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Creating Open Agility Drills

Dawes, Jay MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT,*D

Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2008 - Volume 30 - Issue 5 - p 54-55
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e318189660a
COLUMNS: One on One


Colorado Springs, Colorado

Jay Dawesis the Director of Education for the National Strength and Conditioning Association and a personal trainer in Colorado Springs, Colorado.



Jay Dawes, MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT,*D

Column Editor

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When designing a comprehensive training program for the recreational athlete, many personal trainers use agility drills that require an athlete to perform a set movement pattern in a predictable and unchanging environment. These drills typically are classified as closed agilities (2,3). In contrast, open agilities require an individual to accurately anticipate, read, and respond to various environmental stimuli (2,3). Although closed agilities may be very good for mastering a technique and learning to detect errors in body positioning, they are performed in a relatively static environment and require very little environmental feedback to be performed correctly. Because most sports are open in nature and occur in an ever-changing and often chaotic environment, these types of drills should be incorporated into the recreational athletes training program to better prepare them for competition. In this article, examples of ways to turn a closed agility drill into several open drills with the use of auditory and visual cues are discussed.

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Begin by positioning 2 cones approximately 10 yards apart (Figure 1). Instruct the athlete to sprint forward, touching the far cone with either the right or left hand and then, immediately after, backpedal to the starting cone.

Figure 1

Figure 1

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  1. Instruct the athlete to begin the drill in the same manner as previously described; however, inform them that periodically you will say “switch” while they are performing the drill and that they should continue running backward and forward until they hear this cue. On the cue, the athlete should immediately “switch” the direction in which they are moving. For instance, if the athlete is running forward and midway between the cones when the “switch” command is given, he or she would immediately decelerate and begin to backpedal. This drill should be repeated with the athlete for approximately 4-8 seconds, with approximately 2-4 directional cues per set.
  2. Complexity can be added to the drill previously discussed by including additional auditory cues and distracters. For instance, instruct the athlete to continue listening for the “switch” command and to respond in the same manner previously described. However, if the athlete is given the command to “stop,” they must immediately stop and chop the feet up and down in place while waiting for the “go” command to be given, which signals them to continue moving in the direction in which they were traveling before the command was given. It is important to note that reaction time may be delayed when more auditory cues are added because there are more choices the client must decipher between and respond to.
  3. Add 2 additional cones approximately 6 feet apart on either side of the far cone and assign each of these cones a number (Figure 2). Instruct the client to perform the drill in the same manner as previously described, running forward and backward until a number is called. When the number is called, the client should immediately run to the cone called, touch it with the preferred hand, and then turn and sprint back past the starting cone. Clients may also be instructed to touch the cone and return to the approximate spot they were at when the number was called and perform 1-3 additional directional changes before turning and sprinting back to the starting cone.
  4. Figure 2

    Figure 2

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  1. Instruct the client to begin the forward/backward run drill in the same manner as previously described. Instruct them to run forward when you hold up both arms and back when you drop them to the sides. The trainer may also extend the arms directly out in front, signaling the client to stop where they are and chop the feet while they await the next cue.
  2. Adding a ball toss to a drill can help increase sport, specifically by requiring the individual to focus on tracking an object and gazing up versus staring at the ground, a cone or their feet. Examples of this may include performing a basketball chest pass or randomly tossing and catching a tennis ball with the trainer during the execution of the drill. Other variations may include the recreational athlete performing sport-specific tasks, such as catching an over-the-shoulder toss or fielding a ground ball for the recreational softball player or catching a basketball, running a specific route, and shooting a lay up for the basketball player.
  3. Add 2 additional cones approximately 6 feet apart on either side of the far cone and assign each of these cones a number (Figure 2). Instruct the athlete to begin the forward/backward run drill in the same manner as previously described. While the athlete is traveling between the 2 original cones, the trainer will randomly point to one of the newly added cones. The client should immediately run to the selected cone, touch it with the preferred hand, then return to the cone from which he or she started.
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Both auditory and visual cues may be combined to continue challenging even the most advanced-level athletes. For example, combining an auditory cue with a ball toss or varying the cues, such as calling out a number that corresponds to a specific cone or pointing at a designated cone, can further challenge perceptual skills and reactive abilities.

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Initially, the use of closed skills are appropriate to allow the desired motor behaviors to be learned and perfected (1). By incorporating open drills into the recreational athlete's strength and conditioning program, he or she is better able to apply learned skills to adapt to novel situations rather than simply performing a preprogrammed pattern or drill (2). This allows the athlete to develop other skills, such as certain decision-making and perceptual skills, which are difficult to learn if one is only performing closed drills (2,3). It is also important for the trainer to remember the focus on adding auditory and visual cues is to help recreational athletes make an appropriate response to a given stimuli, not to confuse them or make them look foolish. Thus, the duration of these drills should be relatively quick, and only a few key cues should be emphasized with each drill, because when the number of choices is increased, the longer reaction becomes. The author also recommends anywhere from 1:5/1:20 work-to-rest ratio to allow adequate recovery between sets and to emphasize skill and speed development versus conditioning.▪

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1. Cross ES, Schmitt PJ, and Grafton ST. Neural substrates of contextual interference during motor learning support: a model of active preparation. J Cogn Neurosci 19: 1854-1871, 2007.
2. Schmidt RA and Lee TD. Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis (4th ed). Human Kinetics, Champagne, IL: Human Kinetics, 2005. pp. 91-101, 280-285, 401-431.
3. Young W and Farrow D. A review of agility: practical applications for strength and conditioning. Strength Cond J 28: 24-29, 2006.
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