Ideas for Warming Up Groups of Young Athletes
The warm up that a coach uses with young athletes at the beginning of a practice session should look different to what is used for older, more experienced athletes.
This is because the coach’s intent when conducting a warm up for young athletes can be different to that of the coach who is directing a warm up for older athletes.
Whilst a warm up for young athletes certainly has value in achieving the often-cited goals of raising body temperature and heart rate, preparing the muscles and joints for the activity to follow, and helping to prevent injury, the most important role of the warm up for this age group is to set the mood and pace for the session that is to follow and to enthuse the athletes. The coach wants to capture the athletes’ attention and to get the athletes “on side”. The warm up is also an ideal time to develop general movement skills and athletic qualities in young athletes.
Therefore the coach should plan and conduct a warm up that:
- Is fun
- Is very active
- Is interesting
- Contains a wide range of movements and physical challenges
This can be achieved in a variety of ways but games and fun activities should dominate the warm up of young athletes. The time the warm up takes can be adjusted to suit the circumstances.
Sample Warm Up (for athletes up to the age of 10 years)
1. A running/movement game or activity
Example: “Out the Gate”
Create a large square playing area with ground markers. Mark two “gates” on opposite corners of the playing area. Choose one or more taggers. The athletes scatter inside the playing area. Once the game begins, if an athlete is tagged by a tagger, they must run out the closest “gate” and re-enter the game by running back in the gate on the opposite corner of the playing area. Play the game for a designated time, changing the taggers as required.
2. Simple skills, challenges and activities
The ideas are virtually endless but some examples are:
- Running on the spot performing a variety of movements such as clapping above head, “boxing” in various directions, etc
- Bouncing on the spot, forward/backwards, side-to-side
- Hopping on the spot, forwards/backwards, side-to-side
- Balance activities such as standing on one leg while performing various arm movements
- “Fast feet” on the spot
- From a sitting position on the ground with arms folded, attempting to stand up whilst keeping the arms folded
- Running or skipping forwards, backwards, sideways, etc
- Side-stepping or galloping in various directions
- Zig-zag or slalom running
- Light hopping, jumping, bounding, springing, etc, in various directions
- Agility activities
3. Partner and/or small group activities
There are many examples, one being:
- In pairs, the athletes face each other, balancing on one leg, the palm of their hand placed against their partner’s palm. On command, players attempt to unbalance each other by using gentle, non-jerky pushing movements. The athletes may hop side-to-side or forwards and backwards whilst playing.
Starting a practice session off “on the right foot” is extremely important when coaching young athletes. The key is in understanding the characteristics of your group and selecting activities that align with these characteristics. For young athletes, lots of fun and lots of activity – that results in lots of smiles – is most important.
What are some of your favourite warm up activities for kids?
I would love to hear from you. Let me know your best warm up activities by leaving a reply/comment or by using the contact details below.
This article has been updated and adapted from an article by the author that first appeared in “Modern Athlete and Coach” magazine.
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.