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Warming Up and Cooling Down
It is often tempting to skip the warm-up… and especially the cool-down. Avoid the temptation and always include about 15 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).
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-6 to U-8
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-10 +
As your players get older, their natural flexibility wanes and by the time they are 9 or 10, they need a proper warm-up. For example:
Stretching before matches or coaching sessions should always be dynamic, i.e. performed while moving. Dynamic stretching is used in warm-ups because it helps to increase muscle temperature and flexibility.
Static stretches (i.e. touch your toes) that are performed while muscles are cold are harmful and will increase the number of injuries your players suffer.
Example dynamic stretches
You should try not to have long gaps between activities. When your warm up is complete have a quick water break, one minute(max) to explain your next activity, and then get to it.
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 cool-down routine