A lot of valuable athletic skills are involved in playing a good game of soccer.
While endurance, spatial awareness, and a powerful kick are all crucial, there is one skill that should never be underestimated when it comes to soccer: agility.
Agility is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as ‘the ability to move your body quickly and easily.’
If you look closely at the technique of some of the world’s top soccer players, you’ll see that this perfectly describes the way that they move.
Being light on your feet and having a superior level of control over your movements is key to moving quickly up the field while avoiding obstacles (the other team’s players).
One of the best things an up-and-coming soccer player or team can do to increase their chances of success is to practice some tried and tested agility drills as part of their training.
If you’re a coach looking for agility drill inspiration, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve put together a compilation of the 7 most effective soccer drills for enhancing agility on the field.
7 Agility Drills for Fast Movement in Soccer
This is one of the simplest but most effective agility drills to promote fast movement (and fast cessation of movement) in soccer players. It is also known as the ‘green light/red light’ drill.
When most people think about the meaning of agility, they associate it with high-speed performance.
However, part of being agile as a soccer player is learning to control your movements to the point where you can stop dead in your tracks as easily as you can accelerate.
The point of the start/stop agility drill is to teach players how to manage their speed and momentum during a game situation. This will instill the bodily control required to be an agile soccer player.
This is a very simple exercise that’s suitable for players of all ages and makes a great warm-up drill.
For this drill, you will need:
- Some cones laid out in 2 parallel lines at opposite ends of the field
How It’s Done
- Pick one end of the field to start with and instruct all players to stand in a row behind your chosen line of cones.
- When you are ready to begin, give the signal for your players to start running towards the opposite end of the space. The signal can simply be ‘start’ or ‘go,’ or ‘green light’ - whatever you prefer.
- The idea is then for you to shout out ‘stop’ or ‘red light’ at a random interval, at which point, all players must stop immediately. If any players fail to stop, you can make the game more interesting by introducing penalties. For example, you could have them return to the starting line or even use an elimination process.
- Continue the drill for as many repetitions as you wish, reversing the direction when you reach the finish line.
Tips and Tricks
- You can make this drill more skills-based by having each player dribble a ball as they move. This will make them practice their footwork at the same time as focusing on movement control.
- Spice things up if you like! You can introduce different cues, such as varying light colors if you’re going with the ‘green light/red light’ variation of the drill. For example, ‘blue light’ could signal ‘jumping jacks.’ You could even test your players’ listening skills by shouting ‘stop’ or ‘red light’ twice in a row.
- Make sure to teach your players the best technique for gaining momentum and stopping quickly. Train your team to push off hard from the ground when they hear the ‘go’ signal for a quick burst of speed and keep their centers of gravity balanced when stopping so that they don’t fall over.
Our next drill is another very straightforward one, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the importance of the skills that it imparts.
Sharp, quick, and clean directional changes are of the utmost importance in a game of soccer, where the ball can change direction suddenly at any point.
This drill will teach soccer players how to mirror the movements of their opponents, even when this means making a very fast change of direction.
It also encourages some competitiveness in terms of speed, which is important in game situations when it comes to retrieving the ball from a member of the opposing team.
The directional changes drill requires:
- 10 cones set out in 2 lines, parallel to each other
How It’s Done
- Divide your team into 2 groups: leaders and followers. Have the leaders stand in a line behind the first cone in one of the lines, and have the followers do the same behind the other line.
- On your signal, the leaders should set off running to either the first, second, or third cone in their line and make a U-turn around it. The follower should do the same.
- Once the leader has completed the turn and returned to the starting cone, they will turn around again and repeat the process with the follower in tow.
- When the leader has completed their second directional change, they and the follower will race to the cones at the very end of their lines.
- Now it’s time for the next pair of players to race. Keep going until everyone has had their turn!
Tips and Tricks
- As with most of the drills on our list, this drill can be made more skill-based by incorporating a ball. Having your leaders and followers maneuver a ball around the cones will improve their ball-handling skills as well as their agility.
- Encourage the leader players to feint their movements to make the game more interesting and keep the followers on their toes.
- The most effective way to ensure quick direction changes is by keeping the knees slightly flexed. Remind your players to keep their centers of gravity nice and low for neater directional and speed changes.
Ladder exercises are some of the most useful in soccer practice for teaching agility as well as spatial awareness. Using an agility ladder during training will also help to improve balance and coordination.
Footwork is a core skill for all soccer players to practice, and a ladder is one of the best tools to encourage quick and accurate foot movements.
When applied to a real game situation, these skills will translate to excellent control over the ball and an ability to weave amongst other players.
All you need for this drill is:
- Agility ladders, relative to the number of players
How It’s Done
There are actually a variety of drills you can plan out for your team using nothing but an agility ladder!
The most common ladder-based agility drills for soccer are one-footed or two-footed hops, done either linearly (forward-facing) or laterally (side-on).
Alternatively, you could conduct this drill hopscotch-style, meaning that players have to alternate between positioning their feet outside of the ladder and inside the rungs.
There’s nothing too complicated about this drill, although you can certainly increase the coordination demands with different variations, such as the Ickey Shuffle.
The Ickey Shuffle essentially involves making 3 quick, successive steps for every rung of the ladder.
Beginning with one foot out to the side of the ladder, players will need to step into the ladder with the other foot, bring the first foot in beside it, and then step back outside the next rung of the ladder with the second foot.
This requires a lot of coordination and encourages quick footwork.
Tips and Tricks
- An agility ladder is a highly effective tool for soccer practice, but it can present a tripping hazard. Don’t push beginners to rush themselves at first. Speed is something that can be built up over time, but the most important thing is developing spatial awareness and accurate foot placement.
- On the other hand, for experienced team members, a faster-paced version of this drill is likely to be more suitable. You can try having your team complete the drill under timed conditions or split the team into groups and turn it into a race!
A couple of the drills we’ve talked about so far have involved the use of cones, but making simple formations or patterns out of cones for your players to navigate is a really simple and useful method of encouraging agility.
Being asked to maneuver around a simple cone formation will instill quick movements, light footwork, and spatial awareness in your team.
You only need 4 cones to complete this drill, so this is a fantastic exercise to use if you’re low on equipment or don’t have much time to set up.
Prepare for this drill by setting out:
- 4 cones set out in a T-shape
How It’s Done
- The standard variation of the cone drill is as easy to set up as it is to complete. Start by setting out your cones in a T-shape, with a line of 3 cones spaced approximately 15 feet apart and a single, separate cone perpendicular to the central cone at about the same distance.
- Have your players form a line and, one by one, run down the central line between the single cone and the middle cone.
- Once a player has reached the middle cone, they will run to the far left cone before running across the bar of the T formation to the cone on the far right.
- To finish, the player should run back to the center cone and return to the start via the starting route.
Tips and Tricks
- This exercise might sound a little too simple to be truly effective in its most bare-bones form, but you can change things up a bit to suit experienced players. One of the best ways to do this is to vary the movements you ask your players to use. For example, you could ask them to shuffle sideways along the top line. You can also incorporate backpedaling. This will force your team to engage their mental faculties and really think about the way that they are moving their bodies.
- Another way to make this drill more demanding is to switch up the directions. You could instruct your team to move in specific directions around the cones instead of just forwards and backward between them. Alternatively, you could even make the area larger and set out more cones so that the players can weave in between them.
- Of course, adding a soccer ball to this drill will make it even more applicable to game situations because of the added element of ball control.
The star soccer drill, as we like to call it, is technically also a cone-based drill, but it’s a little more complicated than standard cone formations, so this is a good one to reserve for your more experienced players.
Unlike our 4-cone drills, this drill uses 5 cones for added complexity.
It also involves moving around the cones in specific directions as opposed to running between them, so players will have to think about which direction they are turning in as well as which way they are traveling.
Before this drill, make sure you have:
- 5 cones spaced 30 feet apart
How It’s Done
- To set up the space for this drill, you can start by setting out the cones the same way you did in the 4-cone formation, with a line of three cones, evenly spaced. Then, instead of just having one cone set apart, you’ll position 2 cones at equal distances on either side of the line. All cones should be approximately 30 feet apart, and the end result should be a central cone with four cones surrounding it.
- Starting at one of the exterior cones, have your players line up to the left of the cone.
- The first player will run up to the center cone and maneuver around it in a clockwise motion towards the far right cone.
- Once the player has reached the right cone, they should turn around it in the same way and return the middle cone.
- Upon reaching the middle cone, the player will turn 90 degrees clockwise again and head towards the top cone.
- The drill continues until all players have completed the circuit and returned to the starting cone. You can repeat the drill as many times as you see fit, but about 10 minutes is optimal.
Tips and Tricks
- This is a great drill to incorporate a soccer ball into if you want to increase the focus on footwork and control even further. The cones in this drill are quite spaced out, so your players will be covering a lot of ground. Therefore, it’s important to remember to make time for short rest breaks.
- As with the standard 4-cone drills, you can specify certain movements, such as backpedaling or shuffling, to enhance coordination skills.
- We explained in the directional changes drill that bending the knees is key for changing direction quickly and safely. Make sure to instill this in your team during this drill since there is a lot of changing direction involved.
- Reinforce the importance of shortening strides when approaching cones. This will help to turn around the cone more effectively, saving time and energy compared to rounding the cone with large strides.
The next drill we have to show you uses box formations to encourage players to mirror one another’s movements in a quick and agile manner.
Watching members of the other team closely, as well as the movements of your own teammates is vitally important in a game of soccer.
It can be tempting for beginners to the game to focus exclusively on the ball, but it’s essential to keep an eye on the movements of other players as well.
This is because a player’s movements will give you the first clue as to where the ball will travel.
As part of this drill, players will be split off into pairs, where one player will have to watch and copy the other’s movements.
To make your drill boxes, you will need:
- At least 8 cones to make at least 2 cone boxes
How It’s Done
- Split your team into pairs and designate a leader and a follower, similar to the directional changes drill.
- The leader and the follower should each stand in their own box, facing one another.
- The leader starts the drill by moving towards one of the outer cones of their box and touching it. The follower will mirror their movements and touch the respective cone in their box.
- Continue the drill in this manner for as long as is necessary, reminding players that they must face one another at all times. This will involve moving backward and sideways at times.
Tips and Tricks
- Although this is a very simple exercise that primarily focuses on mirroring movements, it can also be an effective endurance drill. There is a lot of movement involved in this drill, including bending down to touch the cones, so it can really get the heart pumping and warm up the muscles. Challenge your players to continue the exercise for longer with shorter rest periods if this is appropriate, considering the rest of your plans for the session.
An obstacle course can be a fun and competitive choice of drill to help your team to bond while impairing important agility skills, including running, jumping, and changing direction as needed.
These movements (jumping and landing, in particular) encourage control and balance as well as power and endurance.
The equipment you’ll need for an obstacle course is as follows:
- Approximately 8 cones
- 4 hurdles (or cones, if unavailable)
- 4 poles (cones can be used as a substitute)
How It’s Done
- You have quite a lot of flexibility as the coach in terms of how you lay out your obstacle course. Feel free to get creative with it! Just make sure to incorporate all of the equipment above in whatever order feels most appropriate. Personally, we recommend starting out with the hurdles. This may feel counterintuitive, but it will encourage your players to control their momentum once they finish the first section. Lay the poles out in a zig-zag formation for the players to weave through and finish off with directional changes via the cones. You’ll need to have a designated cone for the start and finish of the course.
- Line your team up behind the starting cone and give the signal to start. It’s safest to have one player complete the course at a time instead of starting a new player once the first obstacle has been cleared because this will prevent the course from getting backed up.
- The first player will need to jump over the hurdles, weave between the poles, and then complete the rest of the course as directed by moving between the cones in whichever way you instruct.
Tips and Tricks
- To add a fun sense of competition to this drill, you can time each player to see who can complete the course the fastest. Alternatively, set up 2 courses and split your team into 2 groups to see which team can complete the course first.
- Make the course more challenging by adding more cones or poles to weave around or raising the height of the hurdles if they are adjustable.
- Feel free to assign specific movements for each of the distances between the cones to increase the complexity.
- Remember to remind your team of the skills they have learned through other drills, such as bending the knees for directional changes (cones and poles) and pushing into the ground for momentum (hurdles).
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about our favorite soccer agility drills today! Hopefully, you have come away from this article with something new to teach your team.
Remember to teach the requisite techniques before starting any drills so that your team can get the most out of the exercises.
For example, remind the players to bend their knees before changing direction and reinforce the importance of pushing off hard from the ground when momentum is required.
You can adjust any of these exercises to make them age or experience-appropriate for your team.
Also, try to bear in mind the other exercises you have planned for the training session so that you don’t over or under-work your team.