Speed and agility training is often under-utilised in Rugby League/Union training, in turn having a negative impact on a player’s on-field performance. Both codes are physically demanding, requiring players to be well-trained in all areas of physical conditioning.
Speed and agility training is a key component of a Rugby League training program. Many top-tier teams incorporate some speed and agility training in the pre-season and then 1-2 times a week in season depending on the time between games.
There are two types of speed and agility training: non-reactive and reactive drills. Non-reactive drills require no decision making and just focus on pure acceleration, change of direction and top-end speed. Reactive drills train the athlete in decision making and reactive agility.
Before starting any speed and agility training session it is vitally important that players complete a comprehensive dynamic warm-up which will prep the body for the session ahead. Once the warm up is completed the session can be split into 3 main parts for athletic development.
- Teaching and technnique work
- Power transfer and acceleration development
- High-velocity agility and reactive speed
Players very rarely run at their max velocity in game situations so running at max speed is left out because training in this manner simply increases the risk of injury. The most important factor for Rugby League players is acceleration, change of direction and reactive speed, not max top-end speed.
Throughout speed and agility sessions players NEED to have a work-to-rest ratio of approximately 1:5 so that technique and quality is maintained.
As the strength and conditioning coach, a typical session I held with the Lebanese Rugby League World Cup Team leading into and during the 2022 World Cup may include some of the following drills.
- Wall marching — promotes forward lean, ground push and knee drive
- Seated arm running — promotes and teaches strong core and full arm swing
- Harness marching — forwards and lateral, teaches correct body position, hip extension and knee drive
- 3m lateral hurdles over and back into 5m acceleration — promotes correct positioning, outside foot push off, arm swing
- Single leg starts over 5m — teaches forward lean, ground push and knee drive
- Fall/Brace/Sprint over 10m
- 5-10-5 agility drill (you can find this and some of the others on YouTube)
- L Drill — players sprint 5m forward to pole #1, cut to left for 5m, complete a 180’ turn around pole #2, return to pole #1, cut right and return to start
- Lead and chase drill — two players start 3m apart both facing the coach. On the coaches go and direction signal the players sprint 20m in that direction with one player trying to avoid being tagged by their partner. Walk back recovery completing 4 reps. Teaches athletic position, lateral push off and acceleration and creates competition between players.
These are only a few of many drills that Rugby League players can perform while training for speed and agility.
- Players must have a good warm up
- Start with technique work and build into the session
- Make sure there is a 1:5 work to rest ratio intensity and quality is maintained.
Be patient as improvements are often slower than other styles of training. For athletes to have maximal gains from their speed and agility training they need to have a quality strength and power program which will complement their on-field work.