Rick Peacock is the USA Football Southeast Regional Manager, covering North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. He also coaches in the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Youth Football League.
The days of youth football coaches telling kids to take two laps then running them through a series of gym-class-style warm-ups are over.
The game has changed on and off the field during the last 20 years. Sports research has shown there are better ways to get your football players ready for practices and games.
The first goal at the start of each practice or pre-game should be to warm the players up in a safe and productive manner, preparing them for the football-related activities they will go through that day. The second goal is to help players gain range and motion through the combination of proper warm-ups and stretching. This is crucial to the players' success and safety.
Some traditional exercises remain good for building strength. Many youth players cannot handle their own body weight, and most professionals advise waiting until high school to lift weights so a player's body is mature enough and he or she can be monitored by professionals. Through warm-up exercises, coaches are able to help with that, though.
Push-ups are great for building body strength, and sit-ups help strengthen the body's core. A stronger core allows players to play at a good pad level and increase power in every aspect of their game.
The following examples show how to warm up before a practice or a game. Use both to maximize productivity, and speak to your local high school trainer or sports trainer for more examples.
The purpose is to get blood flowing through the muscles and to prepare for a static stretch. Muscles need to be warmed up in order to safely stretch and increase the range of motion. By doing a series of form running exercises it loosens up the joints and muscles so this can be possible.
- Toe tap (bending over to touch the toe then coming right back up)
- High knee (run in place as the player brings his or her knee as high as possible)
- Butt kick (run in place as the player brings his or her foot up to their backside)
- Soldier walk (walk while kicking legs up high to touch opposite hands, keeping the knees locked)
- Explosions (drive your knee up, alternating feet, like going up for a layup in basketball)
- Forward lunge (take a big step forward, bringing your back knee to the ground)
- Side lunge (lean to the side, swinging hips out and keeping opposite leg straight)
- Open the gate (backpedal slowly while lifting the leg and rotating at the hips)
- Knee pulls (bring knee up and hold it)
- Carioca (one foot over the other as player run sideways)
After you have blood flowing into the muscles through the dynamic stretch it is time to increase the range of motion and flexibility. The heart rate should be up at this point, and you should be warmed up. If you feel stiff, take it slow. The goal is not to injure yourself but to prevent any further injuries.
- Toe touches (right over left)
- Picking berries (spread feet apart and reach back between legs )
- Butterflies (from a sitting position, feet together toward the groin area, try to keep knees on the ground)
- Hurdle stretch (forward and back; make sure to keep knee on ground)
- Sitting side twist (from a sitting position, twist torso and reach around to behind your back)
- Leg climb (lay flat and stick leg up; grab and try to hold each leg for 10 seconds)
- Arches (lay flat on stomach, push up with body weight resting on arms, stretching back; keep hips and lower body on ground and hold for 10 seconds)
- Leg extensions (lie on back and cross leg over body to opposite side, then roll hips)
- Neck flex (have partner hold head and lean into him or her, applying pressure to neck)
It should take about 10 to 15 minutes to go through these two sets. I would then suggest some ladder drills or team agilities. You will want to increase the activity slowly and safely. All your players should be ready to engage in some type of contact drills at this point.
Remember that each player is different and has different capabilities. Not all players get as loose or are as strong as his teammates. As a coach, it is your job -- especially at the youth levels -- to know your players and put them in a position so they can be successful. If you can do this, you will see dramatic improvement from you team.