Though there are numerous reasons for performance testing, one of the main objectives, simply put, is to determine which athletes should be put on the field to increase the team’s chances of being successful. In order to effectively discriminate which athletes will likely perform better when it matters most, it’s crucial that the performance test that you’re basing your decision on is a valid reflection of the sport skill. One can argue that one of the most important determinants of performance in most team sports is change of direction speed. The ability to rapidly decelerate and quickly reaccelerate in a different direction separates the elite from the rest of the pack. Intuitively, it would make sense that basic agility tests would serve as useful indicators of which athletes will be most effective on the field for that movement quality. However, traditional agility drills are generally standardized with athletes knowing when and where to change direction, allowing them to memorize and rehearse the test. This is in complete contrast to live situations during competition where changes of direction must be made in response to external stimuli, such as your opponent or the ball.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared change of direction speed from a standardized agility test with reactive agility speed that required the athletes to react to a stimuli. 16 adult male soccer players performed a dynamic warm-up then had multiple attempts at both the change of direction test and reactive agility test. The best times were record for analysis. The testing procedure involved a novel agility system that had pressure sensors built into the floor that would provide timing splits when touched by the athlete. During the reactive agility test, the floor sensors would light up at random, requiring the athlete to process the signal and respond to it as quickly as possible. Each test required four directional changes. The results showed that agility times were significantly faster during the change of direction test (~4.18 s vs. 5.42 s), as expected. What may not have been as expected however was that there was no significant correlation between the two variables. In other words, those who were fastest in one test were not the fasted in the other test. This indicates that non-reactive change of direction speed and reactive change of direction speed are two different abilities.
This study highlights the importance of the cognitive component (i.e., stimuli processing and response) to competition-like situations. What’s different about this study compared to other similar studies is both agility tests required that athletes to move forward, backward and laterally whereas most other work required either a single change of direction or changes of direction in one plane of motion. This makes the study more realistic and applicable to real sports. The findings from this study call into question the usefulness of traditional agility tests for discriminating which athletes will perform best in live game situations. Coaches are encouraged to therefore test reactive agility instead of non-reactive change of direction speed to more effectively assess their athletes.
Matlak, J. (2015) Relationship between reactive agility and change of direction speed in amateur soccer players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Ahead of print.