The t-test is a popular way to measure athletes ability to change direction forwards, backwards and side to side. In this article, we’re going to cover what the t-test is and how the test can be conducted. We’ll also provide some normative data on athletes who compete at different levels and sports to help guide you in interpreting your athlete’s score.
What is the t-test?
The t-test requires athletes to sprint forwards 10 yards, shuffle to the left 5 yards, then shuffle to the right 10 yards, then shuffle back to the left 5 yards and then run backwards to return to the start/finish line. This process can then be repeated but the athlete should shuffle to the right first.
Important sport science note:
When an athlete undertakes the t-test, they know exactly what to expect and all movements during the test are pre-planned. This means that despite the popular belief that the t-test is a measure of agility, it is in fact a measure of an athletes ability to change direction at speed.
The test can also double up as a chance to assess athletes movement patterns and technical skill given the test requires athletes to change direction four times, move in multiple directions and move in different ways.
Note: The difference between agility and change of direction
- Agility – “a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus.”
- Change of direction – “a rapid whole-body movement with a pre-planned change of velocity or direction.”
The t-test is a useful test for sports that require multiple changes of direction (football, hockey, basketball, etc). The athlete that can change direction the fastest or move efficiently is likely to provide their team with a physical and tactical advantage over their opponent.
How to administer the agility t-test
To perform the agility t-test, you will need:
- 20 yards x 20 yards testing area
- Stopwatch or one set of timing gates
- 4 cones
- Measuring tape
- Recording sheet
- Test administrator
Set up for the agility t-test:
- Set the cones up as shown in the image below (cones are indicated by the orange circles). If you have access to timing gates, place one channel of the timing gates on either side of cone A.
- Please note that 5 yards = 4.57m and 10 yards = 9.14m.
Procedure for the agility t-test
- Ensure the athlete completes a standardised warm-up that prepares them for the test they are about to undertake. The athlete should then be provided the opportunity to practice the test at a submaximal intensity to ensure that they are familiar with the test.
- The athlete will start the test at cone A.
- The test administrator will stand in line with cone A and will count “three, two one go”. On “go” the athlete must accelerate forwards 10 yards to cone B (note, if you are using timing games, the time starts when the athlete runs through them at cone A) and touch the cone with their right hand.
- Once the athlete reaches cone B, they will then shuffle left 5 yards to cone C and touch it with their left hand, they will then shuffle 10 yards to the right to cone D and touch it with their right hand, then they will shuffle to the left back to cone B and touch it with their left hand and then run backwards past cone A. Please note that when the athlete shuffles, they must face forwards and shouldn’t cross one foot in front of the other.
- The time is stopped once the athlete passes cone A / goes through the timing gates.
- The athlete will complete the test twice turning to the left first and twice turning to the right first. They may have 2 minutes rest in between each test. The best time of the two trials in each direction should be recorded to the nearest 0.01 second.
- The athlete should be disqualified if:
- They don’t touch the cone.
- They cross one foot in front of the other instead of shuffling.
- They don’t face forwards for the whole test.
Our top tip for 1st-time testers:
A common mistake we see from 1st-time testers when undertaking the test using speed gates is setting the timing gates off too early with their arms or legs, which produces a slower time. Our top tip for 1st-time testers is to practice the test multiple times making sure your torso/center of mass passes through the gate first – becoming more familiar with the test also typically reduces this error.
How long does the agility t-test take?
The t-test only takes a couple of minutes to set up, most of your time is likely to be spent measuring distances to ensure you place cones the correct distances apart.
Only one athlete can perform the test at any one time – It will take them approximately 8-13 seconds for them to complete one attempt of the t-test. This is longer than most other change of direction tests with the 505 test taking up to 3 seconds to complete and the pro agility test taking up to 6 seconds to complete.
It is recommended that each athlete undertakes the test twice turning to the left first and twice turning to the right first, with a couple of minutes rest in between each attempt. It may therefore take approximately 10-12 minutes in total for an athlete to complete the full test.
If you are working with a team, this will take longer and may be time-consuming. To speed this process up, a team can be placed in order or in a “queue.” Once an athlete attempts their trial, they should then join the back of the queue and recover whilst their teammates take their attempt. By the time the athlete gets to the front of the queue again, they should have had enough recovery time to then undertake their next trial.
Creating reliable and valid data for the agility t-test
When it comes to maximising the reliability and validity of the test, there are several factors that must be considered. These considerations include:
Normative data for the agility t-test
Now that we have an athlete’s t-test time, we can compare their time to normative times to help us to interpret their time. In the table below, we have data on how long takes for athletes to complete the t-test. Times vary depending on what sport they play, the level they play at and their gender so when comparing your data, take these factors into consideration.
What are good t-test agility test results?
We can see from the table above that athletes who compete at a higher level (NCAA, national, college) typically complete the t-test in a faster time than those that play at a recreational level. This indicates that a good test result for high-level athletes is 9 seconds for men and 10 seconds for women whereas a good test result for recreational athletes is 10 seconds for men and 11 seconds for women.
It is useful to note that the published data suggests increased T-test performance is associated with higher levels of team sport performance. This provides us with a strong rationale to use this test with such athletes.
We can also use the table below which is constructed by Hoffman (2006) to help interpret what a good time is for our athletes. The table outlines what he considers an excellent, good, average and poor time to complete the t-test for adults competing in team sports.
Alternatives to the agility t-test
There are a number of other tests you can use to measure change of direction, including the 5-0-5 test, the pro agility (5-10-5) test and the Illinois agility test. However, these test a different type of change of direction ability and are underpinned by slightly different physical requirements, which can be seen in the table below.
Consider which of these physical requirements are important within your sport, and this will help to determine which test or tests is most appropriate for your athletes and sport.
Summary & next steps
We’ve found that the t-test is a great way to measure change of direction when working with fields sports such as football and rugby. It doesn’t take long to set up and provides us with data that we can use to compare athletes times to normative values. It’s also a great way to screen athletes movement patterns and technical skill when sprinting forwards, shuffling side to side and running backwards.
For more on other tests to measure change of direction, check out our articles on the 5-0-5 agility test and the pro agility test.
- Haff & Triplett (2015) – Essentials of strength training and conditioning 4th edition.
- Hoffman. (2006) – Norms for fitness, performance, and health.
- Nimphius et al (2017) – Change of direction and agility tests: challenging our current measures of performance.
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
Shaw, W (2021). T-Test Agility Drill: How to Perform & Measure. Available from: https://sportscienceinsider.com/t-test-agility-drill/ [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].
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Will is a sport scientist and golf professional who specialises in motor control and motor learning. Will lecturers part-time in motor control and biomechanics, runs Golf Insider UK and consults elite athletes who are interested in optimising their training and performance.