Skip the warm-ups?

What if you could go straight into training without first running a warm-up routine of some sort?

Give me a minute before you start in on me about proper physical (and mental) preparation for practice. I’m not talking about taking players from zero to full speed straight away. I am definitely in favor of being as efficient as possible – in all regards – when it comes to the warm-up process. I won’t go so far as to suggest there be none, however.

Consider this, though.

What if you walked into the gym and the players were already warm?

I’m not talking about a situation where practice starts at 5:00 and you arrive at 5:20 after the team has done their dynamic warm-up or whatever led by the strength coach or team trainer. I’m talking about practice starting at 5:00 with the players already ready to go. They’ve taken it upon themselves to get warm on their own.

On the face of it, you might not think there’s much difference there. I’ll grant that it’s a subtle thing.

The difference isn’t so much a time consideration. That could be an element, but perhaps not the most important. Instead, the main difference is in who’s directing the warm-up, and probably by extension how formal it is.

We coaches tend to want to control things. Warm-ups aren’t exempted from this. The result is that basically players all go through the same routine. This is true even though they may have considerably different physical and mental warm-up needs. The latter can actually end up adding an addition time requirement to ensure everyone is optimally prepared to begin the day’s work.

What if we left the warm-ups to the players? Do you think they’d do a better or worse job?

Chances are those warm-ups would look quite different. Players tend not to like the formulaic warm-ups we coaches design for them. They instead favor something a bit more free form. In fact, they might simply prefer to just play themselves warm. This is done by starting at a low intensity and building up from there.

This is what the players at Midwestern State seem to like to do. In the 15-20 minutes before the official start of practice during my first Spring they did a little bit of shoulder warm-up, but then quite quickly got into playing small-side games (like Winners/Queen of the Court). They obviously didn’t go 100% right away. By the time we started practice, though, they were pretty ready to go. As a bonus, they’d gotten a fair number of quality contacts.

Aside from the players warming-up how they best see fit (or enjoy), this sort of player-directed system offers some other benefits. For one, it allows them to enjoy themselves without being under Coach’s supervision. For another, depending on the group it can either be a good collaborative exercise and/or one which furthers the identification and development of leaders in the squad.

Something to think about perhaps?

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman

John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women’s team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women’s professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women’s Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

4 comments

  1. Kelly Daniels says:

    I’m coaching a 13U Developmental team this season. The first thing I realized about my team at our first open gym is they do not know how to play. Forget executing skills, but they just didn’t know how to play. Over time I have learned what they have learned from middle school last fall. They’ll have a 1.5 hr practice and the first 10-20 minutes it’s warming up. Running laps around the gym, court exercises, and then stretch. This leaves 70min to work on volleyball related activities.

    The first thing I did was put them on the court when I walked into the gym. When they started to socialize while playing I didn’t interrupt. When I did involve myself it was specifically about playing. Well now after three months of just having them come into the court now they are automatically coming in rushing to get dress and jump on the court to play. I’ve not one time use any traditional warm up techniques at practices. Athletes pepper during tournament warm up and we do run throughs prior to our 4min of court time.

    Last year’s club team when my head coach (HC) was out, I had the team come in early if they wanted to do the HC traditional warm up. Once that is done, then we’ll run some kind of scrimmage match for 20min. Having a 2hr practice that then gives me 100min of volleyball related teaching and training.

    When I played as an adult athlete I never had a formal warm up prior to our league or tournament matches. It’s on the court pepper, shared hitting warm up, and match play. My teams have won many local league championships and tournaments. I have also played on a team that won a national championship at US Open. So as an adult my body definitely would seem to need a traditional warm up, but never did and me and my former teammates were normally very successful in a match.

    I adopted the scrimmage for warm up because of my experience as an adult. Secondly, my philosophy is a mental thing. Come into the gym ready to play. During a match, subs body cools down while on the bench. If they have to go in they are not all warmed up. Most come in and perform to the level that is needed for the team. At the very least not hurt the team worse. So I’m no longer sold on traditional warm ups. It’s on the court and play. Use the scrimmage time to warm the body up. The team is informed that we go all out when the body feel loose. Before that, it’s get to the ball best you can and control swings when attacking. Standing float serves are use until the arm is feeling loose. With the success of my 13U team having only a total of eight months of volleyball experience I pretty sure I’m going to keep to this scrimmage warm up vice traditional.

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      I’m with you there Kelly. No real sense in doing a traditional or formal warm-up with the young ones – at least from a physical perspective They don’t need it. Get them working with the ball ASAP.

  2. One of my favorite topics, John 🙂 I have given up on traditional warm-ups years ago. Many things we are doing there are important, though. But mostly for an athletic development not for warming up. I think players should do these things at home.

    My boys love to play soccer at the beginning of practice. And I’m fine with it. It’s fun. After that we are playing small-side games. At the beginning everybody is a bit carful but very soon we have high quality game like reps.

    While we can mange these things in practice, your thoughts (and Kelly’s) might rase a more difficult to solve challenge for game days. We can not play small-side games there, right? A volleyball friend of mine made a portable “net” for game days. You can see the construction here: http://wp.me/p2LWod-8u. It works pretty well at least at the youth level. The kids prepare very good for a game (after loosing their embarrassment about them being the only team using this :-)). I’m curious if that wouldn’t work at the pro level as well…

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      It’s a fair question Oliver. Honestly, I think things get a bit over complicated with respect to warm-ups in places. NCAA women’s volleyball in particular. They do a 4-4-5-5 warm-up. No shared court time. After coaching in Europe – and in particular England where warm-up times were often abbreviated – I’ve definitely moved toward less is better. Pepper a bit. Hit a bit. Serve a bit. Then get on with it!

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