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Let's be Clear - Agility is much more than a simple change of direction

At Northville Athletix, we talk a lot about how training transfers to the field of play. - we TRAIN TO PLAY. As a result, when discussing training when speaking with coaches and athletes, we use terms like "change-of-direction" and "agility." It has come up enough that I felt it made sense to break it down.

To be clear, while we often talk about them together, change of direction training and agility training are different.


AGILITY refers to a rapid and deliberate movement with a change of velocity or direction as a reaction to a stimulus, typically instigated by an opponent's action (i.e., it is not random). In the context of sports and athletics, AGILITY means that an athlete can accelerate in a specific direction as fast as possible, then immediately decelerate and change direction as efficiently as possible. When evaluating athletic performance, agility is a crucial differentiator between high-level performance and average performance in sports.

The Mental Aspect of Sports Performance.

Bobby Jones, a professional golfer, famously said, "competitive sports are played mainly on a five and a half-inch court, the space between your ears." When thinking about agility, you must consider the cognitive aspects — sensory scanning and information processing and decision making — that contribute to agility. Your body needs to react to stimulus, but your brain needs to start the action with a quick assessment of the situation and decision making. Training the body without the mind is only half the battle. The difference between agility and COD training seems like splitting hairs at first. Still, if you look closer, the difference lies in the reactive component of agility training and the four related cognitive functions. Visual processing, Reaction time, Perception, and Anticipation. If any of these components are absent during traditional agility drills, then the drills are actually Change of Direction (COD) rather than agility. Here is why it matters.


COD training, by definition, is any activity with closed skills that involves a rapid whole-body movement with a pre-planned change of velocity or direction. It eliminates the reactive element associated with agility training. Another way to think of COD drills is as "pre-planned" agility drills — they are pre-programmed movements that an athlete must complete without any sudden reactionary movement required. These types of drills are great for introducing certain foundational concepts, such as:

Acceleration and deceleration

Balance and Body positioning


Force application

Let me illustrate. Suppose you are playing in a basketball game, and an opponent comes at you to set a pick. In that case, you must react, ideally quickly, with a change direction to avoid the pick. This is considered agility. In contrast, running through a prescribed series of cones as fast as possible is an example of change of direction training. One has a stimulus to react to the other does not.


Understanding the difference is important when evaluating an agility program for you or your child. Programs that lack reactive stimulus-response may be okay for younger athletes who need to focus on body mechanics; however, it is typically not enough to significantly improve sports performance in most average to above-average athletes. Proper mechanics ultimately translates into better agility, but once you are proficient with COD drills, you must move on to incorporating agility drills (reactive stimulus drills) into your training regimen. This is where good coaching comes into play. Striking the right balance and recognizing when to introduce specific exercises is critical for sports performance training.


​Corey is a sports performance coach and owner of Northville Athletix and Train2Play Systems. Corey's unrelenting energy and passion for athletic performance is seen daily as he works with athletes of all levels. When Corey is not in the gym coaching, you will find him in pursuit of more effective ways to reach as many athletes as possible and help them achieve their full potential.

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