We could all use a little support and some fresh ideas on the training pitch and in our pre- and post-match routines. Tom Joel is a Sports Scientist for Leicester City and Lead Men’s Fitness Coach for the Iceland Men’s National Team. And he can up you with your grassroots team warm up.
Having played grassroots football all over Yorkshire as a youngster, Tom experienced many a cold Sunday morning trying to get warm before a match. It was the usual grassroots team warm up. A jog here, a few stretches there. It was only when he began studying Sports Science at university that he began to fully understand how a more structured, specific grassroots team warm up can help improve matchday performance and reduce the risk of injury. He now has ten years’ experience leading warm-ups with Premier League and international-level players.
That period before a match is a tricky one for a grassroots manager, but it is vital. Filling in the team sheets, putting the goals up, working out who starts where, ringing around to see where the latecomers are, all the while trying to shepherd fifteen footballers that are desperate to larrup the ball at the recently raised goals and crisp white nets. Not every manager is blessed with a host of equipment and support, so Tom has shared an achievable pre-match routine with The Grassroots Post.
Raise The Pulse
It’s probably the most boring part of a warm-up, I know. You just want to get onto the balls, but raising your pulse is proven to be the most important method for reducing your chance of getting injured. Starting off with five minutes of general movements increases your body temperature, pumps more blood (and therefore more oxygen) to your muscles, and heats up your muscles and tendons, making them more flexible – meaning you’ll be able to reach for that stray pass with less chance of pulling something. It also lets your body know that it’s time to switch everything on and prepare so it’s not a total shock when the first whistle blows and you’re having to go from zero to 100!
I recommend spending the first three minutes working continuously through a variety of movements, such as jogging, skipping variations, sidesteps, cariocas (working sideways, twisting the back foot in front and then behind) and forwards and backwards jockeying. This can either be done going across the pitch and back or from the touchline to the edge of the box. Then, for the last two minutes, build in some sharper movements with a short amount of rest in between: accelerations, cutting and pressing movements, slalom runs and jumping.
Once you’ve got the blood pumping and you’re feeling warmer, it’s time to stretch it out. There has always been a lot of discussion around whether static or dynamic stretching is better before a match. This is because some research shows that lots of long, static stretches (twenty to thirty seconds) may reduce power in the major muscle groups. In my opinion, as long as the static stretches are only briefly held, a combination of both types is ideal, and almost all players I have worked with feel at their best when there is a mixture of both in the routine.
Targeting the major muscle groups is key here. I would suggest starting off with six- to eight-second static stretches of the groins, quads, hamstrings and calves. Following this, it is important to progress into dynamic stretches, and just three to four reps of each of the following suggestions will prepare the body for some of the upcoming movements and activate the muscles ready for the demands of the game. Squats, “opening” and “closing” the groins, sweeping the hamstrings (as low as you can go with your hands), lunges, “hugging” the knee, swinging the leg across the body, swinging the leg through, calf raises/walking up on your toes, and finally some single leg hops and holds to make sure the ankles and knees are stable and ready to accept the load of jumping and landing, twisting and turning – therefore reducing the risk of injury.
Keep The Ball
We’ve done our pulse raiser, we’ve stretched it out, we’ve had a touch of the ball, now let’s get specific. Anyone who has watched a Premier League warm-up on TV will have seen they always incorporate a small possession or keep ball in the pre-match routine. This is to combine the physical, technical, tactical and mental components of the game. Playing five- or eight-a-side (depending on your numbers) in a 30×30-metre area introduces some match-specific play, producing physical movements at high-intensity and testing the technical elements under pressure. It also introduces tactical awareness for keeping the ball and finding the right pass, as well as mental stimulation for match-intensity and game demands. We don’t need to play for too long here, two or three 2-minute rounds are enough to stimulate all aspects and provide the cutting edge over the opposition, making sure you’re ready to go from the off and start well. It also gives you a chance to get accustomed to the pitch, judge how the ball bounces and sense how fast or slow the ball moves on the grass. Equipment-wise, a handful of cones will do the trick, or even a few jackets and jumpers to act as the corners of the area.
Do Your Thing
Ten minutes to go. Final preparations. Let’s break off for three or four minutes and focus on what your position requires. Defender? Work as a unit or in pairs, getting some headers in, lots of communication, some longer passes. Striker? Work some shots on goal and test your keeper. Winger? Swing in a few crosses for the strikers, get those connections going. Central midfielder? Look for a mixture of everything: pass and move combinations, creating passing lines, some pressing and some headers.
Right, you’ve got your shinnies in, the tape is on, you’ve grabbed your shirt and we are minutes from kick-off. Let’s sharpen up in these final moments. Some fast feet along the line and a couple of short, sharp presses and accelerations will give you that final stimulation so that you’re alert and on your toes, ready for when the whistle blows.
Now, you’ve got your ideal grassroots team warm up, it’s over to you.