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Soccer Coach Canada Weekly Newslette      Get free age specific soccer drills and games, ideally suited for youth soccer, delivered to your inbox every second Tuesday morning. Plan your indoor and outdoor practice sessions using coaching advice from experienced youth soccer coaches from across Canada.

Warming Up and Cooling Down

It is often tempting for a youth soccer team to skip the warm-up… and especially the cool-down. Avoid the temptation and always include about 15 to 20 minutes for a warm up and at least 10 minutes for a cool down.  Explain to your players why they need to warm-up and cool-down (see below). Remember player safety is your #1 responsibility as a coach.

Why warm up?

A warm-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 lactic acid which reduces the risk of post-exercise soreness. Warming up before a practice or game 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 practice and games quickly and positively.   

Warming up U-4 to U-7

Very young soccer players don't really need to warm up or stretch. Their bodies are naturally flexible and five to eight-year-olds are ready for physical activity at any time.

It is, however, a good idea to warm up younger players using a fun game as it is enjoyable and it is a good habit to prepare for the future.

Warming up U-8 to U-13

Movement Preparation

Movement Preparation, developed by CS4L, is a physical literacy program that uses similar exercises as FIFA 11+ but is geared towards younger soccer players, aged 7-13 years. The focus is on incorporating and improving fundamental movement and sport skills so kids are not only enhancing skills like agility, balance and coordination, but are also building the confidence they need to be active and participate in sport, and to do so safely and injury-free, now and in the future.

Training for Movement Preparation will be delivered in conjunction with FIFA 11+ using Canadian Sport for Life trainers, and will continue to be implemented in community soccer clubs across Canada.

The University of Calgary Injury Prevention Research Centre is conducting an evaluation of FIFA 11+ and Movement Preparation to determine the effectiveness of the program in reducing soccer injuries, keeping players active and engaged in physical activity, and to assess how soccer coaches and players’ families have been engaged in the program.

The below link will take you to the Sport4Life Movement Preparation Guide.

Warming up U-14 +

FIFA 11+

Developed in 2003 by FIFA’s Medical Assessment and Research Centre, and originally called “the 11”, the program has since been adapted to what we now know as FIFA 11+. It’s been previously implemented in several European countries, where it has been shown to significantly reduce injuries among soccer players aged 14 and over.

The program consists of a series of exercises aimed at strengthening the core and leg muscles, and improving neuromuscular control, coordination, balance, agility and jump technique. The full suite of exercises takes approximately 20 minutes and is intended to be performed at least twice a week, as a standard warm-up, at the start of each training session. Prior to games, a condensed version including only the running exercises is performed.

The below link will take you to the 11+ Manual which is the complete warm up program.

An example of a pre-game soccer warm up with dynamic stretches

I highly recommend that you have a look at the links above to see the Fifa 11 + or the Movement Preparation programs, however, I have included the below just to give coaches a quick idea of what a warm up should look like.
The course should be made up of six pairs of parallel cones, approximately 10 feet apart. Two players start at the same time from the first pair of cones, jog along the inside of the cones and do the various exercises along the way. After the last cone, they run back along the outside. On the way back, speed can be increased progressively as players warm up.

1.     Straight Ahead: Jog straight to the last cone. Run slightly more quickly on the way back. Do the exercise 2x.

2.     Running Hip Out: Jog to the first cone. Stop and lift your knee forwards. Rotate your knee to the side and put your foot down. Jog to the cone and do the exercise on the other leg. When you have finished the course, jog back. Do the exercise 2x.

3.     Running Hip In: Jog to the first cone. Stop and lift your knee to the side. Rotate your knee forwards and put your foot down. Jog to the next cone and do the exercise on the other leg. When you have finished the course, jog back. Do the exercise 2x.

4.     Circling Partner: Jog forwards to the first cone. Shuffle sideways at a 90 degree angle towards our partner, shuffle an entire circle around one another (without changing the direction you are looking in) and back to the first cone. Jog to the next cone and repeat the exercise. When you have finished the course, jog back. Do the exercise 2x.

5.     Jumping with Shoulder Contact: Jog to the first cone. Shuffle sideways at a 90 degree angle towards your partner. In the middle, jump sideways towards each other to make shoulder-to-shoulder contact. Shuffle back to the first cone. Then jog to the next cone and repeat the exercise. When you have finished the course, jog back. Do the exercise 2x.

6.     Quick Forwards and Backwards Sprints: Run quickly to the second cone then run backwards quickly to the first cone, keeping your hips and knees slightly bent. Repeat, running two cones forwards and one cone backwards. When you have finished the course, jog back. Do the exercise 2x.

You should try not to have long gaps between activities. When your warm up is complete have a quick water break, explain your next activity, and then get to it.


Don’t Forget the Cool-Down!

Most youth soccer coaches understand the importance of warming up their players before a practice or a match. And almost every team has some sort of warm-up routine. Cool downs are another matter.

While many coaches understand that players should cool down after playing soccer, very few youth coaches have any sort of cool-down routine.

That's unfortunate. Cool-downs don't take long and they strengthen your players' cardiovascular system by gradually lowering their heart rate rather than letting 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 game or practice 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 U12s, the cool-down should be as much a part of their 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.

Static stretching vs. dynamic stretching

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.

An example of a quick cool-down routine
A few minutes of slow jogging. Perform static stretches in a circle. Work up from the bottom or down from the top. Hold stretches for a few seconds. Each exercise should be performed for about 1 minute.

  • Neck: Move head gently side to side and then front to back.
  • Shoulders: Rotate shoulders forward slowly and then back slowly. Next outstretch arms to your sides and make little circles, slightly bigger and finally big circles.
  • Back/hips: Put your hands on your hips and gently rotate your upper body from side to side and then front to back.
  • Quads: While standing move your right foot to your butt and grab with your left hand. Gently pull your foot back. Repeat with your left foot and right hand.
  • Hamstrings: Sit on your but with your legs apart and touch your right foot with your left hand and then your left foot with your right hand. Finish by reaching in the middle as far as you can with both hands.
  • Calves: With your right foot forward in a slight lunge keep your left foot flat on the floor and gently stretch your calf. Repeat with our left foot forward.
  • Ankles: Your right foot should be on tippy toes and gently rotate to the right and then to the left. Repeat with your left foot.

Cooling down:

  • Improves your players' fitness.
  • Reduces the likelihood of injuries.
  • Provides an opportunity to recap the practice or game.