Most youth football coaches understand the importance of warming up their players before a coaching session or a match.
An effective warm-up reduces the risk of injury by increasing core temperature (that’s why it’s called “warming up”), improving the flow of oxygen to muscles and thereby making muscles and joints more supple.
A warm-up also prepares players mentally for the game ahead by helping them to focus on football and forget about outside distractions.
And almost every team has some sort of warm-up routine – although some consist of little more than a couple of laps of the pitch followed by outfield players trying to knock their keeper into the back of the net!
Cool downs are another matter.
While many coaches understand that players should cool down after playing football, very few youth coaches have any sort of cool-down routine.
That’s a shame. Cool downs don’t take long and they strengthen your players’ cardiovascular system by gradually lowering their heart rate rather than let it drop suddenly as soon as the coaching session or match finishes.
A good cool-down also reduces the likelihood of Delayed Muscle Soreness (the stiffness and dull aching felt one to two days after exercise) by removing lactic acid and other by-products of exercise.
And cool downs are a good opportunity for reflecting on the match or coaching session and praising players for their hard work.
Who should cool down?
Even very young players should spend a few minutes cooling down and as players get older and less flexible, the cool down becomes even more important. By the time players are U11s or U12s, the cool-down should be as much a part of their pre-game routine as the warm-up.
How to cool down
A good cool-down typically consists of a light jog followed by gentle, static stretching of the main muscles.
It’s also important to take the opportunity to rehydrate and replace lost carbohydrates with a sports drink.
But I thought dynamic stretching was better than static?
Static stretching consists of stretching a muscle (or group of muscles) to its farthest point and then maintaining or holding that position. This helps realign muscle fibres and thereby speed recovery after exercise.
Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. Basically, it’s stretching while moving.
Dynamic stretching is used in warm-ups because it helps to increase muscle temperature and flexibility.
An example cool-down routine
1. A couple of minutes slow jogging.
2. Two players share one ball. One player gets behind their partner. The leading player walks and the player behind pushes the ball between their partner’s legs as they walk. The ball is stopped by the leading player and the action repeated. Go a few yards then switch the players round.
3. Perform static stretches in a circle. Work up from the bottom, i.e. ankles/Achilles, hamstrings, quads right up to shoulders and neck. Hold stretches for a few seconds.
- Improves your players’ fitness.
- Reduces the likelihood of injuries.
- Is a very good habit to get into!
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