Over the last couple of decades, a large number of studies have come out that comment on the ineffectiveness of static stretching before engaging in physical activity. Most of these studies suggest that instead of sitting still, holding one stretch for 30-60 seconds, athletes should instead be engaging in what are called dynamic stretches, combining light calisthenic activity with traditional streches.
And as a former player who dealt with a rash of injuries, I can’t emphasize enough that I feel our first responsibility as coaches, before getting into any football drills, is to make sure that our players are warmed up, stretched out and ready to go.
First we want to make sure our players have a good sweat going before doing any stretches at all. Get them to run around the field at a light pace for however long is appropriate for the age group you’re coaching – but remember that they should be sweating before they finish.
Since teams are so large in football, I like to do setup these drills in waves of 5-10 players, as opposed to stretching out the entire team over one long line – it makes it easier to supervise this way.
Dynamic stretches are just stretches incorporated with movement, so you can change almost any static stretch into it’s dynamic equivalent just by making your players do it over a 10 yard distance moving forward.
Here’s an example of a dynamic lunge. Instead of having players stay in one position, dip down one knee for 30 seconds, and then switch to the next, have them take a long step forwawrd, dip the knee, and then bring their other leg forward as they come back up, going right into another lunge. They should be down in the lunge position for no more than a second or two.
You can do this with a calf stretch, having players straighten a leg in front of themselves, touching their toes, come back up and step forward with the next. For the groin, try the sumo stretch, and have your players face sideways with their feet pointed outwards, bending at the knees with their hands on their hips, in classic sumo stance. Then have them pivot on their front foot, bringing the back foot all the way around, so that they rotate 180 degrees, and are now facing the opposite direction.
Static stretching is not obsolete however. At the end of a long practice, make sure your players do a (very!) light run, and then have them stretch one more time. This time however static stretches are perfect, loosening up whatever tightness that may have occured over practice.
If you want more information on how to get the best possible warmup for your team, let me know below! I’ve got lots more stretches, as well as some great drills for getting a good sweat worked up! In the meantime, since you’ve got your whole team warmed up, let the offense and defense go at it in these great one on one football drills!