Examination of agility performances of soccer players according to their playing positions

Submitted by Dr. Kemal Goral*

1* Department of Coaching Education , Mugla Sitki Kocman University, School of Physical Education and Sport, Mugla, Turkey, 48000

Dr. Kemal Goral is in the Department of Coaching Education at the Mugla Sitki Kocman University School of Physical Education and Sport, Turkey. He is also Mugla Sitki Kocman University Futsal Team coach.

ABSTRACT
The aim of this study was to examine of agility performances according to soccer players’ playing positions. Sixty-eight soccer players (age: 23.76±2.79 years; height: 178.09±4.80 cm; body weight: 74.15±4.39 kg; body mass index: 23.37±0.85) were tested for agility performance using the Illinois agility test and Agility-T test after warm up completion. The players were divided into 4 subgroups (goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and strikers) according to their self-reported best position on the field. The analysis of the data obtained from the study was saved in SPSS version 16.0. First, the means and standard deviations were calculated for all variables. Then, the differences between soccer players from different groups were examined by One-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). The Tukey HSD test procedures were used to determine where differences existed. The level of significance was set at p0.05). The statistical analysis revealed that the Illinois agility test was significantly lower in the midfielders compared with the goalkeepers (p<0.05) and strikers (p<0.05). Also, there is no difference between goalkeepers and defenders (p>0.05). According to the results of The Agility T-test, midfielders were found to be significantly faster than the goalkeepers (p<0.05), but no difference were detected between other positions (p>0.05). In this study, the midfielders had the fastest agility values. Goalkeepers are slower than the other players’ positions. In regard to the conclusion of this study, to measure and report the agility performances of players at regular intervals can provide significant benefits in the process of training to improve the performance levels of athletes playing in different positions.

Key words: Soccer, Agility, Performance, Playing Position.

INTRODUCTION
Soccer is the world’s most popular form of sport, being played in every nation without exception (26). The modern game of soccer seems to be all about speed and power. Today’s players are faster and sharper than ever (10). Elite soccer is a complex sport and performance depends on a number of factors, such as physical fitness, psychological factors, player technique and team tactics (3).

Soccer is a game which requires very fast body movement which is determined by situations within the competition such as opposing team’s player with and without the ball, ball movement and teammate movement. Because of these reasons, modern soccer game is characterized by fast movements, which become prominent in short and long sprints, explosive reactions (jump) and quick changes of direction (16). High-speed actions are known to impact soccer performance and can be categorized into actions requiring maximal speed, acceleration or agility (23).

Agility is the player’s capability to perform rapid whole body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus (4). A new definition of agility is proposed as a rapid whole body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus. Agility has relationships with trainable physical qualities such as strength, power and technique, as well as cognitive components such as visual scanning techniques, visual scanning speed and anticipation (29). Good agility requires a combination of speed, balance, power and coordination. Agility, which is a motoric ability, can be improved by regular progressive exercise. As an important component, agility is used to be an acceptable method in sports performance test batteries (18).

Agility is one of the main determinants of performance in soccer. It can be successfully developed if the training is based on the changes of direction, which are done quickly and easily. By working on agility and improving the balance and coordination, soccer players will be able to move faster and change directions more quickly while maintaining control (30). Davies, (2005) explained that some qualities of a soccer player making him better players are the ability to quickly change direction, fast acceleration over 10-15 yards, quickness of feet or agility, speed in possession of the ball, the ability to execute skills quickly.

Agility performance is an important component of physiological assessment in soccer. The results from such evaluations should be used in conjunction with data from single sprints to provide an overall indication of a player’s ability to sprint and change direction rapidly. Assessment of agility is easy to administer and could be performed in conjunction with sprint tests throughout the season following periods of specific sprint training (32). In previous studies by researches; although there are many studies that examine the agility performances of soccer players, the number of studies that evaluated agility characteristics of soccer players according to their position is rather limited. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the agility performances according to soccer players’ playing positions.

METHODS
Participants: The sample consisted of 68 volunteer soccer players (goalkeeper (n=9), defender (n=22), midfielder (n=22) and striker (n=15)) from collegian students. These players were on average 23.76±2.79 years of age and possessed 7.91±2.31 years of experience in sport.

Procedure: Sixty-eight soccer players were tested for agility performance using the Illinois agility test and Agility-T test after warm up completion in competition period and rest days. The players were divided into 4 subgroups (goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, and strikers) in terms of their self-reported best position on the field. All measurements took place under laboratory conditions. The weight (kg) was measured by means of an electronic scale with a precision of 0.1 kg, height (cm) was measured with a digital length gauge tool with a precision of 0.01 cm. Body Mass Index (BMI) was calculated by body weight (kg) / height (m2) formula.

Agility Tests: The Illinois agility test (Amiri-Khorasani, Sahebozamani, Tabrizi and Yusof, 2010; Bloomfield, Polman, O’Donoghue and McNaughton, 2007; Hazir, Mahir and Acikada, 2010; Katis and Kellis, 2009; Kilding, Tunstall and Kuzmic, 2008; Vaczi, Tollar, Meszler, Juhasz and Karsai, 2013; Vescovi, Rupf, Brown and Marques, 2011) and Agility T-test (Miller, Kieffer, Kemp and Torres, 2011; Sporis, Jukic, Milanovic and Vucetic, 2010; Vaczi et al., 2013) is commonly used in measuring agility in soccer players. Illinois and Agility T test tests are used in this study for measuring the agility of soccer players.

Figure 1: Illinois agility test
Figure1

Figure 2: Agility-T Test
Figure2

Illinois agility test: The length of the field is 10m, while the width (distance between the start and finish points) is 5m. Four cones were placed in the center of the testing area at a distance of 3.3m from one another. Four cones were used to mark the start, finish and two turning points. The subjects started the test lying face down, with their hands at shoulder level. The trial started on the “go” command, and the subjects began to run as fast as possible. The trial was completed when the players crossed the finish line without having knocked any cones over. Three trials were performed by every subject with the best score used for analysis (2, 9, 20).

Agility T-test: The subjects start from the standing point at cone A, and they are asked to run in a straight line to cone B. Then, they slide to cone C which is the left side. After touching cone C, they slide to the right and touch cone D. Finally, they run again to the left, touch cone B, and run backward to the start position. Three trials were performed by every subject with the best score recorded for analysis (15, 25, 27).

Statistical analysis
The analysis of the data obtained from the study was saved in SPSS version 16.0. First, the means and standard deviations were calculated for all variables. Then, the differences between soccer players from different groups were examined by One-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). The Tukey HSD test procedures were used to determine where differences existed. The level of significance was set at p<0.05.

RESULTS
The aim of this study was to examine the agility performances according to soccer players’ playing positions. In this study, tests and measurements were applied to 68 soccer players in total. All values were examined statistically and were presented in the tables.

The overall mean height and weight of the subjects were 178.09±4.80 cm and 74.15±4.39 kg, respectively, with a mean body mass index of 23.37±0.85. The ANOVA revealed that the goalkeepers were taller and heavier compared with the defenders, midfielders and strikers (p<0.01). In terms of body mass index values, no difference were detected between positions (p>0.05). The parameters of the agility performance are presented in Table 2 and 3. The statistical analysis revealed that the Illinois agility test was significantly lower in the midfielders compared with the goalkeepers and strikers (p<0.05). Also, there is no difference between goalkeepers and defenders (p>0.05). According to the results of the Agility T-test, midfielders were found to be significantly faster than the goalkeepers (p<0.05), but no difference were detected between other positions (p>0.05).

DISCUSSION
The results of this study show that there were significant positional differences in anthropometry such as weight and height. Specifically, goalkeepers (81.67 kg, 185.22 cm) were the heaviest and tallest players, and midfielders (71.73 kg, 175.32 cm) were the lightest and shortest (p<0.01). In terms of body mass index values of soccer players, no difference were detected between positions (p>0.05).

In this study, as well as many earlier studies, similar results have been demonstrated. Goalkeepers were heavier and taller than defenders, forwards, and midfielders in the previous studies (3, 6, 8, 11, 34). According to the Goral, Saygin, Babayigit Irez (2012) and Sporis, Milanovic, Trajkovic, Joksimovic (2011) goalkeepers were the heaviest and tallest players, and midfielders were the lightest and shortest. According to results of the study of Lago-Penas, Casais, Dellal, Rey and Dominguez (2011) central defenders were the tallest players, and they were also the heaviest compared to external defenders, central midfielders, external midfielders, and forwards. This difference was not statistically significant in the case of central defenders vs. goalkeepers. The weight of the goalkeepers was higher than that of the external defenders and external midfielders.

The major finding of this study is that anthropometric characteristics of soccer players differed according to the playing positions, especially for goalkeepers (the tallest and heaviest) and for the midfielders (lightest and shortest). Finally, the findings of the study show similarities with findings in literature that investigated soccer players’ characteristics according to the playing positions.

Earlier studies by researchers, although there are many studies (Alves, Rebelo, Abrantes and Sampaio, 2010; Amiri-Khorasani et al., 2010; Bloomfield et al, 2007; Hazir et al., 2010; Jakovljevic, Karalejic, Pajic, Gardasevic, and Mandic, 2011; Kilding et al., 2008; Kapidzic, Pojskic, Muratovic, Uzicanin, and Bilalic, 2011; Kaplan, Erkmen and Taskin, 2009; Katis et al., 2009; Kutlu, Yapici, Yoncalik, and Celik, 2012; Shahidi, Mahmoudlu, Panah Kandi, and Lotfi, 2012; Sporis et al., 2010; Taheri, Nikseresh, and Khoshnam, 2014; Thomas, French, and Hayes, 2009; Vaczi et al., 2013) about the agility performance characteristics of soccer players and athletes involved in different branches, number of studies that evaluated agility characteristics of the players according to their position is rather limited.

In soccer, players have to make rapid changes in direction in response to a moving ball or opponent. These changes of direction movements are often referred to as agility (38). Moreover, measuring agility could be more specific in the evaluation of the physical status of soccer players, as acceleration and deceleration, sudden stops and direction changes occur frequently during games (36). As in many studies conducted previously, Illinois and Agility-T tests are used in this study for measuring the agility performances of soccer players with regard to their playing positions.

In this study, the statistical analysis revealed that the Illinois agility test was significantly lower in the midfielders compared with the goalkeepers (p<0.05) and strikers (p<0.05). Also, there is no difference between goalkeeper and defender (p>0.05). Based upon the Agility T-test results, only midfielders were found to be significantly faster than goalkeepers (p<0.05). No difference could be identified between players in other positions (p>0.05).

A study conducted by Brahim, Bougatfa and Mohamed (2013) shows that midfielders have the fastest agility values. According to Boone, Vaeyens, Steyaert, Vanden Bossche and Bourgois (2012), the strikers were significantly faster than goalkeepers, defenders and midfielders. In another study, (11) it was found that forwards were the fastest group and goalkeepers are the slowest. Sporis et al., (2010) suggested that there were the significant differences were determined between the attackers and defenders in 2 agility tests (p<0.05). The differences were in favor of the midfielders. Davies (2005) stated that players spend the vast majority of a game without possession of the ball. When they do receive the ball it’s important the make the very most of it. Training should help to increase speed and agility with and without the ball.

The other concept represents agility development with relatively open skills, where fast changes of direction of movement are executed in training conditions, which are not structured so much and therefore are similar to the match conditions. This implies that agility development in sport games is very important for the optimization of sport preparation of players. Coaches in training should focus on the training means carried out in the development of the speed-strength potential in anaerobic regime, where adaptation begins also as a result of these means executed in maximal as well as submaximal zone of intensity of loading (14). Agility, which is a required characteristic in most of the sports activities, is a quality that successful athletes should have. While administering the sports performance test batteries to enhance sports performance both the exercise to improve agility and to develop dynamic balance that support agility has importance (18). Speed and quickness separates the outstanding players from the average. As you progress to a higher and higher standard the speed of the game will increase. To excel you must be a quick player (10).

CONCLUSION
The results of this study show that there were significant positional differences in anthropometry such as weight and height. Specifically, goalkeepers were the heaviest and tallest players, and midfielders were the lightest and shortest. In this study, the midfielders had the fastest agility values. Goalkeepers were slower than the other players’ positions.
Agility has a very exclusive importance in soccer players because of a great number rapid of direction change situations that demand multiple rapid change of direction in the relatively small space of the field. In regard to the conclusion of this study, to measure and report the agility performances of players at regular intervals can provide significant benefits in the process of training to improve the performance levels of athletes playing in different positions.

APPLICATIONS IN SPORT
Agility is one of the main determinants of performance in sports branches such as soccer. Soccer players can bring their agility characteristics to higher levels of performance by working with private drills. On the other hand, coaches should evaluate their athletes’ agility performances through agility tests commonly used for soccer players. Particularly, in order to improve the match performances of the players, trainings on agility should be done. Finally, the number of researches should be increased examining agility features according to players’ position on agility characteristics that have a great importance in terms of competition performance.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
As author of this study, would like to thank the coaches and athletes for the support to carry out this work. On the other hand, this study was performed without research funding.

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