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  • Writer's pictureHiroshi Hasegawa

How to measure agility & the future of agility training? By Hiroshi Hasegawa (Part 2)

Given the previous discussions, it should be clear that using COD tests, which do not consider the processes of perception, cognition, and decision-making, is insufficient for measuring and evaluating an athlete's agility. So, what kind of tests should be used to measure and evaluate agility?


Male athlete doing agility training and measuring with the future tech solutions for agility training.


In part 1 of the blog, we've reviewed recent research papers showing that agility and change of direction (COD) speed are distinct abilities. Unlike predetermined COD movements, agility involves cognitive and decision-making factors as a response to external stimuli. This means that traditional agility tests and training methods only measure COD, not true agility, which must include a reactive component.


We've also given a brief introduction on how agility is crucial in invasion sports, requiring players to constantly adjust their movements based on dynamic and unpredictable situations. We've highlighted how this dynamic is similar to predator-prey interactions, where optimal speed and reaction accuracy are more important than maximum speed. Ultimately, we concluded that agility involves perceptual and decision-making skills, setting it apart from COD, which is more closely related to lower body strength.


In part 2, we are going to touch upon the newly researched ways of measuring and assessing agility, as well as the technology that helps us in such an endeavor.



5. Measuring and Evaluating Agility


Is Light Stimulation Sufficient?


Traditionally, light stimulation systems have often been used to study agility in contrast to COD. This method involves responding to lights (LEDs) that flash at predetermined times to initiate or change movements. As previously introduced, agility testing results obtained using this method show significant differences from COD on the same course, and they can distinguish an athlete's abilities, making it useful for evaluating agility.


Advantages and Limitations of Light Stimulation Systems


Male athlete doing reaction training with light systems, as an important part of agility training. Light stimulation systems are much easier to prepare and set up than video or live player signals, and they allow for the standardization and precise setting of test conditions with high reliability. This makes it possible to establish and compare test result benchmarks.

Light stimulation systems are much easier to prepare and set up than video or live player signals, and they allow for the standardization and precise setting of test conditions with high reliability. This makes it possible to establish and compare test result benchmarks.


Agility tests using light signal systems can measure and evaluate agility abilities that cannot be detected by COD, although they fall short of distinguishing competitive abilities and measuring sport-specific abilities related to perception, cognition, and decision-making when compared to signals from live players.


Light stimulation systems reliable method for agility testing, though they may not fully capture the sport-specific skills live player signals do.

Are Sport-Specific Agility Field Tests and Training Necessary?


An example from Rugby
An example of a sport-specific agility field test in invasive sports is a simulation of actual 1-on-1 offense and defense in rugby

An example of a sport-specific agility field test in invasive sports is a simulation of actual 1-on-1 offense and defense in rugby (see Figure 1) (32, 33).


In a grid approximately 12m x 12m, an attacker with the ball stands at one end and attempts to cross the line on the opposite side. A defender positioned in the center of the grid tries to stop the attacker by attempting to touch them with both hands, simulating a tackle.


The attacker uses various feints and steps to avoid the defender's touch and cross the line. Points are determined based on how the defender touches the attacker:


x Crossing the line without being touched (3 points)

x Touched with one hand (2 points)

x Touched with both hands with extended arms (1 point)

x Touched with both hands with bent arms (0 points)


The defender's score is the inverse of the attacker's score. This 1-on-1 challenge is repeated multiple times (e.g., 10 times) with randomly selected opponents from the team, and the total score is used for evaluation.


Agility Test Using 1-on-1 Offense and Defense - sketch
Figure 1: Agility Test Using 1-on-1 Offense and Defense

This test has high reliability and indicates that the agility required for offense is not necessarily the same as that for defense. The relationship with other physical characteristics also differs between offense and defense, making this a recommended field test for evaluating agility in invasive sports like rugby.



The Need for Sport-Specific and Ecological Validity


Athlete training with LED lights and arrows.  LED lights or arrows because agility is a sport-specific ability governed by visual information gathering, knowledge, pattern recognition, and prediction related to the sport itself would be dismissive.

Pushing the logic of sport-specificity and ecological validity leads to the conclusion that the best way to train agility is through small-sided games that condense the unique perceptual-response, decision-making, and execution scenarios of the sport into short, repeated bursts (34).

For example, a group of U-18 Australian football players trained with small-sided games showed significant improvements in decision-making speed in video signal agility tests, whereas a group trained with COD exercises did not show such changes (35).


Saying "that's the end if you say that" like Tora-san from the movie 'Otoko wa Tsurai yo' means that rejecting the validity of tests and training involving LED lights or arrows because agility is a sport-specific ability governed by visual information gathering, knowledge, pattern recognition, and prediction related to the sport itself would be dismissive.


No sport involves jumping with weights, pulling sleds, or handling large heavy balls. However, it is evident from both experience and science that such training is useful.

Ultimately, claiming that "soccer skills cannot be improved just by playing soccer" and therefore other training is necessary versus claiming "soccer skills can only be improved by playing soccer" and hence other training is unnecessary, is an ongoing debate.



Generic vs. Specific Training


A man jumping with weights. All exercise and training modes become generic when pursuing sport-specific physical elements. No sport involves jumping with weights, pulling sleds, or handling large heavy balls. However, it is evident from both experience and science that such training is not entirely useless.

All exercise and training modes become generic when pursuing sport-specific physical elements. No sport involves jumping with weights, pulling sleds, or handling large heavy balls. However, it is evident from both experience and science that such training is not entirely useless.


While not all tests and training can appropriately evaluate every athlete's sports performance, and the transfer of training performance or movements is limited, it is necessary to conduct tests and training from the perspective of specificity, considering the "dynamic correspondence" (36).


Tests with diverse light signals demand quick, accurate responses, engaging complex information processing and simulating realistic cognitive and motor demands.

The Value of Light Signal-Based Agility


Just as COD without responses to external stimuli has lost its usefulness, the value of agility involving light signals is also considered.


Athlete using light signals to measure agility. tests and training that present various types of light signals at various times and require appropriate actions to be chosen and executed as quickly and accurately as possible involve different brain information processing, movement planning and control than simple single light signal agility tests or training.

The visual information in actual sports includes players' movements and the ball, not the arrows or various shapes, colors, symbols, numbers, or letters presented by LEDs. However, tests and training that present various types of light signals at various times and require appropriate actions to be chosen and executed as quickly and accurately as possible involve different brain information processing, movement planning and control than simple single light signal agility tests or training.


By increasing the information processing and the variety of control movements required compared to a single stimulus, such tests and training should bring us closer to the brain information processing and movement control characteristics occurring in actual sports situations.


Light signal-based agility training enhances brain information processing and movement control skills by simulating various stimuli, highly contributing to motor skills development.

6. Future of Agility Measurement and Training


A recent paper in the NSCA Journal reviewed fitness tests for soccer and concluded that agility involves responses to stimuli. However, it lamented the lack of consensus on how to measure this and ultimately focused only on COD (Change of Direction) tests (37).


Advances in Technology for Measuring Agility


The technology available for measuring agility has been rapidly advancing. In the past, systems used to measure whole-body reaction time consisted of a simple setup with a single-colored light and a mat switch. Nowadays, systems like Sportreact use timing gates with photoelectric sensors that can be freely placed in multiple locations. These systems are wirelessly linked to devices that display various visual signals (colors, shapes, letters, numbers) at different intervals and angles. The settings for presentation time, timing, and frequency can be easily configured. 


Video 1: Example of a Stop'n'go reactive agility test conducted with the Sportreact device


Modern systems are designed so that specialized systems for agility research are not necessary from the start. Practitioners can immediately try out various tests on-site.



Developing Complex Agility Tests


Most agility research using light signals has employed tests like the Y-shaped agility test, where participants sprint to the right or left at full speed. However, real sports involve complex movement patterns, including deceleration, momentary stops, multidirectional movement, and backward movement. A test called Stop'n'Go (Figure 6) has been developed to incorporate these features. It involves passing through a forward gate, stopping momentarily, reacting in one of four directions, then moving backward before moving forward again. The reliability of this test has been confirmed (38).


 The grid of the Stop'n'go reactive agility test. A test called Stop'n'Go (Figure 6) has been developed to incorporate these features. It involves passing through a forward gate, stopping momentarily, reacting in one of four directions, then moving backward before moving forward again. The reliability of this test has been confirmed

Picture 1: The grid of the Stop'n'go reactive agility test


Agility tests using light signals provide standardized test conditions and stable data, making them easier to set up and more reliable than video or live stimuli. While they may have lower ecological validity in reflecting specific sport characteristics, their high reliability makes them useful. As the specialization and specificity of sports training extend to younger ages, there is also a movement to reconsider general agility training and evaluation (39). For agility tests and training aimed at evaluating and teaching common cognitive-judgment processes and associated movement patterns across various sports, general agility responses to light signals could be highly effective.


Agility tests using light signals provide standardized conditions for general cognitive-judgment and movement training across sports.


Practical Insights from Sports Performance Data


An analysis of 45 matches of two professional soccer teams in the UK using GPS data showed that the total number of accelerations and decelerations above 3.0 m/s² was significantly higher in winning matches compared to drawn or lost matches (40). This suggests that agility involves not only rapid multidirectional acceleration from slow movements but also rapid deceleration from high-speed movements. Understanding how such accelerations and decelerations occur during matches is essential for future agility tests and training.


Soccer players sprinting.  An analysis of 873 sprints over 6 matches by 13 U18 players from a professional soccer team in the UK showed that most of these sprints were curved, known as swerves (42). Traditional COD and agility tests mostly involve straight-line sprints with sharp angles. However, considering these findings, it is necessary to explore tests and training involving curved sprints of varying radii with response signals presented during these movements

Further, data from 10 matches in the UK professional soccer league indicated that 83-88% of the maximum sprints were curved rather than straight (41). An analysis of 873 sprints over 6 matches by 13 U18 players from a professional soccer team in the UK showed that most of these sprints were curved, known as swerves (42). Traditional COD and agility tests mostly involve straight-line sprints with sharp angles. However, considering these findings, it is necessary to explore tests and training involving curved sprints of varying radii with response signals presented during these movements (43, 44).



Match analysis suggests that agility includes not only quick speeding up in different directions from slow movements, but also quickly slowing down from fast movements.

Summary: The future of agility testing


Most research agrees that agility and COD are distinct abilities. Some propose using video and real human movement for stimuli, but these are impractical for regular training. Light stimuli are easier to set up, standardize, and provide objective data. The challenge is creating sport-specific scenarios with light stimuli for accurate testing.


In the future, an idea is to design a test that mimics deceptive behaviors, like feints, using successive light signals to prompt changes in direction. This would evaluate an athlete's ability to perceive, process, decide, and execute movements quickly. For example, if the second light signal differs, the athlete must adjust their initial movement. This test could reveal different footwork patterns and better distinguish athletic abilities. Further research and development of such tests are needed.



 

Part 1 of the article by Hiroshi Hasegawa "Reconsideration: Measurement, Evaluation, and Training of Agility" that focuses on the topics of defining the concept of agility, understanding its importance in invasion sports and differencing between COD and agility abilities can be found here.


*This article was originally written by the author in Japanese and published in  

JATI Express No.101, June 2024. It is translated by Sportreact.


Professor Hiroshi Hasegawa s employed as a Professor of Sports Science at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan and serves as the Honorary President of JATI (Japan Association of Training Instructors).

HIROSHI

HASEGAWA


Professor Hiroshi Hasegawa's research focuses on biomechanical aspects of sports performance. His work focuses on enhancing training efficiency and understanding movement patterns through advanced technological and physiological analyses. He is employed as a Professor of Sports Science at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan and serves as the Honorary President of JATI (Japan Association of Training Instructors).


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