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We Will Laugh

by Ben Wiggins

Within 5 years, I firmly believe that we will look back on the warm-ups we use now and laugh. This isn't true for every team, but I think that most high-level teams are warming up in ways that are more similar than they are different. Team huddle, jogging, stretching, plyos, throwing, catching drills, personal time, huck drills, 7v7, pre-game huddle, cheer, etc, etc. And those combined similarities are holding us back. Before that happens, I'd at least like to record why I think we got into this situation.

The situation: Many teams use intense, 45-60 minute warm-ups with lots of sprinting and full speed physical drills that last right up until game-time. I am not an athletic trainer or accredited in any way, but I believe that several parts of this routine are probably lowering the chances of our playing our best. So why do we do this? Here's my analysis of why each part of our collective routine developed.

Last year, your team did W, X, and Y before you played. This year, one of your teammates had a great idea for a new drill (Z) that would add a little bit. It's easy to add something in principal, and then no one has to tell the teammate that their idea is not wanted. With few controlling coaches, 'mission creep' tends to make it easier to add to the plan than to take away from it. With relatively little experience in leading teams in our sport, few captains have the time/energy/experience to look at the warm-up as a whole and say, "Wait, this is too much". We need to cut something." So we add Z.

A second reason: We see the extremely organized teams running long warm-ups. They tend to be successful. Colorado's Mamabird used to show up to the fields intimidatingly early...and other teams tried to match them in a misguided effort to take away the source of their power. Trust me when I say that Mickey wasn't tough to stop because he woke up earlier. Heck, maybe they would have been even better with the extra sleep. But we (and I definitely include myself in this) tried to match every part of their game, including their long warm-ups. Mistake.

Another reason is that the first time you did Z, it was new and different and brought a little more energy from your team on some early morning. That energy is precious, and the new drill gets the credit. Not 'any' new drill, but this one in particular. So we keep it.

Before long, you have 5...6...7....pieces in your warm-up. It makes sense until you look at it as a whole, and then it's almost as complicated as the game itself. When you look at the whole thing, it's overkill. Imagine at the end of an exhausting tournament, in those last important points...wouldn't you love to have 20 more minutes of jet fuel in your muscles? Or that much more hydration, or focus, or quickness in your first step?

One major difference between Expert and Novice coaches is confidence. An Expert knows when they are doing the right things, even if the results aren't showing yet. A Novice worries that mistakes from the team reflect on the quality of the coach. True or not, this rattles the Novice much more than the Expert. Most ultimate team leaders are Novices when it comes to coaching (if you don't believe me, at least allow me this: few team leaders have had real extensive professional training...and even less could argue that they have Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of relevant practice).

Novices worry about what they didn't do. When your team drops the third pass, does your leader assume it was the mistake of a too-short warm-up, or do they methodically roll this occurrence in with the rest of the expected drops for your team's ability over the course of a day? Too often, I think this leads to a well-intended but anti-productive drive to be at 100% full speed for point #1. This means sprinting like crazy in warm-ups, pushing and sweating until we have already used some game-energy to ensure that we haven't done too little. I think we are routinely burning the lasagna to make sure that we NEVER fail to cook it thoroughly. And I think this is because our hard-working and incredibly dedicated and well-intending leaders are put in a position to make decisions for which they do not have Expert experience. This is why you are running 20-25 full power sprints before your first point of an 8-hour day.

Over the course of the season, we warm-up many dozens of times. I believe that if you introduce a player to a 30 minute warm-up at the beginning of the season and then force them to go through it every day, eventually their body is going to adjust to need that warm-up time. Essentially, we are spending six months out of the year training our bodies to need that 30 minutes to move. As a pro trainer said to me at his first Ultimate-watching experience, "What are you doing? This is too much. Look at the NFL. Those players are worth millions of dollars. And they only have them really moving around for 20 minutes before a game...and definitely not just before kick-off." Do you really NEED six different hamstring stretches and plyos? Or have you trained yourself to need it?

I think that elite teams have, however, taken major benefits from these long, plyo-driven warm-ups. Ultimate is played in long tournament days where you have to play well when tired. Practices, however, are rarely that long. Teams that do these warm-ups are simulating longer days by doing a 30 minute plyometric workout before they play. Every time! They will be more ready for the end of long games or tournaments, because of all of those extra workouts. This is great benefit...but it doesn't mean that you want to do the same thing before game-time.

Who runs your team warm-ups? Think about that person right now. Are they your in-shape, loves to work out type of person? Do they love writing workouts? Do they get excited about cool new ideas to add in? Do they themselves typically warm up for longer than the rest of your team? I bet for many of us this is true. It makes sense, because these are the people most likely to really love this stuff and be willing to give us their time. We are grateful, and we should be. On the other hand, it is a little like letting the over-eating chef plan the menu. Or letting the OCD gal plan the initerary. Talented, but also the most likely to overdo it. (If I am wrong about the work-out leader on your team, then at least grant me this: for most teams, the person that can just tie their cleats and play full speed without a warm-up is almost never in charge, right?).

To do these warm-ups, we give up extra sleep and comfort and energy and time to eat and hang out and enjoy the pre-game time. We give up the excitement of running around for the sureness of knowing our teammates are ready to play hard. We give up our bodies natural ability to cleat up and kick butt at a moments notice (especially important between games) and we give up that little extra boost at the end of the tournament. I think that it makes total sense why we got to this place, but I think that we will look back on it and wonder, like we wonder about short shorts and leg warmers, why?

I am no expert on athletic training or energy systems. My former teammates will tell you that I despise warming up, so I'm biased. If you want my opinion, I think you should try to be at the fields 60-70 minutes before game-time. You should do a team drill or game ~35 minutes before game time...something that focuses on making simple decisions against a living breathing defender. Do something that you've done in practice, so it is routine and not stress-inducing. Do this for 5-10 minutes, then take a little break. Then play near the endzone in some little, non-exhausting, 7v7 way for 10-15 minutes. Then take a break and eat and drink a little water before game-time. Use practices to teach basic plyos that can help individuals warm up, and do them yourself to set a good example. Remind players (and mean it) that we should listen to our bodies and not try to play beyond our physical limits. Encourage your teammates to throw or run as they need to be ready to go, and trust them to do this (or don't play them early in the game if they can't seem to get the hang of it). Cheer, compete, and don't worry about the sprints you could have run that just might have given you a tiny advantage on a super-long sprint on point #1 maybe. And play.  

Lastly, I think great team leaders know that the game is sometimes exhausting and complicated. Practices (including the warm-ups at those practices) should reflect this. Pre-game routines are where great leaders keep it simple, fun and efficient so that the energy goes where it is needed most: the game.

huddle issue033

Tue June 28th, 2011

Preparing for the Game at Hand
by Max Cook

Get Your Team on One Page
by Greg Husak

Routine Need Not Mean Redundant
by Matt Mackey

The New School Warm-up
by Tim Morrill

Find What Works For Your Team
by Chelsea Putnam

Three Warm-Up Fundamentals
by Miranda Roth

Team Pregame Warm-Up Routines
by John Sandahl

Shift Your Focus
by Melissa Witmer

We Will Laugh
by Ben Wiggins




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