What is the purpose of the soccer warm-up? Why do we warm-up? How do we warm-up? The majority of coaches and players will perform some form of warm-up prior to training or competition but how often do we actually take the time to think about:
- What we need to do to warm-up appropriately
- Why we do what we are currently doing to warm-up, or
- How can the warm-up be conducted more effectively?
There are generally two key objectives to achieve with a warm-up:
- Prepare the players specifically for the training/competition to follow, both mentally and physically.
- Minimize the risk of injury.
Therefore, there are various key questions we must consider in each of these two areas in order to achieve the objectives outlined above:
- What specifically is it that we are preparing for? Does the warm-up change from competition to practice? Is the practice focus more physical or technical/tactical? What is required for my players to be successful in competition?
- What provides the greatest risk of injury to the players? What movements do the players perform, in which planes/directions and at what speeds?
Many of us understand the goals and principles, but then fail to apply appropriate strategies or activities that fully take into account what we are trying to achieve. For example, the same activities may be used regardless of whether the warm-up is prior to a speed & agility focused session, which requires a great deal of physical preparation, or a tactical training session, where the limiting factors may be more related to the mental and/or social skills of the athletes.
There has been a significant, and much needed, shift towards ‘movement prep’ warm-ups over recent years. Coaches are generally now more aware of the advantages of movement based warm-ups compared to the traditional ‘run a few laps of the pitch then static stretch’ warm-up. For most of us, this was the “standard” warm-up! However, to take these warm-ups to the next level, I believe we also need to consider the mental and social skills that need ‘warming-up’ prior to training or competition to maximize our young player’s development. This is particularly relevant when you consider that soccer speed all starts in the head!
Asking players to warm-up in small groups, challenging them to think and listen, communicate and react is a vital yet commonly overlooked strategy in many warm-ups. Integrating these elements into your warm-ups will often require little change to your current routines. Have the players mirror or shadow each other, use an ‘auckland grid’ style set-up to increase interaction between players or have the group respond to ‘simon says’ instructions. Keep it simple, keep it fun and keep it interactive. Help prepare the players fully for the training to follow and watch as they grow in confidence, social awareness and attitude.
Stay tuned for the next post which details a three stage progression for fun, effective soccer warm-ups.