To see a video on change of direction ability and an overview of the Jukes Movement Achievement Category, click here.

To be good at most sports, athletes have to be able to misdirect opponents and / or quickly react to a ball and execute a movement plan at high speed.  Whether cutting, juking, stopping and starting, or reacting to a flying ball in milliseconds – athletes often finding themselves needing to quickly process information and change directions at high speeds.

There are multiple terms that impact an athlete’s change of direction ability, and roughly follow this order of progression:

  • Acceleration ability
  • Lateral movement ability
  • Deceleration ability
  • Change of Direction Ability
  • Maneuverability
  • Agility

Acceleration Ability

Whether running linearly or re-accelerating after a stop or a cut, athletes must be able to accelerate effectively to maximize their game-speed potential.  The basics of acceleration – trunk lean, and pushing the ground away with a stable core – apply to almost all sports activities, and is typically learned first, as it has the most benefit across all areas of ground-based sports movement.

Lateral Movement Ability

When running and dribbling, most movement is linear.  That is, an athlete is usually moving forward.  Sometimes, athletes need to be able to move laterally (side-to-side).  Our side shuffle, sideways high knees, and karaoke warmup activities are designed to help acquaint athletes with lateral movement.  The first stage in progression for lateral movement is for an athlete to learn how to organize their body to move laterally, by stabilizing their core / back in a similar manner to any other load-bearing position, and move the hips in a way which propels their body side-to-side.

A lot of changes of direction involve cutting and angled running.  Those types of moves depend on a functional ability to move laterally, which we develop in controlled activities that can be built on effectively to promote higher speeds, which can allow athletes to misdirect other players in-game.

Deceleration Ability

When building towards effective cutting, juking and other misdirection movements; the first stage involves athletes learning how to stop going in the direction they are going.  In order to change direction, you first have to stop going in one direction, and then go in the other. When mastered, change of direction appears effortless, and looks like a smooth transition from one direction to another in a small amount of time.  Whether stopping outright (and often getting a defender to fall down), or cutting, athletes must master deceleration in order to be effective.

Deceleration involves absorbing lots of force – the bodyweight of the athlete times their momentum gained at speed.  Even for younger athletes, this can be hundreds of pounds of force.  One of the main reasons athletes can appear slow in a game, is because they have to take many steps to slowly absorb their momentum, often running around a ball or in large circles around defenders, because their brains know they can’t expose their limbs to all the force required to stop on a dime, or it would be dangerous. We train athletes the correct form for deceleration in multiple directions to get them prepared for higher resistances through either direct resistance training or higher speed movements.

Change of Direction Ability

“Change of Direction” is a phrase that refers to movements where direction is changed smoothly from one to another.  It involves the phases of deceleration, and then re-acceleration, and typically involves re-acceleration in a lateral direction.  The ability to combine deceleration, lateral movement, and acceleration together in multiple combinations is broadly referred to as “change of direction ability”.

We expose athletes to some very basic movement options for changing directions: a simple lateral cut, and a hard stop.  Hard cuts and stops are effective in sports at all levels, and are the foundational movement patterns for many technical dribbling and other movement skills that are designed to misdirect opposing players and lead to scoring opportunities or key defensive stands.


Almost all of the “agility” training and testing you will see is actually either change of direction or maneuverability training and testing.  Manueverability refers to an athlete’s ability to choose from an assortment of movement options to move linearly, laterally, and to change direction in order to navigate around obstacles – with no time constraint.  Because most training scenarios involve pre-set obstacles, athletes can take a long amount of time to plan their movement strategy ahead of time.  “Agility” tests (Illinois, 3-cone, Pro Agility, T-Test,  etc.) are well-structured and known in-advance, allowing athletes potentially unlimited time to “study” and plan for their approach.  However, the ability to – given any amount of time – select a movement plan and execute it skillfully at high speed is a foundational skillset that helps expand the range of options available to athletes in-terms of pre-planned movement solutions to more chaotic game scenarios.

We expose athletes to maneuverability challenges throughout Speed School and include Illinois Agility Test results as part of our array of tests athletes can improve upon to show growth in all of the above areas, including maneuverability.


Agility includes all of the above, and also – importantly- the perceptive / cognitive ability to quickly scan a complex environment and both formulate and execute movement strategies to effectively overcome their environment’s challenges.  Athletes that possess true agility have high “game IQs”: they know the rules of the game and the tendencies of specific players and general tendencies of positions by heart.  Agile athletes draw from significant game experience to predetermine what is likely to happen before it happens in order to execute movements sooner.  Additionally, agile athletes have a wide array of movement options for all directions, and have the ability to absorb high forces to quickly change directions and perform movements faster and farther than competitors.

Skills like “quick feet” or “quick hands” aren’t what improves athletic performance the most.  We have probably all seen Scooby Doo’s blazing fast flurry of feet take him literally nowhere in the cartoons.  I would take an athlete who can broad jump over an entire agility ladder in a single movement and get to then end one second later over one who can set their feet on the ground lightning fast over and over through the ladder, taking them 10 seconds to get through it all.  Explosive movement is king, and involves high rates of force development and management of massive forces. Agility requires athletes to develop sound and powerful  fundamental movement skills, and draw from those options quickly and dynamically.

At Thunderbolts Speed School, we cannot directly improve an athlete’s true agility.  We believe they will improve agility through a combination of sound movement, high rates of force development in those movements, and putting it all together by playing actual games in their sport.  We augment team sports by teaching the movement fundamentals and helping athletes to organize their bodies well, so that the practice they do outside of Speed School actually does “make perfect” rather than make them hurt, slow and tired.

The “Jukes LV I” movement achievement category is designed as an introduction to lateral movement and change of direction ability, with a bit of maneuverability to help tie it all together.  It consists of the following movement achievements:

  • Skaters for distance
  • Side Lunge Med-Ball Sweep
  • Illinois Agility Test PR
  • Pro Agility Test PR (since we only do this once, we look for an improvement in the same session, which almost always happens)