How To Plan The Perfect Soccer Warm-up

Plan The Perfect Soccer Warm-Up

Do you wish there was a magic bullet to increase your players’ enthusiasm and effort in training? Wouldn’t you love to improve your players’ matchday output by as much as 30%?

Every coach will answer positively to these questions, and yet the sad fact is that the majority are missing out on the solution to both.

A decent warm up channels the abundant energy at the start of training into effective soccer-related activities, and has been shown to significantly improve young players’ aerobic output.

But you don’t want a ‘decent’ warm up; you’re here for the ‘perfect’ warm up. So how do we go about building it? Well let’s start by looking at what the perfect warm up will achieve.

Why Warm Up?

I’m sure almost all of us can think of one or two occasions (and possibly many more) when we’ve skipped the warm up and gone straight into a session. So what are we missing if we don’t offer our players a comprehensive warm up?
The warm up serves FOUR crucial purposes:

1) Gradually Increase Our Players’ Heart Rates

Muscles require more oxygen during exercise and thus greater blood flow to get it there. To pump this blood around their bodies, kids’ hearts can operate at upto 200 beats per minute during a game. The heart will operate at about 70% of its maximum capacity for the majority of a game.

2) Raise Our Players’ Body Temperatures

Higher body temperature widens capillaries and speeds up glycolysis (the body’s principal energy production mechanism) meaning our
players get both more oxygen to the muscles for aerobic activity and higher levels of ATP production (hence greater energy output) during anaerobic activity such as sprints.

3) Reduce Risk Of Injuries

Warming up can dramatically reduce the likelihood of our players suffering muscle, ligament and tendon injuries.

Gradually increasing the temperature in the muscles and the stresses on the joints prepares them for the full exertion applied during games.

4) Activate Positive Mindset

Just like coaches, players live a life outside of their football – the warm up is the time to forget all about this and focus on the football they are going to be playing. Mental preparation optimises learning in training and performance in matches.

A major aspect of our philosophy concerns confidence – if we give players plenty of good touches before a match starts, they will make many more good touches during the game.

Initial Set-Up

To cover each of these aspects we are going to warm up for about 15 mins (8-11 years) to 20 mins (12+).

The diagram below shows a layout for a 4 part warm up. The central box can be used for a small-sided game in the training session so the only extra cones needed are for a 25m x 5m channel and a 5m zig-zag path.

the perfect soccer warm up

Stage One: Mobility Exercises

The first stage of our warm up is designed to raise body temperatures and activate our players’ energy production centres. The first 20 minutes of any exercise are predominantly fuelled by energy the body has in the bloodstream, only after this will our bodies begin converting stored glucagon and fat into usable energy sources. We want our players to be doing this by the time our game kicks off or we begin training.

In this warm up we pair our players and then send them down the channel at a slow jog, spacing about 10 yards between pairs. At the end of the channel the players peel off around the edge and walk back down the outside. Continue doing these laps, gradually increasing speed of the jog on each.

After 3 laps the pairs could be asked to jog to the third cone, scuttle backwards to the second and then sprint to the fourth before walking back. After 4 laps the pairs could be asked to cross over between cones two and three, or run all the way around the third cone. You can add as many variations to these basic movement patterns as you can imagine.

Stage Two: Dynamic Stretches

Whilst walking back ask your players to perform slow dynamic stretches. This means moving the muscles through their full range of movement. Perform 6-8 of each for each side.

From top to bottom; Rotate arms front and back (for shoulders), reach arms out as far as possible to sides and then bring right across body (for chest and back), bring legs up as if stepping over a gate (for hips) and bring legs up the opposite way as if getting onto a bike (for groin), kick heels to bum (hamstrings) and clench thigh up to chest (quadriceps), spring up in the air and point toes to the ground (calf) and squat as low as can go without bum touching the ground/falling over (for ankles, quads, hips and groin).

Move your players over to the zig-zag course and in pairs have them shuffle side-to-side to each cone (always facing the touchline) and jog back.

On the next lap have them face towards the pitch and reach down to touch each cone, adding a groin and hamstring stretch.

On the third lap twist whilst jogging – putting one foot across the front of the other and using arms out wide for balance.

And on the final lap ask your players to kick their legs as high as they can in front of them as if putting their fiercest shot through the ball – their muscles should now be ready for the full forces involved in a game.

Stage Three: Individual Ball Manipulation

We will now take our players into the central box and, once they have all found a bit of space, give each a ball.

We want are players to work at their own pace and take as many no-pressure touches as they can to get used to the ball (and indeed the boots they are wearing, and having shinpads on – it makes a difference!) See the ball manipulation section of this site for loads of great moves your players can practice.

Ask your players to perform as many keepie-ups as they can for 2 minutes with no pressure. If the ball drops, let them start again as many times as needed.

Next ask your players to use one-bounce, one-touch in sequence and then progress to keepy-ups using only the head or only the thigh. Throughout we are presenting our players with progressively more complex specific tasks, starting to focus their minds in preparation for the activities ahead.

Stage Four: Team Ball Work

Take out half the balls and pair your players up.

Ask them to keep the ball in the air between them, firstly using just headers and then taking two touches – one to trap the ball, one to pass.

Drop the balls to the floor and get your pairs passing to each other then quickly switch it to one-touch

Next add in movement; after passing, players must move into space – encourage lots of calling.

This can naturally progress into an exercise like Move-In-Twos, or you can take balls out and play a short Keep-Away game to finish.

Now Go Play!

Now you’ll have a group hungry to start playing, so get into a conditioned small-sided-game or your match as soon as you can and enjoy the rest of the session!

Key Points

The warm up can improve your players output in a game and effort in training.

It is essential as it raises the heart rate – crucial for effective oxygen transfer and lactate removal; warms the body – a key catalyst for energy production; reduces risk of injury – preparing muscles, ligaments and tendons for stresses of competitive play; and concentrates the mind – allowing players a chance to enter their optimum mental state.

You can organise your own ‘perfect warm up’, just include 4-5 minutes of:
1) Mobility Exercises
2) Dynamic Stretching
3) Individual Ball Work
4) Team Ball Work

Get In Touch

I’d be fascinated to hear about your own ‘perfect warm up’ routines, whether you take anything away from this article or if you have a completely different approach – let me know in the comments section below.

**UPDATE** Fifa provide a fantastic resource for coaches planning their warm-ups. Visit the 11+ application for a wallchart and videos explaining the mobility and dynamic stretches.

  • soccer fitness training is very essential for any soccer player even if he is blessed with the ultimate talent.
  • Phil
    I agree with you, ball manipulation is frequently forgotten and it's crucial!

    How often do you see coaches send their kids onto the field without a touch of the ball, and then they shout and scream at the same kids if they make heavy touches early in the game!

    Thanks for the article, I've bookmarked so will check back soon.

  • Thanks Phil, you're right!

    I always try to give my player's some simple tasks to complete before the game. It boosts player confidence and often the last thing we do in the warm-up is the first thing on their minds when the game starts.

    So if you want your players to close down quickly at the beginning of the match it's a good idea to work some closing down into the warm-up!
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