Speed ladder and cones drills: are they really effective? pt. 3
Here is the link to part 2 of this series, if you missed it. https://www.graysacademy.net/post/speed-ladder-and-cone-drills-are-they-really-effective
In the third part of this series, I will discuss the difference between change of direction and agility, their transference to sport performance, and the methods used along with their effectiveness.
You may think from reading or listening to my material that I am totally against cone drills or closed drills in general, but that’s not the case. Cone/closed drills aren’t inherently bad, and when used correctly can be very beneficial, especially for young or beginner athletes. What I do disagree with, is coaches spending too much time with these athletes and leading them to believe that it will improve their agility or athleticism.
So what is a closed drill? It is any preprogrammed activity where the athlete knows exactly when to change direction, speed, or athletic action (jumps, shuffle, etc.). These are your typical cone drills you see at speed camps/training: Pro-agility test, T-test, zig zag cone drill, 4 square cone drill, etc. Over time and after 1000’s of reps, these athletes can memorize and master the movements (it’s the same thing every time-very different from sports), giving the illusion of increased athleticism, when all they did was perfect a skill that’s isolated form anything they would do in a game.
In fact, many athletes become very proficient in these closed drills (think Social media worthy videos) with little to no improvement in agility, speed, or sport performance. This can be very disheartening for the athlete who spends the whole offseason working on their footwork and change of direction drills, often following their coaches well-intentioned but misguided advice.
The missing link between closed cone drills and their transfer to sport performance is the perception-reaction component. During closed drills, the athlete doesn’t have to perceive, react, or make any decisions, and even worse, they usually complete these activities with their brain on autopilot.
Most field and court based sports require athletes to read and react to some sort of stimulus, whether that’s an opponent, ball, or another object. Success or failure in sports depends on the athlete making the correct decision during these situations. Often times, coaches mistakenly blame bad plays on an athlete’s lack of footwork or change of direction ability, when the real culprit is their perception (what they’re seeing in during the play/possession) and resulting decision from it. The only way to improve the perception-reaction ability of athletes through as much exposure as possible in these environments. All the cone drills in the world can’t help an athlete read an opponent or object better, and the best athlete with poor decision making skills will never reach their true potential.
I heard one coach ask “would you prepare for driving on the freeway by practicing around cones in a parking lot?” Probably not, right? Well that is the equivalent of doing cone drills to improve agility in competitions. The parking lot is safe and predictable, whereas the freeway (competition) is very chaotic and constantly changing. No two plays or possession, or games are the same, so the athlete who is most experienced in game like or chaotic situations will make better decisions, and will most likely be the better player.
Josh Gray BS, CSCS, NSAM CES, USATF 1
Owner of Gray's Academy