Pole to pole: Flag up the need for agility practice

By Eamonn Hogan, experienced rugby coach working with representative teams in the UK and the US

Agility, or the ability to avoid being tackled, needs to be practised.

Game-related activities are always a great option but, sometimes, you need to break down the skill to the basics and the best way to do this is ask your players to do a sidestep, a swerve or even a spin, in isolation.

Running around cones is the simplest way to test these skills but cones, however convenient, do have limited uses because they can be stepped over.

A flagpole cannot. Here are some tips for getting the most from flagpoles.

Pole to pole: Flag up the need for agility practice

Have an end point

If you ask your player to run to the flagpole and sidestep to the right, don’t let him stop there. Place a cone or even another flagpole that he must run to. Just as in a match, stepping into space is good but having the ability to sprint out of it is also important.

Maximum effort

If you wish players to run around several flagpoles, have the start and finish line at the same place. If you allow a player to simply run out and walk back, they will delay the progress of your session.

Make pole to pole competitive

Having set out a course of poles, set out a matching one next to it and ask two players of similar ability to race each other.

Also, if they touch the flagpole, it means they have not completed the skill correctly as you are working on an evasion skill.


Once you have decided where you wish to place the poles for the session, try leaning some of them to the left or the right.

In a race, the more agile children will bend at the knees, lower their body position and sprint back to you.

This is great training for taking the ball into contact, allows them to use their leg muscles to generate power and also works on evasion skills.

Star-shaped running base develops footwork skills

Use a star shape to help players develop footwork skills. A star has sharp corners, meaning turns are hard and players have to accelerate away from almost a standing start. Star shapes can be part of the warm-up in which players can perform a rugby-related exercise in a box and then run into the star, do some footwork movements and then run out again.

Pole to pole: Flag up the need for agility practice

Mark out a 5m square with a cone in the middle as pictured. Place a speed ladder 2m outside the box that will serve as the finishing point.

The player begins on the cone in the middle and runs out to touch all four corner cones, returning to the centre cone each time.

Next, the player runs out to the speed ladder and sprints through the ladder. Emphasise players taking two steps out to the corner cones, staying low and performing quick, explosive changes of direction.

The player can carry a ball to the first cone and back, put it down in the middle before running out and back to the next cone, picking up the ball and carrying it for the next leg and so on.

You can also have two players running at the same time, with one player a corner behind, aiming to catch up the other player.

They will have to avoid each other when touching the middle cone, meaning they will be looking up as well as running hard.

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