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Science, the Internet, the Modern Game and a Sensible Warm-Up

By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association

All things in life are constantly changing. What we know about a child’s developing body and how the food we eat (GMO’s) etc. are impacting their development are quite amazing. From how players learn, to how their bodies change and grow, to the science behind how too many games with insufficient rest cause overuse injuries, there is an enormous amount of knowledge that a youth coach needs to be aware of to be adequately prepared.

Without wishing to enter into a debate on the perils and pluses of the Internet, I can say without reservation that it makes researching any topic very easy. At the push of a button and with some carefully chosen search words, you can at least discover the basics on any chosen topic. Often with time to delve a little deeper you can find masses of information on the game, child developmental, styles of learning and a considerable amount of other factors that impact good learning environments for youth players.

Whereas I fully understand why any mom or dad thrown into coaching, as no one else was willing to do it, not being able to research all the necessary information needed to adequately prepare, I am equally sure that any paid trainer or professional coach should have both the time and inclination to research all appropriate topics.

This list should include, at least the starting 11 given below:

Cognitive development
Psycho -Social development
Best teaching practices by age
Learning styles
Technical and tactical development
Periodization – cycles of work-rest and recuperation
Psychology and motivation
Nutrition and hydration
Sleep (something I learned from the new F course)
The Game – as appropriate by age (4v4, 7v7, 9v9) and associated systems of play etc.
Sports Science – stretching etc.

I left the last one in bold as it was the fuel that started this particular article. Whereas I understand that some of the arguments in sports science are ever evolving; as an example the change in information on the use of a warm down. 10 years ago, cool down, warm down or whatever else we wish to call it, was all the trend and highly recommended. Now we are told although it may be useful socially, it really is a waste of time physically. This example stresses the importance of staying current as new knowledge is presented.

What is not debatable, at least from my corner of the globe, are three things I witness week in week out when I watch teams warm up to compete. I confess these three issues drive me insane (I realize stating this will encourage more people to do them, but as I see things as black or white I have no choice)

Endless plodding around a field with no ball, even if you do it in pairs and make it look organized, it is simply a waste of time, if this is a method to get core temperature up then give them a ball and let them dribble. There are many game type moments you can create that will achieve the same as jogging around the field and may help them improve as soccer players.

Static Stretching – redundant at the start of any activity – reduces the ability of the muscles to generate power (quite important in soccer) so please research and use dynamic stretching. There are so many dynamic routines out there that it may take some research to find one that ensures your athletes are safe and takes a reasonable amount of time.

Endless line based activities – If I asked you to create an activity that definitely did not “psych you up," motivate you or in any way prepare you mentally for a game, it would probably be put me in a line and make me wait. A good warm-up should include all the techniques of the game performed in some type of game situation. I have seen hundreds of games and yet to see the moment where all players cease the action and run to stand behind each other in a line waiting to shoot on goal.

Try to design warm-up routines that include:

• As much contact with the ball as possible (most of our players still only touch the ball in formal sessions), so the more touches we can include the better.

• Activities that allow all the basic techniques of the game: dribbling, short passing, receiving, long passing, defending, instep striking, heading.

• Some game-like possession work that allows players to make decisions under pressure.

• Age-appropriate dynamic stretching.

• Some game-like problems that players have to solve through communication and collaboration.

• Some type of competitive challenge 1v1, 2v2 that tries to stir their competitive edge.

I can think of no reason why with all the resources available via the Internet why any coach cannot produce an active, developmentally appropriate, cutting edge warm-up.