven to be the most reliable parameter of the test consisting of 3 sets of 60 stimuli (15 in each direction) with random generation of their localization. However, using the same protocol (i.e., the same location of stimuli in each trial), a significant improvement in reaction time after each trial has been found. Subjects were very obviously able to remember the position of initial stimuli, which contributed to better results in successive trials. Therefore, the result of the Agility Test is a sum of 32 multichoice reaction times in 4 directions as a response to stimuli randomly generated by the computer in one of the corners of the screen.
FiTRO Agility Single (Figure 1) is a simplified, easy to use version, for training and mass testing, which can be operated by test person himself or herself, either via touch screen or by mouse. The initial screen of the program provides instructions for the test. Touching START activates a 5-second countdown period to take the test position and get ready to react. After completion of the test, a final screen with the results and classification of 10 categories is displayed.
FiTRO Agility Dual (Figures 2–5) is a version for agility competition for 2 subjects. There are 2 identical sets of 4 mats connected to the computer via special interface. The initial instruction screen, and the countdown routine, is identical to the FiTRO Agility Single version.
Subjects stand in the middle of four mats (30 × 30 cm) placed outside of an 80 cm square (Figure 2). Clicking on START activates a 5-second countdown period to get ready to react.
Subjects have to touch, as fast as possible, with either the left or right foot, 1 of the 4 mats corresponding to the location of the stimulus in one of the corners of the screen (Figure 3).
During the test, a point is attributed to the subject with the fastest reaction (Figure 4). False reactions (touching a plate not matching the position of the stimulus on the screen) add a point to the opponent's score. The actual score is displayed at the bottom of the screen.
The result is the final score. As additional information the average, the best, and the worst reaction times are displayed (Figure 5).
Statistical analyses were performed using statistical program SPSS for Windows (version 18.0; SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test of normality showed that all data were normally distributed. Ordinary statistical methods including average and SD were used. A paired t-test was used to determine the statistical significance of differences between reaction time in the Agility Single performed under noncompetitive conditions and the Agility Dual performed under simulated competitive conditions. The criterion level for significance was set at p ≤ 0.05.
Results showed significantly (p < 0.01) better RT in the Agility Dual than in the Agility Single (690.6 ± 83.8 milliseconds and 805.8 ± 101.1 milliseconds, respectively; n = 16).
Further comparison of RT under noncompetitive and competitive conditions in the best 8 subjects proceeded in the second match showed a decrease from 781.3 ± 111.2 milliseconds to 693.6 ± 97.8 milliseconds in the first match and to 637.0 ± 53.0 milliseconds in the second match (Figure 6).
Better reaction time under simulated competitive than noncompetitive conditions (14.3%) may be ascribed to enhanced central nervous system arousal of individuals. This factor very probably contributed to a further but not significant decrease in RT in the best 8 subjects when they proceeded to the second match. More precisely, RT was better under simulated competitive than noncompetitive conditions (11.2%) and continued to decrease in the second match (8.2%). Also, the learning effect may be admitted, however to a lesser extent, because of the random generation of stimuli (both spatially and temporally).
Testing agility under simulated competitive conditions could represent a new approach in functional diagnostic of children and youth in physical education and sport. The Eurofit Physical Fitness Test Battery (1), devised by the Council of Europe and used in many European schools since 1988, includes a 10 × 5-m shuttle run that measures running speed and agility. Similar tests used in sports (Illinois Agility Run, Shuttle Run test, Zig Zag Test, 505 agility test, Hexagon test, Quadrant Jump Test, T-Test, 10 meter shuttle, Quick Feet Test, Side-step Test, 20 Yard Shuttle, Agility Cone Drill, 3-Cone Drill, Box Drill, AFL Agility Test, Arrowhead Drill, 20 Yard Agility, Balsom Agility Run, Lane Agility Drill, Shuttle Cross Pick-Up, etc.) are also proposed to measure speed and agility. Although there is great variation in the tests used, most of them do not involve reactions to stimuli and therefore do not assess the cognitive component of agility performance. However, most of the sports (soccer, basketball, tennis, ice hockey, badminton, racquetball/squash, volleyball, figure skating, baseball/softball, lacrosse, skiing: freestyle, surfing, American football, water polo, wrestling, gymnastics, boxing, skiing: alpine, fencing, skateboarding) which are ranked highest for agility (based on an analysis of 60 sports by an expert team at ESPN), require changes of direction in response to a stimulus (e.g., movement of the ball or another player). General feature of field and court sports also is that actions are performed with the offensive player's movements, and thus involve some sort of competition. Therefore, testing and training conditions should mimic these demands to increase sport specificity.
Thus, as assessment of agility performance under simulated competitive conditions, also training can be conducted in a similar way. Recently, Kováčiková (2) evaluated the changes in reaction and speed abilities after 8 weeks of agility training under simulated competitive and noncompetitive conditions. A group of 22 young fit men, divided into 2 experimental groups, underwent the same agility training (2 times per week, 30 minutes). However, while experimental group 1 (ES1) performed the training in form of simulated competition (i.e., in pairs and in group, respectively), experimental group 2 (ES2) performed the same training under noncompetitive conditions. Before and after the training, reaction times in the tests of Agility Single (performed individually) and Agility Dual (performed in pairs in form of competition) were measured. Additionally, simple reaction time, multichoice reaction time, maximal velocity of step initiation, frequency of movement of lower limbs, power in the concentric phase of takeoff in 10-second test of repeated jumps, and jump height and contact time after drop jump were measured. After 8 weeks of the agility training, it has been found more pronounced improvement of reaction time in the test of Agility Dual in the group trained in form of competition than in the group carried out the same training, however, without competitive components (18% and 0.6%, respectively). There were no significant differences in the changes of other parameters of reaction and speed abilities after the training under simulated competitive and noncompetitive conditions. These findings indicate that agility training performed in form of competition represents more effective means for improvement of disjunctive reaction-speed abilities than the same training under noncompetitive conditions. However, such a training does not contribute to more pronounced improvement of other reaction and speed abilities.
These findings indicate that better reaction time in the Agility Test can be obtained if it is performed in form of simulated competition. Similarly, including competitive component in the agility training may make it more efficient in terms of improvement of agility performance as compared with the same training under noncompetitive conditions.
It has been found that reaction time is better when the Agility Test is performed in simulated competitive conditions (Agility Dual) rather than under noncompetitive conditions (Agility Single). The Agility Test in form of simulated competition can be used for children to enhance their attention level and motivation. Such exercise may represent an appropriate means also for agility training, namely in young athletes (6). A competitive version of the Agility Test may be implemented in teaching, learning, and performing agility skills.
This project was supported through a Scientific Grant Agency of the Ministry of Education of Slovak Republic and the Slovak Academy of Sciences (1/0070/11).
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