Warm Ups in Football
PRE MATCH/GAME/SESSION ACTIVITY
“We must warm up!”
Warming up is often the first thought in coach’s minds. Planning as well. Planning usually forms 4-5 sections. Its regimental.
Planning templates usually lay out a warm up, technical introduction to the session, main body x 2, progressions and then a warm/ cool down with space for listing outcomes and evaluation (sometimes).
Since I started coaching I have had a fundamental issue with planning. listing outcomes is what the coach who is sat mostly alone when planning comes up with. There are no players (the customers) involved in the planning usually. The planning is all done away from players. Away from any player input. They simply aren’t involved and have no clue what the session entails until they arrive. How is this good planning? a builder plans without consultation, the house isn’t right. Its then changed from the original. The same with football.
Planning therefore should be an on-going process that players are involved in. the younger the players are involved in their own session programme then better. Maybe write it down but surely if we are to create a culture of player ownership then the pieces are paper are just that. Also, the reason many people plan is to create a catalogue of historical sessions, to sell maybe, to publish. Many plans are never returned to. How many coaches have given a plan to a child and asked them to take it home and add/ change etc?
It’s the same in schools. Planning is a major part of a teaching job. Why? So supervisors can justify to others what the lessons have involved. They rarely go and look at actual learning, just what theyre supposed to be learning. Again not developmental at all.
Trust is another major issue. People make people plan as they want to see whats being delivered. Not trusting them to be creative or come up with spontaneous ideas but to have and stick to a format. Again, not enhancing learning.
It’s an industrial, straight lined, factory floor way of thinking. Another word for it is manufactured.
Footballers cannot be manufactured. There are too many variables. Everyone plays differently, runs differently and so on. I believe people are looking for the perfect typing rather than have imperfect genius/ talent.
Bringing this back to warming up.
Children aged 5 go to primary school. Some walk to school, some scooter or cycle and some go in a car. Which one has ‘warmed up?’ is warming up actually relevant to anything we do? Or is it just a phrase that’s been over used and industrialised.
Pirlo recently quoted warming up to be something a coach uses to justify being there on the pitch before a game to make himself look good. He has a point.
Young children playing out. Some might ride a bike, play with a ball, jump/ climb walls and trees even climbing and sliding are forms of exercise. Have you ever seen a young person warm up before doing any of the afore mentioned activities? The answer is no!
A child of 7 plays out with friends, rides a bike for 20 minutes and then goes training and is told to warm up. A ridiculous idea. I have also never seen a young person pull a muscle riding their bike or climbing a wall. They therefore don’t need to waste time warming up, running laps and widths and stretching before playing football. Its wasting valuable game and practice time.
Many people also mix up warming up with the relevance of having a ball each. This again isn’t warming up, its improving skills required in the game. I have also never seen a professional footballer or a child for that matter replicate any static stretch to control a ball in a game or make a tackle etc. its not real to the game.
Psychologically as well a warm up becomes something players don’t want to do. Children ask to have a match. The reason is they know their own mind. Therefore as they turn up, put them straight into a game. 1v1, 2v1, 2v2, and so on until they are all there at the session. Once you get to 3v3 or 4v4 set up another pitch. They will soon set this up themselves as it will become a habit. This is also good mental preparation for playing an actual match. Each player will have their own mental preparation routine. You might not know this but they will. Don’t coach them in this period – let them play and let them socialise. They are actually ‘warming up’ anyway if you want to look into research reasons for doing so and believe them.
How many coaches then ask the kids, “from those games, what do we need to practice to improve our game?” each answer will be different. Then again as part of mental and technical preparation, they can go and practice the thing they’ve just mentioned. Groups may form or individuals may go practice. Let them go and set up their own practices, however young. They are now responsible for their own learning and developing their own self coaching skills.
So, the warm up has turned into a session without the kids knowing, without the coach planning and with lots of playing and learning. Then you might have a section you want to work on. Do your section, make it flow and ask them again through the session and what they want to go on to, how they can progress it and change the rules and expectations etc. Your planning outcomes therefore have never been better you just didn’t waste half and hour writing them down.
“But premier league players stretch and do widths of a pitch”
This is true! Can’t deny that. I still don’t know why though apart from having a mental routine. As Pirlo stated and if you watch players like Ronaldo they will practice things to get their mind in tune that they want to do on the pitch. Ronaldo practices the habits of dribbling and 1v1 tricks to beat opponents before every game, we all know he can do them but he has a routine that is for mental preparation more than physical. Hes firing up the nervous system to create his habits into confident movements. Something he does daily. Another reason that individuals must have time to focus on their own if they need to do this. Many warm ups are done as a team. A comment from an Afghanistan hero stated he didn’t stretch his hamstrings before running for cover from bombs and gun fire. He just ran. And he never got injured.
Maybe that links the mental factor of being prepared. Maybe muscle injuries should be more linked to poor mental direction and loss of focus and concentration. If you’re in the zone and your mind wanders, you are more likely to make a wrong turn or movement.
A coach must not feel they have to justify traditional views. What is best for your players, both team and individuals is more important than any sheets of paper and assessors.
We all know football is a dynamic game. So therefore people say use dynamic stretching. Lunges, squats, etc again are seen on tv screens. Some are done in a game for example a tackle might just about relate to a block tackle if one knee is bent. I’m not saying players should perform these movements in gyms for fitness reasons weekly but again can dynamic movements that happen in a game just be recreated by playing a game. If you watch players closely, some do warm ups to the best of their ability but I reckon most don’t. As you get older you do find ways to cheat. When the balls come out and you see the reaction of the faces of players its clear what they want. They immediately spring into action and again some players might do headers, sprints etc. this is for their own purpose, more mental than physical gain.
Following warming up, most teams then go back to dressing rooms and sit down for team talks. I have never understood this and as a player it was a chance to rest and relax after a hard slog of running, sprinting and so on. The problem then is you have to mentally psych yourself up again in the tunnel. The more mental prep you have to do the more mentally tired you surely become, the more chance of therefore losing concentration, the more chance of becoming injured?
Going back to young children. We have all been there. We played in the morning.
The match, then we went home, had some food and guess what, went back out to play for 3-4 hours on the street/ field/ on bikes etc. I can never again remember any injuries following this type of activity. I can remember when cool/ warm downs became fashionable. Stretching after games, etc. I was 15 and I firmly believe it did more harm than good in the programme we were in. Think of this. Match, warm down, travel home. Next training two days later, warm up and stretch. So, that’s two lots of deep stretching before playing, having already elongated the muscles after the game. People then started getting injuries, feeling weaker and not being able to sustain running for long periods. It didn’t help with rest and recovery it hindered it. I saw the same in cricket with a bowler having bowled 20 overs on a Saturday and Sundays for years, not the fittest to look at but could sustain that no problem at a good level. He was then advised to warm down and got injured on the Sunday as he affected his habit and routine. A dynamic sport needs dynamic muscles surely and the brain to be thinking dynamically also, not changing the state to another way of thinking.
I have also been running sports camps for 10 years. Warming up for 6-7 hours of sports activity per day? I have never, done a warm up on a sports camp. We have done lots of technical practices and lots of varied games. The multi sport argument therefore comes into force. A bit like the child riding their bike and climbing the wall before playing football. Should they be told to rest or carry on? If they are doing it and are happy doing so then in their own mind they must be OK surely? Much of physical activity is psychological. If we allow kids to do things of their choice they will tend to lean towards play. Once the habit is restricted and adults take control and structure things in certain ways, these habits become affected.
This article is purely my personal opinion based on my experiences and working for over 15 years with young people in a range of clubs, organisations and environments.
Thanks for reading