Long absent from our pages, Coach Tom returns with some helpful tips for footballers of all ages:
Driving home last night, as the precipitation froze on the windshield of my heated car(!), my mind predictably drifted to warmer times – like playing soccer in the summer. And it got me thinking about warming up in general. When coaching little kids (under 10), a warm-up is really about trying to focus their tiny minds. Their bodies are so forgiving that they are years away from “Oh, I just pulled the crap out of my hammy!” These little Wolverines probably do pull muscles, but they heal as fast as they pull. I’ve called it the stem-cell-zipper-effect, but that hasn’t seemed to catch on.... I recommend about 10 minutes of warm-up – all of it with a ball. They can jog a lap or so, work on partner passing or dribbling skills, and then try a bit of shooting if there’s time. These kids are developing skills, so warm-up really should prepare them the practicality of play.
As kids get into the middle school years they do need a bit of stretching for their growing bodies. In this case, routine is still important for focus, too. For practice you might have two different warm-ups. Start with the light jog (again with a ball) but maybe two or three laps now. Maybe at each corner and the midfield they might pull a move or switch balls amongst themselves and sprint for 5 yards. The stretching at this level should make them aware of the parts of the body that need attention: Achilles/calf, hamstring, thigh, groin, hips, back, arms, neck. You can teach them the old way to do this with no real consequences or diminishment of performance; however, as they age you need to adapt to another form of stretching (see below). The final level is High School / Adult. Here stretching needs to be more dynamic. And that’s not just an adjective; it’s a real sports physiology term. Anyone over 30 knows that we were taught “static” stretching. (Ex. bend over and touch your toes; hold for 20 seconds.). Static stretching does accomplish something – it does elongate the muscles and make them more ready for play and less likely to suffer injury. But it also does something else, something no one ever told us about: it makes our muscles less effective.
That’s right. Numerous studies have shown that when you stretch statically you don’t jump as high, or change direction as fast, or kick as hard as if you had stretched dynamically. If you’ve ever watched Correspondent Ed stretch before a game you’d quickly understand two things: why he plays in such a compact, delicate manner, and why he owns stock in Advil. And while his hero, Cristiano Ronaldo, would never think of playing without 40 minutes of warm-up, the Boss Man farlieonfootie often forgets to put the car in “park” before jumping right into a groin-seizing game. Don’t be like them! So what is this dynamic stretching you say? It’s what you really want your pre-game/practice routine to be: moving and working your body like you will in a game, but more slowly and with less intensity. You can stretch your hamstrings by bending over and touching your toes or you can kick your leg in increasingly higher increments. The latter does more to help.
Lower body: Walk, hop/skip, jog, side strides, sprints (short distances). With a ball: roll ball with feet, juggle, short passes (partner or to space and then jog/sprint to collect), longer passes or shooting - build intensity. Work up to activity on your toes to get the Achilles involved too; plus it's good form for playing football in general - if you do all your warming up on your heels, you'll play on your heels and we have enough of that, thank you (West Ham, I'm talking to you).
Upper body: Slow crunches, slow pushups, neck rolls, pullups - with a ball you can lie fully back with ball in hands, then sit up, place ball between feet, lie back without ball, sit up and retrieve it and repeat. You can make a three point stance with two feet and the ball (both hands on the ball), walk your feet back until you feel your core stretching, walk back up, repeat. Throw-ins sitting, kneeling, and standing - lean as far back as your back allows.