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Soccer Coach Canada Weekly Newsletter

Get free age specific soccer drills and games, ideally suited for youth soccer, delivered to your inbox every Monday 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 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:

  • Players run 4 laps around a 40’ x 40’ space: 1st lap-light jog, 2nd lap-backwards jog, 3rd lap-shuffle and 4th lap-karaoke twists.
  • Now a 10 minute warm up activity. Ex. Football Soccer-see today’s game
  • Now 3 minutes of dynamic stretching.

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

  • Lunge walk - loosens up the hips. Lunge walk is when you take large steps keeping the chest up, looking straight ahead, and moving the arms and legs together.
  • High knees - for hip flexor and ankle strength. Extend up to the toes and lift each thigh to a parallel position with the ground as you move forward.
  • Calf walk - for lower limb strength and Achilles flexibility. Extend the ankle on each step will warm up the calf muscles and Achilles tendons.
  • Backwards skipping - same as above and works on strengthening quads and calf muscles.

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.

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 cool-down routine

  • A few minutes of slow jogging.
  • 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.

Cooling down:

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