3 Key Considerations To Help You Plan A Warm-Up for Young Athletes
The choice of possible warm-up activities that can be used when working with kids is huge. In fact, it can sometimes be overwhelming.
So how do you choose what to use?
Fortunately, there is an acronym that will help guide your decision. The acronym outlines three key variables that need to be taken into consideration when planning a warm-up for young athletes:
Specific considerations of your audience will include:
What works as a warm-up for 5 year-olds will most likely differ for 13 year-olds. The younger the kids, the more simple, playful, and entertaining the warm-up needs to be. The older the kids, the more complexity can be introduced. Make sure that your warm-up is age-appropriate and is set at the right level of challenge.
Some activities are better suited to small groups; some require bigger numbers to really click. Smaller groups are easier to supervise and to provide equipment for; bigger groups provide more options for tag and team games.
Regardless of their age, the ability of the kids to concentrate, listen, follow instructions, and cooperate will dictate what you can successfully deliver. An excited, rowdy group will require simple, vigorous activities, while a more settled and focused group may be able to cope with some more complicated challenges.
A group’s experience within a particular learning environment will affect what you can ask them to do. Is it the first session/early in the season? Or have they settled in over several weeks and become familiar with routines and expectations? What knowledge are they bringing into the session? This will in some way dictate your content.
Specific considerations related to the context include:
A pre-game/event warm-up will most likely differ from a warm-up that precedes a practice session. Pre-game warm-ups tend to be a bit more specific and focused on the upcoming performance, while pre-practice warm-ups tend to be based on the development of the young athlete’s capabilities.
The time available for the warm-up within a session will narrow down the activities that are suitable to conduct. The time available will often depend on the overall length of the session. For example, a 30-minute session leaves a lot less time to allocate to the warm-up than a 60-minute session does.
What is contained within the rest of the session may dictate what starts the session. Ideally, your warm-up should be paired neatly with the content in the main part of the session, whether it be by theme, skills, or some other link.
What you hope to achieve from the warm-up will help you determine what is appropriate to deliver. Do you hope to energise the group, improve physical or technical competence, teach routines, connect the group, or a combination of these?
Specific environmental considerations include:
Facilities & Equipment
You can only work with what you have. The absence of certain items will immediately discount a number of activities from the potential repertoire, whereas the presence of other items will steer you in the direction of activities that utilise these items.
The surface on which the warm-up is occurring will dictate whether the athletes can do activities that include sitting, kneeling, lying, sliding, etc. On a hard or rough surface, you may also choose to avoid some activities in which participants could fall.
Being indoors may present constraints with space and obstacles, while being outdoors may see the surface and environmental conditions playing a bigger role in determining your content.
A wet surface, wind, or high heat will affect what you can deliver. A wet ground immediately prevents sitting, lying, or rolling activities and some activities which may put the kids in danger of slipping. High winds can blow some equipment over or away so avoid the use of such equipment in windy conditions. Wind can also really unsettle a group of youngsters, so be ready with short, sharp, engaging activities on a windy day. Heat can see kids tire really quickly so a warm-up of lower intensity may be advised in these circumstances.
The space that you have to work within will very much help or hinder the repertoire available to you. A large space presents few constraints, where a smaller space constricts the range of activities that can be successfully conducted.
ACE In Action
Working through the ACE acronym will help you discover the activity options that you can draw upon and the make-up of the warm-up will begin to emerge. It will provide you with vital information to aid the planning process. The key to success is knowing what activities are both suitable and unsuitable Ignoring or being oblivious of these considerations will make it less likely that you will deliver an effective warm-up.
Consider being asked to plan and deliver “a warm-up for some kids”, but with no added information, versus being asked to do the same but that the warm-up was to lead into a one-hour fundamental skills session for a group of twenty 8-year-olds. It is the first session of the season, during which the aim is for the kids to have fun and connect. The session will be held outside on a spacious grassed area in fine warm weather. You have a set of 30 ground markers and a bag of pool noodles to use. I think you probably get the point.
What About Safety?
There is one other major consideration that I wasn’t able to neatly fit into the acronym that I composed for the article title – safety. The kids’ safety needs to be a key consideration that guides what you choose to include in a warm-up. If you ever have a question over whether a proposed warm-up activity poses a safety risk, change or modify the activity. If you are conducting an activity that produces an unforeseen or unexpected safety risk, stop it or modify it.
The more that you know about the audience, the context, and the environment, the easier it is to narrow down what warm-up activities are ultimately available to you.
The most useful warm-up activities are the ones that can be adapted to a variety of audiences, contexts, and environments.
Build up a few of these as part of your core coaching repertoire and you will always have something to draw upon, regardless of the task that you are faced with or the challenge you are given.
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