Kansas State's football agility training will have you stick to the opposition tight like a jersey
"If you can't get there in time to make the block or to make the tackle, it doesn't matter how strong you are, how much you bench press, how much you've squatted or how much you've power cleaned. You've got to be able to get there to play."
That would be the growl of Rod Cole, strength and conditioning coach for the Kansas State Wildcats. When it comes to moving effectively in all directions on the football field, he remains unimpressed until the opposing man goes down.
Simple. During Cole's time at the helm of its strength program, Kansas State's football team has the winningest record in the history of the Big XII conference. He has been named by the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) as the Big XII Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year and in 1998 was named National Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society. In other words, Cole knows football and, more specifically, how to get athletes ready to play it.
He points to football agility drills as one of the most important aspects of this process and says that "it is one thing we put a premium on: the ability to move and change direction—because that is how the game of football is played. That's not going to change anytime soon, so you better work on your agility because players get quicker and quicker each year."
Cole's players seem to get quicker, well, quicker than everybody else. A glance at any NFL Combine result list shows KSU players usually posting the fastest pro agility shuttles at several different positions. In fact, Kansas State players have dipped into the sub-4.0, even sub-3.9, range for this test on campus.
But Cole prefers to point to on-field success as a result of improved agility rather than simply rattle off numbers. He recalls first round draft pick and starting cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys, Terence Newman, his No. 1 success story. Cole says, "when Terence came to Kansas State out of high school, he was not a great football player. We recruited him because of his speed. He was a straight-line fast guy, not a good change of direction guy." Through tremendous work ethic and two years of football agility training under Cole's instruction, this Big XII 100-meter sprint champion learned to change direction, and do all the things that you have to do in order to play cornerback. Cole remembers that Newman "as a sophomore, would get beat on a break but was able to catch up because of his speed. By the time he was a senior, he wasn't getting beat on the break and that is why he was the top defensive back in the country and was the Jim Thorpe Award recipient." As a result of Newman's increased agility, he made the transition from a straight-ahead sprinter to a starting NFL cornerback.
"I don't know of another football program in the country that does agility drills as much as we do," Cole says about his secret to success. "The big thing I'm looking for is effort. Anyone can do agility drills, but not everyone can do agility drills at the level of effort required to get better."
Football Agility Drills
Pro Agility Shuttle (5-10-5) Drills
Cole especially likes this drill since it mimics a change of direction within a small space—a vital maneuver in football.
To perform this shuttle, run a 5, 10 and 5-yard sprint. Imagine you're straddling the 5-yard line on a football field with the end zone to your left and the 10-yard line to your right. Start the drill with your hand on the ground touching the 5-yard line. Then turn 90 degrees to your right and sprint to the 10-yard line. Touch the 10-yard line and sprint all the way to the end zone. Touch the goal line, and then sprint back through the 5-yard line. This sort of agility drill works change of direction ability. The Wildcats perform about eight to 10 repetitions of these shuttles, with four to five turning to the right first, and four to five turning to the left first. A 3:1 rest to work ratio is used in this drill, meaning rest for three times the length of time it took to complete the drill before running your next repetition.
Cole likes to use variations to "change up the drill a little bit." The repetitions, drill design and recovery all stay the same throughout the variations. The four variations follow. Always remember to execute the drills "over bent knees keeping your weight on the balls of your feet" throughout all of the variations.
1) Regular Agility Shuttle—Sprint throughout the entire drill in between hand touches. Focus on quick change of direction and tremendous effort.
2) Shuffe Shuttle—Begin at middle cone (5-yard line) with hand down. Shuffe laterally to one side and touch line with hand. Immediately shuffe in opposite direction and touch far line with other hand. Finish by shuffling through middle cone.
3) Carioca Shuttle—Identical to shuffle but you will perform crossover carioca drill in between hand touches. Use the same focus on knee bend and weight on the balls of your feet.
4) Forward/Backpedal Shuttle—Begin at middle cone with hand down. Turn and run to first line and touch it with hand. Backpedal 10 yards to next line and touch with hand. Sprint forward through middle cone. Make sure to keep a good forward body lean during the backpedal portion. Your shoulders should not rise when you change directions.
The Gate Drill
The Gate Drill is Cole's favorite drill for improving agility. He got the drill from T.J. Ragan, who was the strength and conditioning coach at Colgate and is now at Oregon State. Cole has adapted it to fit his training style, and says he likes the fact that it "involves a lot of different things that you do in football—turning, pulling, changing directions, picking up your feet and running over bags."
In addition, during the drill, the athlete is forced to make a judgment call to pick an angle at which to cut—precisely what must be done in competitive circumstances. Cole notes that in football, you "have to plant your foot and pick your angle to get to a point in a certain time in order to make a block or a tackle, so it carries over from that standpoint."
To perform the drill, begin in your football stance according to your designated position (guard, linebacker, etc). You are going to pull laterally 5 yards while drop-stepping 2 yards. You then go around a cone, turn and run 10 yards over two bags, one at 4 yards and one at 6 yards. At 10 yards, you touch a line (with your foot), return over the bags to a line, plant, and burst out 5 yards at an angle.
This is the angle at which the athlete must make the judgment. The Gate Drill should be performed eight total times, four to the right and four to left, in an eight-minute period. Cole has five players perform the drill at the same time. Since the drill takes seven to 10 seconds to complete and Cole sends the next player after 10 seconds, it works out to a 5:1 recovery to work ratio. That is, 10 seconds for the drill and 50 seconds to recover. He says that a foot touch is used in this drill since it is much more football specific. "Very seldom do you get in a position where you have to put your hand down," he says. This drill truly separates those who make the effort to improve from those who do not.
The Schedule Breakdown
Cole has the Kansas State football team perform some sort of agility training in every workout, including on lifting days. However, the players also have days that are devoted solely to agility training. Cole describes the weekly schedule like so: "In the summertime, we lift and run four days a week, so they're doing both lifting and agility work. In the winter, we lift three days and two of those days will be the days we do agilities." On days when the team lifts and trains for agility, the agilities are done as a sort of warm-up. For instance, Cole will have the Wildcats do some speed ladder work combined with a dynamic warm-up for about eight minutes before hitting the weights.
Throughout the week the agility intensity and volume are undulated. For instance, Cole will have the team perform an intense agility workout with low volume early in the week, and then do a less intense day with higher volume later in the week. He says such undulation "stays steady throughout the whole training cycle, but the intensity gets more intense and the high volume gets higher in order to increase the training effect." During the season, the players get their agility work on the field every day. "When the team breaks up from pre-practice warm-up, the coaches do agilities with them first thing."
Additional Agility Notes
One aspect of agility is having quick feet. Kansas State's football team addresses this by doing quick foot ladder work pretty much every day that they train. Every one of Cole's players knows that he is going to be telling them "move your feet fast when you are tired." Why?
"Because you are going to be tired from the middle of the first quarter on, and you've got to learn to move your feet fast when you are tired," he barks. Cole has the players spend approximately five minutes on the ladder having them move their feet as fast as possible. Effort, as always, is extremely important.
Test your agility progress by having your pro agility drill timed about every month.