How to warm up your players before a match

Why do our players need to warm up before a match?

Physically, effective warming up increases blood circulation to a player’s muscles, ligaments and tendons. This not only reduces the risk of injury, it improves the body’s efficiency and speed of reaction.

The increased blood flow to the muscles also helps the body remove unwanted by-products of anaerobic exercise (such as lactic acid) and thereby reduces the risk of post-exercise soreness.

Psychologically, warming up before training or a match puts players in the right frame of mind for the task to come. A well-designed warm-up routine will focus your players, remove distractions and help them to start matches quickly and positively.

How to warm your players up

Young children (up to the age of eight) hardly need to warm up at all – some jogging, swinging of the arms, twists of the hips or other movements to loosen up will suffice.

Most coaches of older players do try to warm up their players before kick off but I’ve seen many coaches use warm-up routines that are ineffective. I’ve even seen some warm-ups that are downright dangerous to young children.

How can a warm up be dangerous?

Asking players to start the warm-up with some static stretches – it’s important not to do any stretches before your players muscles are warm.

So if you are going to do some stretches (and don’t do any stretching exercises if you’re not sure how to do them properly) do some gentle jogging first.

Research has shown that static stretching can be detrimental to performance and doesn’t lead to decreases in injury. Dynamic stretching (stretching muscles while moving) is much better.

Examples of dynamic stretching

  • Lunge Walk – loosens up the hips. Lunge walk is when you take large steps keeping the chest up, looking straight ahead and moving the arms and legs together.
  • High Knees – for hip flexor and ankle strength. Extend up to the toes and lift each thigh to a parallel position with the ground as you move forward.
  • Calf Walk – for lower limb strength and Achilles flexibility. Extend the ankle on each step will warm up the calf muscles and Achilles tendons.
  • Sideways running – for lower limb strength, agility and flexibility.
  • Backwards skipping – same as above and works on strengthening quads and calf muscles.

Tip: Do not confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching! Dynamic stretching consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you (gently!) to the limits of your range of motion. Ballistic stretches involve trying to force a part of the body beyond its range of motion and can be harmful to children.

What’s next?

As soon as your players are warm, move on to some ball work. Don’t wait until they get cold again!

This is a warm-up I often use with my U9s:

To begin, every player dribbles a ball in the penalty area. I give a variety of instructions, including: Stop, turn left/right, change direction, accelerate and slow down. Then I ask them to dribble again until I say “leave the ball and get someone else’s”. This part of the warm-up gets them moving and thinking about playing football.

Then I move on to a game of Swedish Handball. The goalkeeper can join in or get an individual warm up from an assistant coach or a parent.

Goalkeeper warm-ups

Tip: Never line your players up in front of a goal so they can shoot one at a time. There shouldn’t be any players standing in lines before a game. They aren’t warming up for a trip to the cafeteria!

It’s now about 10 minutes to kick off.

Time for a quick drink and to announce the starting line-up.

You should have already decided on the starting line-up and have it written down. Try to stick to it. Remember that during the course of the season, all players should have the chance to: 1) play in different positions, 2) be captain, and 3) start and finish games. These things are important to your players.

It’s now five minutes to kick off.

Don’t bother with a long pep talk. Your players should know what they have to do and if they don’t, it’s too late to tell them now. Two minutes is ample time to tell them to go out and enjoy themselves.

It’s now time for your players to take the field and play!

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.