Soccer warm ups are excellent ways to engage players as soon as they arrive at training, helping them to loosen up and priming them to learn. But should our approach be different on game day? In this Q&A, we explain the value of warm ups, examine what makes a good warm up routine, and look at how to successfully use warm up activities as part of our pregame preparation.

In This Article

Why Do We Use Soccer Warm Ups?

“From a physical perspective, we want players to be warm to avoid injury — certainly in terms of older players,” explains PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright. “Once they start reaching those ages where they are growing and maturing, injuries and growth issues can become a challenge, and it’s critical that we help them learn how to prepare their bodies physically.”

“That pre-activation becomes more important as players get older,” says James Coutts, Coaching Advisor at PDP. “But the mental aspect of warm ups is also crucial. Things like working on pitch geography, and knowing who your players are and what might help them, talking to them and perhaps giving them a psychological boost, are also key.”

“I think we’ve also got to consider how we maximize our time at training,” adds Wright. “If you’re working with a team twice a week in grassroots soccer, how do you make the most of that contact time? Arrival activities and semi-opposed practices are great ways to do that.”

What Makes a Good Warm Up Routine?

The best soccer practice to help players warm up will depend upon the individuals we’re working with, and we should always try to tailor it to their individual needs. “If the players are younger, perhaps think about better ways to start training. Maybe tag games or fundamental movement games,” suggests Wright.

Fun soccer warm up games are great ways to engage players as soon as they arrive and help prepare them to learn, and can even include opposed or semi-opposed practices. “It primes them for whatever key principle we’re working on that night,” says Ric Marchioli, Assistant Coach and Analyst at Newcastle Jets, outlining one of his player-led soccer warm ups with PDP. “And the players actually start to take ownership. There’s a bit of banter and some competition, so they loosen up a little bit.”

“Warm ups are great coaching opportunities,” adds Coutts. “Be prepared. Don’t just get kids running up and down in lines.”

Should Warm Ups Be Different on Game Day?

“With young players, be clear that training is one day and matchday is just an extension of that,” says Wright. “I think it’s really important to reflect on the environment that we’re creating on game day. I like to work with the individuals on the day and keep things really calm for them, so not much should change in terms of my behavior as a coach.

“I’ve recently been in the company of an ex-pro who speaks about how he loved to get success in the warm ups on game day,” adds Wright. “That was really big for him; having a bad warm up could carry over into his game. So ensuring the players have a little bit of success during the warm up is important too.”

“I really like the idea of positive repetition in the warm up,” agrees Coutts, citing the example of a 9v0 attacking activity regularly used by Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp. “The repetition of doing something because you intend to be doing it in the game can be great preparation for the players.”

When Is the Best Time for Our Match Day Warm Up?

“Arrival time can be really important,” says Wright. “We want players to be on time, but I wouldn’t encourage them to be at the game too early — because, if they are, their energy levels can drop, they can become distracted.

“The other thing to consider is the respect side of things. As the coach, we have to set the standards; if we expect our players to be on time, we should be early. We should also be organized, and have at least set up a warm up and an area where we can meet our players on the side of the pitch.

“Just controlling those things, so everything looks as organized as possible, will help the kids to be nice and calm on game day.”

Our preparations may also change depending on our environment; while we can largely control our setup for home games, away games ordinarily provide more variables. “Can you get the same outcome when you only have a small 10×10 area to use, or when you’re warming up on a hill?” asks Coutts. “You have to be flexible while trying to get that outcome — that adaptability is really important. These little things improve you as a coach,”

Should I Have the Team Talk Before or After the Warm Up Routine?

“Warm ups are for mental preparation as well as physical preparation. So I would tell the players the team selection first,” says Dan Wright, Technical Advisor at PDP. “Some coaches prefer to announce the team afterward, but I think players could then be distracted during the warm up, wondering if they’re playing or in what position. In my opinion, if you can clear some of that up beforehand, it’s often more successful.

“In terms of the team talk, I tend to mix it up when I do it. Sometimes I’ll do a warm up and intersperse talks within it. So, for example, if we’re doing some sprints before we get on the balls, I might do sprints, a 30-second talk, then get on the balls, and then talk for another 30 seconds. I try to mix things up because I think it can get a bit monotonous for the players if you just talk for 15 minutes.”

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