Templates, Terminology and Teaching

Rich Clarke

My philosophy is that people need to learn to solve problems. Not to simply follow instructions. This is more true in the agility topic than any other. The technical positions you see have a bandwidth, what you will be able to implement week to week will need to be adaptable and what each individual will need will vary. You can’t deal with any of these things or make better decisions if you blindly follow someone else’s model. If a template is anything more than some example drills that you could used to develop certain things, then it isn’t a good use of your learning time as a coach.

There is of course a long road to understand everything in the agility puzzle. Some of the questions have no answer. But a better understanding of biomechanics, motor control, skill acquisition, anatomy, decision making and the interaction of constraints, all make for better training practices. This understanding doesn’t come in the form or pre-set programmes or progressions. It come in the form of principles.

Methods are many, but principles are few.

The challenge in agility is not just the number of different components and their principles to understand. But the translational gap between those in the know, and those striving to be. Biomechanical studies which have looked at 3D motion capture, or Ecological Dynamics for example have huge terminology barrier in the way for the average coach to understand them. We need both a movement towards an improved understanding of agility and better education to get coaches there.

One thing I always come back to from teaching is this: Until you have actually seen them do it, assume they haven’t learned anything.

Year after year, you can listen, read or watch another presentation and nod your head like ‘durr I heard this two years ago’. But until you have to use that knowledge appropriately, you probably don’t know it as well as you think you do. Notice the limitations in our current CPD? Without a change in this, our agility practices aren’t changing either, there are just too many variables creating stumbling points in day to day practice.

If you are interested in having a real deep dive and transforming your skills, join our next change of direction and agility cohort here!

But people still need to be able to self-educate. You don’t want to rely on someone else as there are good resources out there. We just need to communicate them more clearly. Let’s take ecological dynamics terminology as an example:

A Constraint: Something that dictates what you can or cannot do. They tend to be split into either a task, environment or individual constraints. What is a task and what is an environment constraint? Depends on what you read as sometimes it isn’t clear. But it doesn’t matter. Things around you (and in you) limit what your performance options are. Space, time, aim, speed, fatigue, surface friction, instructions etc. These are all constraints, and what you see an athlete do is because of the interplay between all of these at that moment.

Affordances: An opportunity to do something. A player identifies some information and works out what options it gives them. It is the bridge between what they see and what they think they can do. It is makeable? Catchable? Whether you go under or over a fence when on a walk, depends on the size of the fence, the size of you and what your mobility/energy is like.

Attuned: ‘Becoming attuned to your environment’ = Getting better at being able to see relevant stuff. As you become more attuned, you filter out what isn’t important and concentrate on what is.

Calibrated: Being able to effectively do something with the stuff you see. Linking perception and action together for a successful outcome.

Emerges: The movement ‘emerges’. Movement must satisfy all the constraints around it. Because those constraints change, it is not the exact same movement each time. Each time the movement ‘emerges’ because the constraints are always different.

All together: We see something (because we are attuned), it gives us an opportunity to do something (an affordance), we execute something successfully (because we are calibrated) and the movement which is used looks like it does (emerges) because of the constraints at that moment.

Thats enough from me for now. Looking forward to working with people to navigate the miefield that is agility over the coming years. Join the email list and reach out if you haven’t already!


Rich is the founder of Strength Coach Curriculums and an S&C coach who specialised in multi-directional speed. He runs the S&C provision for Bristol Flyers Basketball and consults with clubs across the globe while also leading the MSc programme at the University of South Wales