Best Methods for Improving Sport-Specific Agility | Joe Defranco Podcast #57 & #58 Summary

Disclaimer On Ladder Drills

Joe noticed that using ladder drills for his athletes was not that beneficial to translating to on field sport specific speed and agility.

He noticed his athletes were getting dramatically faster at the ladder drills, but when he would observe their games they would still be slow with no noticeable improved on field agility within the game.

The majority of coaches still use these ladder and cone drills as the main training tool when trying to improve on field agility. Here’s the solution Joe found.

A reminder to why you should take his knowledge seriously: Joe trained the 2 fastest NFL athletes that recorded the ALL TIME best time in the Pro Agility Drill (20 yard shuffle)

2 most overlooked methods for improving an athlete’s on-field agility

1. Reacting to a visual stimulus

A ladder / cone drill is pre-determined, in other words they can be learnt. You can learn the icky shuffle. Because they are pre-determined learnt movement patterns your mind stay’s focused on getting the pattern right each time.

A reason we’ll notice the above drills not translating over to the sport is because the sport requires an athlete to REACT to a UNPREDICTABLE STIMULUS in a SPLIT second. Those drills don’t allow you to make those quick random decisions. They’re all pre-determined. 

Now the best way to train for agility is to actually play your sport. But we can try and mimic in training.


Each rep is unique. Each rep is unpredictable. Each rep practices reacting and trying to avoid a defender, mimicking the sport much more accurately than a ladder drill ever could. This type of drill has a much better chance of carrying over to the athletic field than pre-determined agility drills.


Tag…yes tag.

If you had to choose between which is a better agility drill, ladder drills or just playing tag, tag is the winner.

Joe just doesn’t play tag with his younger athletes, he’ll use it for his NFL athletes.

It’s unpredictable decision making reactions that are 3-dimensional.


Set up a 2om box and have a shirt tucked into each guys shorts making each athlete have to avoid getting the shirt stolen.


Stand about 5m behind your athlete, throw a tennis ball over their shoulder and the rule is they’re only allowed to sprint once they see the ball.

Or you could have them grab the ball before it bounces a 2nd time.

Throw 2 balls of a different colour, they sprint and you yell a colour that they have to sprint to once you call it.

2. Get Strong

Focus on develop eccentric and iso-metric strength. 

In order to make sharp cuts and change direction rapidly, athletes need the necessary strength to absorb and accumulate force as well as overcome inertia.

Even in the split second of planting your foot and changing direction in a blink of an eye there is an iso-metric component.

In that moment of planting the leg, lowering your center of gravity, right before you re-accelerate and move in that opposite direction there is a split iso-metric pause.

So once we’ve built a foundation of strength and we’re beginning to get more advanced we want to enhance eccentric strength.

This will help improve the athletes ability to absorb force while decelerating. Plus the iso-metric training which will improve the athletes ability to overcome inertia.

Favorite isometric strength exercise for athlete’s looking to improve their agility

Bulgarian Split Squats

Specifically, iso-hold split squats.

Either lower rapidly (more advanced athletes to mimic changing direction), pause 3-5sec and explode up or lower controlled which is advised for more beginner – intermediate.

When incorporating iso-metrics its important to add the pauses at varies degrees of ranges of motion.

E.G. 1/4 of the way down / 1/2 way down – it’s important to get strong in different ranges of motion. But remember with iso-metrics you get stronger aprox 10-15 degrees above and bellow the angle you train at.

Also using a verbal cue on the concentric phase can accurately mimic the specificity of the sport.

Favorite eccentric strength exercise for athlete’s looking to improve their agility

Eccentric Bulgarian Split Squats

Great for building foundational eccentric strength.

5-6sec lowering, light tap and explode up.

Rep Range: 2-6 really high qulaity reps / moderate to heavy weights but keep quality a priority.

Note: Both movements are unilateral exercises. When training for on field agility focusing on unilateral movements translates to the planting and cutting off one leg within their sport the majority of the time.

But pre-determined drills still have their place

Of course there are ways you can incorporate a training tool like a ladder.

Ladder drills are great for general coordination, general body awareness, and leraning the mechanics of changing direction. That’s why it’s so great for young inexperienced athletes.

So it can be great for a warm up for experienced athletes or larger amounts of time for inexperienced athletes.

It also adds an element of fun and competition to training which is really important.

Barefoot multi-directional hops incorporated into a warm up can be really great for mobility, stability and strengthening the ankle, knee and hip joint.

Spoken By Joe Defranco Written By Alex Sandalis  + Podcat #58