It is essential before any training session or match that the whole team warm up and then stretch in order to prepare their bodies for the coming action. Starting a match “cold” makes players unable to move as freely or quickly as they should and drastically increases the chances of pulling or straining a muscle. Muscle and tendon pulls account for over half of soccer injuries and this figure can be kept to a minimum if a full stretching routine is followed. Stretching also increases your stride length, so you run faster and farther. It helps maneuverability, too, aiding the ability to twist and turn. The older players get, the more important stretching and warm-up becomes – though this doesn’t mean that younger players can avoid doing it.

It is vital to stretch all the major muscles to make them more supple and ready for the strain they are about to encounter in the coming training session or match. Before stretching it is important that the body be warm. Each stretch should be moved into and out of slowly. Never bounce on a stretch. It is important to remember to breathe out when moving into a stretch and ease out of a stretch if it becomes uncomfortable and the muscle begins to shake or burn.

Warm-up routine

Before starting on stretching routines you should do a gentle warm-up to increase your heart rate and get the blood pumping throughout your body, particularly in colder countries and seasons. This should incorporate a five-minute session of light jogging. Before a match it’s a good idea for the team to do this together in a line. It will increase camaraderie and can dishearten the other team, who will see that you work as a unit even before the game. While running, swing the arms, elbows out, again in unison to create the same image of unity. Even singing a team song at this point is not out of the question.

General tips

You should be careful when stretching because getting it wrong can cause the kind of injuries you are trying to avoid. Here are some tips to safe and effective stretching:

-Never stretch until the body is warmed up
-Move in and out of each stretch slowly
-Hold each stretch in the furthest comfortable position (without causing any pain)
-Hold each stretch for about 10 to 20 seconds, keeping your body steady all the time. Count the seconds out, don’t just guess
-Never bounce on a stretch
-Breathe out as you move into the stretch
-Never force a stretch so that it feels uncomfortable
-If the area being stretched does begin to feel uncomfortable, hurt, of shake, then ease back immediately
-Establish a consistent stretching routine. A regular pattern is believed by some to be better for your body and also helps ensure you don’t forget a stretch
-Stretch both before and after exercise

Source: Soccer Skills for young players, Ted Buxton

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