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Use an Agility Ladder To Improve Your Ball Control

Using targets is a great way to focus your attention. Using a physical target that forces success or failure can be both helpful and frustrating, and should be used with caution. Let's look at one such target.

21 December 2022 / 4-Min Read

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I want to start by reiterating the point in the introduction. Not everybody will enjoy or benefit from using this type of target. I plan to write more about targets in the future and show you some of the targets I used when coaching, but this article is just about the agility ladder. So, let's be sure you know what an agility ladder is!

A narrow view of men using an agility ladder on a grass field

So many sports use agility ladders, so they must work, right?

An agility ladder is a piece of equipment that looks like a ladder. It's made from a variety of materials, but mostly plastic crossbars and some form of rope or cord. It's quite inexpensive (I bought mine for about 10 Euros), is easy to carry and can be used on almost any surface. As the name implies, the equipment is used to train an athlete's agility by making them jumping in and out of each square in the ladder.

There are hundreds of combinations and variations of movements and it seems that each sport has their preferred combinations. I sued to love using the ladder, but alas with my new hips I can't anymore. But you can, in fact, you should. A few days ago I wrote about Starting your own training squad and in that article I mentioned budgeting for equipment - this is one piece of equipment your training squad should have. The internet is full of videos and articles showing you how to use one for your fitness.

To my knowledge, this is the first article about using an agility ladder as a skill acquisition device. The squares of the ladder make perfect targets when placed on the floor (and even the wall) but because there is little room for error, it can be frustrating to use. Enough intro, let's get started with the drills.

Vertical Positioning

The first way to use the ladder is to place it on the floor running parallel to a side wall. You can put it close to the side wall if you want to but I would advise starting away from the wall. The distance from the front wall depends on your skill level: the better you are, the further away you can place it. I suggest placing it two racket lengths away from the front wall - at least to start with. If that's easy (it won't be) move it further back.

Then take a red dot ball (yes, even if you normally play with a double yellow - trust me) and hit the ball against the front wall so that it bounces in the first square of the ladder. You will need to start to the side of the ladder, so that you either hit forehand or backhand shots.

Continue to hit each shot in the next square of the ladder until you have reach the end. Reading this you probably think it sounds not too difficult, but you are wrong. It is much harder than that. Because it is a physical target, if the ball hits the ladder, you have to stop because the ball bounces in a strange direction. That's why I say it's frustrating.

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It's at this point that you have to adjust your expectations. Instead of trying to hit each shot in each consecutive square without any mistakes, accept that hitting the ball in each square one at a time is enough, even if some shots go outside of the ladder or land in previous/next squares. Don't forget to play the other hand shots, so if you did forehand, do the backhand or vice versa.

Horizontal Positioning

As you have already guessed, the horizontal positioning requires that you place the ladder parallel to the front wall instead of the side wall. As with the vertical positioning, place the ladder about two racket lengths away from the front wall to start with. The further back the ladder is from the front wall, the more difficult the drill is.

The vertical drill required adjustment to height and speed to get the ball into each square, whereas the horizontal positioning requires adjustment to the angle of shot, either moving away from you or toward you. Most people find this drill a little easier than the vertical one because it's easy to hit at the same heigh t and speed than to constantly adjust those elements.

Diagonal Positioning

Feeling confident? Well, time to try the diagonal positioning. Start by placing one end of the ladder two racket lengths away from both the side wall and front wall, and then put the other end pointing towards the opposite back corner.

This drill requires you to constantly adjust the angle, height and speed of each shot. I have never performed this drill with a pro, but I would be curious to see how successful they are. If you are a professional squash player reading this, please video yourself doing it and post it on social media for us all to see your skill!

Don't forget to palce the ladder on the other side of the court to do the same drill. It can be hard moving around the ladder in this drill and you should adjust the position and angle of the ladder to suit your needs. I suggested starting in the corner, but it is often easier to have the ladder creating a triangle with the front and side wall.

Solo Versus Pair Work

These simple drills can be performed alone or with a partner. If you do them alone, you can set a time, say 3 minutes and do each drill for that long, or if you are really focused, then you could say the drill stops when you have gone from one end of the ladder AND BACK! I don't recommend this though as it can be quite demoralising.

If you do these drills as a pair, you have a number of options. For example, each player hits alternate shots and either has to hit the same or different squares each time. I'll try to make an update video showing these options.

Another option is to use two ladders and make it a race or competition between each player. Set the rules and make sure that the players can perform the drill under zero pressure before you try this though.

Alternative To Traditional Agility Ladders

Somewhere in the basement, I have a long red ribbon and a glue gun. It was much intention to make a very lightweight version of the agility ladder specifically for these types of drills. Hitting the ribbon would allow the drill to continue, but you could also create different shapes instead of the simple ladder. When I make time, I will find them and make a video.

Benefits Of This Drill

These drills focus your mind on accuracy, not power. You need to have very fine ball control to do them. They are definitely NOT for beginners, and most club players will struggle to do one complete set without mistakes. You need to view these drills as a long-term process. When you first start, it's very hard, but if you do them every few weeks for 6 months, you will definitely see an improvement in your ball control.

That improvement will be evident in your competitive matches as you develop the ability to move the ball and therefore your opponent around the court.

Final Thoughts

you should own and use an agility ladder purely for the fitness benefits, but why not also use it as a skill device too?

As I have tried to stress though, it's not easy to use and you may not enjoy it, in which case, don't use it for ball control. Honestly, this is not some reverse psychology trick to get you to use it. It really doesn't suit everybody's mindset. Just try it and see if you enjoy it.

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