by Developing Agility and Quickness
Kinetic Select May 2017
The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing Agility and Quickness, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.
When athletes can accurately predict an event and organize their movements in advance, they can initiate an appropriate response more quickly than if they had waited to react to a stimulus. With experience, they gain greater knowledge of how long it takes to coordinate their own movements (known as effector anticipation) with certain environmental regularities and opponent tendencies in a given situation (perceptual anticipation). In addition, if athletes can predict which play will be used (spatial anticipation) and when it will occur (temporal anticipation), they will be able to form an appropriate response before the stimulus is presented.
Athletes who anticipate accurately can gain a large competitive advantage over their opposition. Anticipation is possible in nearly all sports. For example, by watching how an opponent pivots or drops the hips, a rugby player can get an idea of what direction an opponent is going or what movement he is trying to execute. When a pitcher throws a ball into the dirt, a base runner successfully steals a base due to the trajectory of the pitch as the ball was released.
Early studies involving anticipation and reaction time were based on generic stimuli and generic athletic responses. Some scientists have stressed that in order to truly assess and train the visual and recognition skills required in athletics, future research about anticipation and reaction time should involve a sport-specific presentation. Experimental evidence demonstrated that generic visual-training approaches to motor learning are most likely ineffective because they train perceptual factors that do not influence performance in sports or gamelike situations. From these findings, the authors suggest that sport-specific protocols that utilize perceptual skills (such as pattern recognition and anticipation) may be best for establishing the appropriate context, or link, to skills in a particular sport. High-performance athletes focus on anticipatory cues that are directly linked to specific signals displayed by their opponents. Therefore, at this time, research provides compelling support for the use of sport-specific scenarios and stimuli in training programs.
As a component of perceptual and decision-making factors, anticipation appears to be a trainable quality, since athletes are able to improve these skills as they gain more competitive experiences. Thus, this area of training is worthy of attention. When training anticipation skills, the primary goal should be to improve both the accuracy and the speed of responses.
For coaches, the previous findings in perceptual and decision-making research support using sport-specific scenarios. Scenarios that provide a stimulus relevant to the sporting environment may help athletes develop better anticipation skills through the refinement of search strategies, response speed and accuracy, pattern recognition, and decision-making abilities.
From the National Strength and Conditioning Association comes this resource packed with more than 100 drills to help in the development of agility and quickness training programs. Applicable to almost every sport, Developing Agility and Quickness focuses on improving athletes’ fleetness of foot, change-of-direction speed, and reaction time. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.