Do Players Need to Stretch?
By David Vaughan, 11U-19U Director of Coaching
ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Youth Fitness Specialist
You walk up to most soccer practices and games and probably see young players stretch before the match begins. The question is: do youth soccer players really need to do this? The answer is a sometimes unclear – Yes. It really depends on the age of the player and what type of stretching they really need to be doing. The simplest formula is to use activities that are movement-based and mirror the athlete’s sport for a pre-game routine. Then they should use the static “stretch-and-hold” techniques that we are more accustomed to using.
For our youngest players aged 4-10, they really don’t need to having any set type of stretching routine. From a physiological perspective, the human body does perform better by warming up the muscles through dynamic motions that are related to the activity of our sport. It increases body temperature, enhances joint flexibility and improves muscle elasticity through range of motion. Younger players get this by simply moving around in activities that mirror the game they are going to play. They naturally have enough flexibility in their joints where the need for a formal dynamic warm-up activity is not necessary, as their chances for injury are far lower than players in older ranges.
With our older 11-19 year-old players, an organized dynamic warm-up has shown both greater on-field performance and a reduction in injuries for players in their sport. For female players, this is especially important in the 13 and older age-groups as they are more prone to ACL injuries. With our dynamic warm-ups, we isolate smaller muscle groups that serve to activate larger ones, and support weight-bearing joints in the body (think about your glutes with this, and then move on to large muscle groups like quadriceps and hamstrings).
The best dynamic warm-ups you’ll find can be found via the FIFA 11+ Warm-up Program for injury prevention. You’ll see many of our teams, aged 9-19, incorporating many of these activities as part of their pre-game routine.
A quick summary for you:
- Youngest players aged 4 to 8 – simply moving around is enough to get their muscles ready
- Players between 9 and 12 – using a dynamic warm-up such as the FIFA 11+ is creating good habits for when they get older
- Older players aged 13 to 19 – a dynamic warm-up is the best approach to take