In this blog we will explore Football Warm Up’s for U7 – U12’s. The traditional warm up of standing in lines and performing stretches like opening up the gate and closing it, kicking through was what most coaches experienced when growing up as a child playing football. Children needing to stretch and warm up, isn’t essential and arguably not appropriate. In this blog, we will be exploring what a ‘warm up’ should look like to a U7-U12 year old and why this time is a great opportunity to support children in their development.

Before we begin, adult football isn’t children’s football. As spectators of adult football, you can often see players going through a routine before a match and to prepare themselves physically for the upcoming encounter. For young children, a warm up is a good habit to get into and is a great opportunity to promote physical education, but it’s not an essential to help the players perform. In fact, ‘performance’ should not be a word used. The emphasis should be on ‘development’. Therefore, any time before your training or matches see it is a ‘development window’ where you can can help players in their development and not as a chance to get them to stretch and physically prepare.

The development window:
For any coaches working with U7-U12s, I’d encourage in this ‘development window’ to look at how you can ‘activate and connect’ players to your topic or task that you will be focusing on in your session. For example, a lead in practice can be designed to help players to begin to practice skills that they will need in your session I.e. if you’re working on beating players 1v1 your lead in practice will provide players with opportunities to practice these skills. Linking your theme to a ‘warm up’ will help you to connect learning and plant seeds with the group and individuals on what you will be focusing on in the upcoming session. A warm up in this context, enables you to start provide players with the opportunity to explore movements with and without the ball to allow them to get success.

So what can I focus on within this ‘development window’ at the beginning of my session?
Well, a warm up can be used in a whole host of ways. Based on the work of Istvan Bayli, Colin Higgs and Richard Way, the Long Term Athlete Development model highlights at the ages between 6-9 this is the FUNdamentals stage and 9-12 it is the Learning to Train stage.

https://www.elitefts.com/news/the-book-on-long-term-athlete-development-literally/

The FUNdamemtals stage (6-9) should have an emphasis on unstructured games and sessions with a focus on exploration of movements through play. Therefore, to answer the original question, warm ups at this age group be games based and provide children with opportunities to explore different movements with and without the ball. FUNdamental Movement Skills (FMS) entail a wide range of different movement skills such as: running, jumping, hopping, skipping, crawling, kicking, throwing, rolling to name a few and warm up should have a concentration of movement games that allow children to practice these skills. These games can be done with and without a ball and coaches shouldn’t be afraid to use Multi-Sports to help develop their players movement skills. Ultimately, the brain and body are directly linked and it’s vital that we as coaches provide children with the physical base to fulfil a life in sport.

The Practice Spectrum:
Random, variable and constant practices can all be used in different ways to help players learn and develop new skills. When considering how you should approach warm ups, I’d encourage all coaches to look at the different types of practices that you may use and consider the benefits and trade offs of them. There will be a time and a place for each of these different types of practices so understanding your players will help you to gauge which type of practice is best delivered in a particular session. As mentioned above, for young children there should be an emphasis on unstructured play for them to explore different ways of movement, problem solving and decision making and each different type of practice can be tailored to still allow that to happen.

Constant Practice involves a player practicing a variety of skills under different and changing conditions. Practice is often unpredictable with players making a variety of decisions. Random practices challenge players to transfer their technique into games, encouraging the development of tactical and game understanding. Random practices such as small sided games are a brilliant way of warming up and a ‘whole – part – whole’ approach to training is one that should be encouraged for coaches when setting up their session structure for these age groups.

Constant Practice involves a player(s) repeating specific movements with the aim of acquiring, refining or maintaining technique. In a constant practice a player focuses on learning the same technique under constant conditions. Competition and challenges can be introduced into this type of practice to keep players engaged and their enthusiasm maintained. Constant practices can be used to help players work on their ball striking, movement skills, ball mastery, 1v1s etc. However, young children can find this repetitive practice difficult to maintain for long periods of time and you will need to find ways to keep them engaged with fun challenges and competitions that hide the repetition.

Ball Mastery – Constant Practice Example: An example of a type of constant practice could be a ball mastery grid with players having a ball each on a line manipulating the ball with both feet. To progress this further, players can travel across the grid with their ball performing the different ball mastery techniques that you are covering. To add competition, it may be a timed challenge of how many touches can you have of that particular skill in one minute?
Variable Practice involves a player practicing a variety of techniques and skills under different conditions. A passing practice which incorporates passing the ball over varying distances and heights, using different speeds and techniques, is an example of a variable practice. Variable practices are less predictable than constant practices. These types of practices allow you to hide and disguise repetition alongside making the practice have realism (game related). The benefit is that the players can utilise the skills in the context of a game.

Ball Striking – Constant Practice Exercise:

Two touch is a great game for players to practice their ball striking technique of both feet. Players have to strike the ball to their team mates and their team mate has one touch to control it and one touch to play it back. In this practice, focus on specific techniques that you want players to use to receive and strike the ball. To add competition and make it more engaging for the players add a point system for every time successfully control the ball and play it back to their team mate.

Variable Practice involves a player practicing a variety of techniques and skills under different conditions. A passing practice which incorporates passing the ball over varying distances and heights, using different speeds and techniques, is an example of a variable practice. Variable practices are less predictable than constant practices. These types of practices allow you to hide and disguise repetition alongside making the practice have realism (game related). The benefit is that the players can utilise the skills in the context of a game.

Passing and Receiving – Variable Practice:

A passing and receiving grid for players to pass and move in their teams. Players have to practice receiving and passing techniques in their teams and cannot receive or pass into a player from their team in the same box. Progress it further by adding defenders with one team acting as defenders and the other two teams keeping the ball from their opponents to add competition.

Goalscoring – Variable Practice:

1v1 Shooting is a great way of encouraging players to practice different 1v1s as well as finishing techniques. The defender begins with the ball beside the goal and passes to the attacker who has to receive the ball and try and score. The defender can only defend once the attacker has their 1st touch. Add competition by playing winner stays on or who can get the most goals in a set amount of time.

Random Practices involves a player practicing a variety of skills under different and changing conditions. Practice is often unpredictable with players making a variety of decisions. Random practices challenge players to transfer their technique into games, encouraging the development of tactical and game understanding. Random practices such as small sided games are a brilliant way of warming up and a ‘whole – part – whole’ approach to training is one that should be encouraged for coaches when setting up their session structure for these age groups.

1v1 Defending – Random Practice:

A 1v1 lock on small sided game entails players locking on and going 1v1 against an opposition player. Players have to try and beat their opposition player to help the team score. To add competition, begin the game with players having a number of lives each and if they score their opponent loses and a life and they gain one… which team can have the most lives?

Connecting and Consolidating Learning:
Below, is an example of the Accelerated Learning Cycle, based of the work of Alastair Smith, which speaks of the four different stages of learning. A warm up is a brilliant way of connecting with your players and engaging them with what you will be focusing on in your session.

http://www.magicalmaths.org/what-is-the-accelerated-learning-cycle-in-teaching-learning-finally-a-summary-of-alc/

Another great way of using the model above, is also using your warm ups to begin your session with the last practice they did in the last session. This will enable you as a coach to understand how much information they’ve consolidated and what you will need to focus on in the upcoming session.

Conclusion:

– Have plenty of variety in your warm up using the practice spectrum to help support you with designing practices that help children to explore movement with and without the ball, as well as solve problems and make decisions too.

– Connect what you will be focusing on in your session with your warm up by planting the seed with individuals and your group on what they will be focusing on in that upcoming session.

– Use it as a development window and concentrate on different areas that you may not get to focus on the during your contact time with the players I.e. movement skills, ball striking techniques, ball mastery etc.

– Do not follow adult warm ups and make them child friendly and age appropriate.

– Make children excited by your warm ups, so they want to get there early and not miss out on what they’re going to arrive for next!

– Warm ups on match days are a great development window to be used as an extended training session with you as a coach get invaluable contact time with them to help them to learn and practice new skills. You do not need to warm them up to perform!

Check out some of the Warm Up’s on this site here