Soccer today has become very popular and competitive among all ages, even young children. Because our novice coaches and those coaches that may not have had sport specific education concerning stretching may find it hard to break ineffective techniques as well as beginning new and unfamiliar habits. Sticking to something new can be difficult, especially when results may not be seen immediately. But, if the athlete understands and truly believes in the benefits, then adherence may be stronger. As a coach, part of your role is to facilitate any knowledge of ways to enhance an athlete's performance, whether it may be optimizing physical or mental capabilities or preventing injuries. With this in mind, a major factor that can contribute to an athlete's success is to understand all of the values of proper stretching.
A soccer player can benefit in many ways from stretching. The most common reason taught to athletes is that stretching increases flexibility, the ability to move joints through a full range of motion, thereby reducing the risk of injury. Unfortunately, the majority of players believe that they are invincible and that an injury will not happen to them. This attitude is reinforced when these athletes do not get injured. What many athletes and coaches do not understand is that by increasing flexibility, one's personal sprint speed, power, and strength can be optimized. For example, if a soccer player is able to move his/her leg further back during the preparatory phase of a shot, more power can be created.
Another example, more useful to a broad range of sports, is increasing speed. Although an individual's sprint speed can only be altered a little bit (due to genetic constraints), one way to help optimize personal speed is to increase range of motion. It is also important to realize that a stretched muscle will encounter less resistance from contraction and tension, thereby causing less energy needed to complete a movement. When athletes learn and understand these benefits, they are usually more apt to institute a stretching program.
Not only is teaching the benefits of stretching important, but also knowing the best time to stretch is key. A number of people believe that stretching before practice is all that is necessary for an athlete.
First of all, the muscles should be warm before stretching occurs. A coach should have the players break a sweat, usually doing a soccer specific activity, and then do the stretching. To save some practice time, coaches might announce what will happen during the practice that day and/or review previous practices or competitions. One key mistake often made is over-stretching before practice. You want your athletes to have good range of motion for practice, but this is not the time to try to gain flexibility.
The best time for that is after practice or on their own time. Doing a cool down jog and stretch after training allows players to stretch again when their muscles are warm and helps reduce next day muscle soreness. It also gives the team time together and provides some relaxation prior to leaving practice. Individuals who need additional stretching to further increase flexibility can be advised to do stretching at home. It does not have to take up too much time because it can be done while doing other things, like watching TV. You should remind the players that they still must utilize proper stretching techniques, even at home. Even though children do not place as much demand on their body as older players, learning the value and the habit of stretching at an early age may aid in their success later on in their career.