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Agility and COD (Open vs Closed Skill Agility) Transferring Skills From the Weight-room to the Court

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

Agility and change of direction (COD) are similar in the sense that they both pertain to the ability to change direction quickly and efficiently. Traditionally, agility training is broken down into two categories – closed skill and open skill. Closed agility drills require an athlete to perform a pre-programmed pattern of movement(s) using cones or other implements. Open agility drills are much more reactive, specific, and transferable to situations athletes will actually find themselves in during competition. This is due to the introduction of an unpredictable stimulus they must react to that could be in the form of an audible cue (clap, command, whistle) or visual cue (seeing an approaching opponent, teammate, athlete). The ability to decelerate, change direction, and re-accelerate while reacting to some type of stimulus is an essential sequence of skills for field and court sports. The key is an introduction of a stimulus an athlete must react to which results in deceleration, a change of direction, and re-acceleration – that is the true definition of agility. A closed skill “agility” drill where an athlete performs a pre-programmed movement pattern (i.e. cone drill) is not as transferable to sport as open skill agility. This is primarily because true agility (open skill) training in an open environment forces a decision or reaction to be made by the athlete, and is much more specific to the types of situations athletes find themselves in during competition.

To put this into perspective, closed skill agility and change of direction (COD) drills are much the same thing. They are training athletes to perform pre-programmed movement patterns without any type of external stimulus to react to. Athletes (and coaches as well by default) are in control of the environment, not the other way around. Drills that target this area of learning may be beneficial to instruct and teach introductory concepts of deceleration and acceleration, body positioning, posture, and force application. But how much of this actually carries over to a competition setting? The amount of sensory information that an individual must process during a competition is MUCH higher than performing a pre-programmed cone drill where the players already know how they will maneuver themselves through. The absence of an external stimulus makes the drills much easier because they are required to process less sensory information. This creates a vastly different environment that does not guarantee an athlete will be able to execute the essential components of agility (deceleration, change of direction, re-acceleration), especially if they have not experienced true agility or open skill agility training. This is not to say that there is no carry over whatsoever, but athletes, coaches and parents need to understand that there is a time and a place for both closed skill and open skill training.

As mentioned previously, closed skill drills can be extremely beneficial to lay the groundwork for younger athletes. This gives the coach an opportunity to discuss the underlying concepts and the importance of eccentric strength for deceleration, body postures, limb angles, core engagement, and force application for re-acceleration. When learning any new skill there should be a progression in place and closed skill drills are a great place to start. Once an athlete has become proficient and understands the underlying concepts, open skill or true agility training can be implemented. Most closed skill drills can be easily converted by adding an external stimulus such as an audible cue (clap, command, whistle). To take it one step further, athletes can use each other as a stimulus to perform a variety of mirror drills and put them into more reactive and unpredictable situations that are much more specific to a competition setting. Mirror drills are also great for teaching the fundamentals and mechanics of frontal plane shuffling.

When programming agility and change of direction training for athletes, it is crucial to consider the benefits of both closed and open skill environments. Before progressing to open skill environments, the fundamentals at a closed skill level must be mastered and understood. Take this time to lay a foundation of knowledge for these athletes to ensure when they are ready for a more open and reactive environment, they understand the importance of the key components of agility and changing direction and how these skills can make them a better athlete in the future. Lastly, keep the training as engaging as possible. At the end of the day, higher information retention is the product of an engaging and adequately stimulating training program.

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