Many popular women’s sports, such as volleyball, softball, tennis, soccer and basketball, require short, quick movements forward, backward, laterally and on an angle. Footwork is key to many open-skilled sports, or those that require that you perform a task while moving, such as hitting a tennis ball, fielding a grounder or controlling a soccer ball. Practicing drills that require balance, quick movement and changes of direction will help you win more games, sets and matches.
Agility is your ability to move effectively in multiple directions while maintaining your balance. By effectively, coaches mean while performing a task, which can be as simple as running to a specific position on the court or field, or while dribbling, passing, catching, hitting or throwing. When you practice footwork drills, don’t just focus on the movement of your feet -- notice your balance as you perform the drills and if it’s the same balance you’ll need during a game or match. For example, if you need to keep you head up and eyes fixed on an opponent or target during a game, perform your footwork drills with your head up and eyes forward.
Rope Ladder Drills
A rope ladder lets you create a variety of footwork and agility drills that require quick, nimble steps in and out of the rungs of the ladder. Practice drills that make you put one foot in each rung as you move down the ladder and then practice putting both feet in each rung, one after the other. Perform drills forward, backward and laterally. As you get used to the drills, begin timing them each week to note your improvement. Avoid bending at the waist and looking only at your feet while you perform these drills; try to keep your torso straight and your eyes forward.
Spider drills make you run a pattern similar to the straight lines of a spider’s web. These drills require running left and right, straight forward and back, 90 degrees to the side and back, and forward and back at 45-degree angles. You can use the lines of a court, use chalk marks or set cones on the ground to create your patterns. For example, you might run on a 45-degree angle 5 yards to your right, then run backward to your starting point on the same 45-degree angle line. When you reach your starting point, quickly run straight ahead 5 yards, then straight back. Your next run would be to move on a 45-degree angle to your left and back. Vary your webs to include some 90-degree lateral runs and runs that begin with going backward, then switch to running forward.
Hurdles and Tires
Running through tires and over small hurdles is another way to improve your footwork and balance. After a trial run through the tires, perform the drill with a rule that if you miss one tire, you must re-start the drill, rather than moving on. This will prevent you from focusing on speed instead of agility. When you lay out your hurdle course, do not set your hurdles equal distances apart. Force yourself to repeatedly break stride by taking more strides between some hurdles and fewer between others.
Hat on Head
One way to improve your agility is to perform footwork drills with a flattened baseball cap balanced on your head, rather than worn snugly. If you maintain good posture and body balance during the drill, the hat should stay on your head. If you duck your head or bend too much at the waist, the hat will fall off your head. For example, set three or more cones on the ground about 5 yards apart. You can set them in a straight row or create a pattern that places them more randomly. Set a tennis ball on each cone. Starting 5 yards in front of the cones, run to the first cone with the hat balanced on your head, bend down and pick up the ball, then run to the next cone. Remove the tennis ball on the cone and replace it with the tennis ball you removed from the first cone. Continue this pattern until you have removed the tennis ball from each cone and replaced it with the ball from the cone before it without the hat falling off your head. If you don’t have cones, place balls directly on the ground.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.