by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
U.S. national team player, Takudzwa Ngwenya distinguished himself recently in the Rugby World Cup by demonstrating his speed, agility, and quickness (SAQ). These are qualities that are highly valued in every sport, including rugby. Ngwenya, who got the better of his South African opposite, Bryan Habana, accessed all three aspects of his considerable athleticism to get around in the Springbok to score a try.
There is no better moment in our game than when a player, with ball in hand, accelerates, cuts, or decelerates to evade a defender. Equally impressive is the group of forwards who’s footwork is highly synchronized in such a way that they quickly move away from the defenders, stop, jump/lift and safely return to the ground with the possession secured.
Although often referred to as “God given talent”, improving your speed, agility, and quickness should be worked at, and will improve over time. While it is true that you need to have selected your parents well when it comes to being flat out fast, you can always train to be faster then your currently are by improving your over-all flexibility and strength. Improved flexibility will allow for better stride length, measured as the distance you cover between foot-falls while you sprint. Being stronger will aid in improving your stride frequency or how fast you turn your legs over as you are speeding down the field. Great stride length plus a high stride frequency makes you a fast athlete.
Further advancement in your personal SAQ will require you to train to be more agile. There are hundreds of very simple drills that are available to help you improve your agility. First, understand that a major component in being more agile is footwork. You can work on footwork by jumping rope, playing a version of hopscotch, or by utilizing an agility ladder. Agility ladders became popular several years ago and there is a truckload of footwork patterns to chose from. When training footwork the key is to start at low speed so you give yourself a chance to learn the motor pattern correctly. Once you have learned the pattern, begin to cut down the number of repetitions your repeat the pattern while increasing your footwork speed to make the movement as game specific as possible. In rugby, you would not have to perform a dozen jump cuts in succession to beat a defender, so once you have successfully mastered the movement, perform it once or twice at speed and finish the activity with a short sprint.
Training to improve quickness can be very challenging and fun at the same time. Try to use both audio and visual commands when working with teammates because it is specific to our sport. “Hot words” or “hot colors” on a card can be used to trigger an athlete to move in a specified direction and distance while being timed. Training this reaction component is identical to the role footwork plays in agility.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand, the U.S. and England for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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