Testing Change of direction in football

As usual we start with elaborating on terminology in order to get a clear understanding.

Agility vs. Change of direction

From a sport science perspective there seems to be a debate about the definition of agility (15) - see references below and somehow for change of direction (COD) as well. “Quickness” and “cutting” are words that were also be found in the literature (1) with regard to agility and change of direction. Therefore we feel we need to define the two terms first before we go into testing.


The difference between the two was seen that change of direction (pre-planned and therefore a close-skill) was thought to be part of agility. Agility itself on the other hand incorporates perceptual and decision-making processes and can be seen as a response to a stimulus and therefore as an open skill (and not pre-planned) (4).

Why is that important?

Depending on the goal, testing and training (for agility) needs to incorporate the two mentioned things (perception and decision-making), or not (for COD).


Change of direction:

Brughelli et al. (4) elaborated on the qualities of change of direction. The factors were:

  1. Technique
  2. Straight sprinting speed
  3. Leg muscle qualities (reactive strength, concentric strength and power, left-right muscle imbalances)
  4. Anthropometry – only small body of research investigated the connection between anthropometry and COD, however it seems logical that players with higher lean leg muscle mass are more likely to be faster than players with higher amount of fat (10)


As it can be observed at least the first three components are very important and trainable and therefore important to test. 

  1. Technique - we feel that technique (foot planting during cutting, low center of gravity etc.) is important, however the testing is rather complicated, most of the time based on qualitative methods and therefore somewhat hard to accomplish.
  2. Straight line sprinting speed - sprinting is always needed in football. Although it was mentioned that COD and straight line speed seemed to be distinct qualities (5, 18), we feel that straight sprinting speed will affect COD performance.
  3. Leg muscle qualities  - might built the foundation of COD performance (and also injury prevention) (2, 3, 14). It would be expected that a player with good concentric strength and power can apply more force to the ground with each leg, accelerate faster and as a result is quicker.
  4. Anthropometry - should be tested anyway with regard to weight and body fat. It seems logical that with high percentage of lean leg muscle, COD should be better compared to lower percentage of lean leg muscle. However, there is no great deal of literature with regard to anthropometry and its effect on COD


Testing for change of direction

First we want to describe “common tests” and discuss their suitability for football.
Due to the amount and diversity of different COD tests, we pre-grouped them into

        A)    forward and cutting COD test
        B)    multi-movement/directional tests

A) Forward and cutting COD tests

  • Illinois agility test (6)
  • 505 (7)
  • Balsom agility test (1)
  • Three corner run (12)
  • Four line sprint (12, 17)
  • T-test (9)
  • Zig-Zag tests (10, 11)
  • 4 x 5 meter test (16)
  • Sprints with 90° test (16)
  • Sprint 9-3-6-3-9 meter with 180° turns or with backwards sprinting (16)

The tests outlined are similar (more or less) evaluating acceleration, deceleration and cutting ability. Differences between those tests are angle of cutting and distances to accelerate/decelerate.


However, the zig-zag tests also showed reliability when using/dribbling a football (meaning assessing dribbling agility). Therefore, those tests can/should be preferred. Additionally, comparisons with and without dribbling a ball are possible as well.


B) Multi-movement/directional tests

  • Box Drill Fitness Test
  • A new change of direction test for team sports (13)

The two multipurpose tests included different movements (like shuffle sideways, running backwards) besides acceleration and deceleration and therefore seemed to be more soccer specific. Especially the “New COD test for team sport” proposed by Rumpf et al. (13) seemed to incorporate many football specific movements.


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