By Bruce Brownlee
Warm-ups before the soccer match present a wonderful opportunity for you to coach and improve your soccer team. Much of the soccer coaching on game day is mental preparation, rather than soccer skills, soccer tactics, or fitness. Successful soccer coaching depends on managing the time carefully, creating a positive, confident, and fun state of mind for each of the soccer players, and giving the players a chance to get their pulse rates up and get their touch on the ball under control.
Extra Technical Training Time
Many teams are limited by field space or league restrictions to a small number of training sessions per week. If you would be willing to have your kids show up and begin work 45 to 60 minutes prior to each match, you can have a very nice additional technical training session with your team each week. Your kids have a lot of energy at U11, and winning at U11 is not as important as becoming much more skillful at U11 so you can win at U16 and beyond. If you take care of the details, the big stuff comes right along.
Extra Touches Before the Match
Most kids who have average trapping, settling, dribbling, and shooting technique at U11 do not get a good touch on their first 30 to 50 balls. During the match, some players may not even receive this many balls during the entire match, so that they don't get a good touch in the entire match. So, your warm-ups should provide lots of ball touches per player. This requires one ball per player or one ball between two players. This latter arrangement works very well in practice. Partners with a ball can work through all kinds of touches, traps, settles, kills, and headers with one player serving and one playing, taking turns. With these extra touches, your players will be better prepared to play immediately.
Long Stretches Reduce Injuries
Get an ATC to teach you how to stretch your players properly. It is not properly shown in any of the coaching courses, and the little 8-second stretches you see teams doing at matches are not very effective. The players must be warm before stretching, and the quad and hamstring stretches need to last 60 seconds minimum to be effective. Try it out yourself. You will find that, even when warmed up, your hamstring will give you a lot of resistance and not much stretching for the first 60 seconds or so.
At U11, this is not going to be a major problem. However, increasing strength and flexibility up through U14 will reduce the potential injuries that you will start to see starting at about U14. Common injuries in girls, which come as a surprise your first time through, include MCL, ACL, tendonitis and inflammation behind the knee cap, pulled quads, and ankle ligament damage. (Broken bones, particularly wrist and ankle, are not uncommon, but start from U11 and do not seem to dramatically increase at U14.) The number and severity of ligament, tendon, and muscle problems you encounter at U14 to U16 can come as a great surprise, but they seem to arrive during this time frame because of growth and muscle mass changes. Getting into serious stretching and strength development earlier might help.
Higher Pulse Rates
Kids like games and action. Don't talk. Smile, reassure, praise, and encourage, but do it with short phrases while the kids are working on the ball in the warm-up. When your kids finish the warm-up with a good work rate, their pulse rate should be elevated from the work. You'd like the kids to already have worked their way past nervousness, broken a sweat, and be really warmed up. If you have trouble getting going early in matches, you might want to pick up the work rate during warm-ups.
Bruce Brownlee coached boys soccer from 1978 to 1988 in Marietta, Georgia. Coached girls teams from 1988 to 2003 for Tophat Soccer Club in Atlanta and AFC Lightning Soccer Club in Fayetteville, Georgia. Served as a staff ODP recruiter and coach in 2002-2003. Returned in 2010-2011 to help coach his granddaughter’s U11 team. Won 4 state cup championships at Tophat. Proud of his four children who played top-level club soccer and amateur and college soccer later. His site Soccer Coaching Notes.com is a terrific resource for club and amateur soccer coaches.