Youth sports can get crazy, especially if you are on a travel team. Weekend tournaments spring up all over the country at various gyms and athletic complexes. The competition is fierce, and the schedules are ever-changing. A weekend tournament can involve up to eight or so games in a 48-hour span, depending on who wins and loses. Sometimes you don’t find out who or when you are playing until the last minute. This can be hectic, stressful, and miserable. I don’t encourage kids to get too involved in the craziness of travel ball, but that’s modern sports for you. If that can’t be avoided, coaches need a game plan for when things don’t go according to plan.
Coaches typically have a standard team warmup routine, which is fine. However, coaches should ditch the regular warmup altogether and utilize side games when you don’t have time for the usual.
Side games are a quick and incredibly efficient strategy to get an athlete game-ready in a hurry. The key is to get every athlete actively involved in a small form of competition in the sport. Games like pepper, pickle, or bunting games are good for baseball. Small one-on-one or two on two games with condensed playing dimensions are great for soccer and basketball. There are always new little games being invented as well.
Side games quickly and effectively get the heart rates going while not exhausting the athlete. But what separates side games from other team warmups is the competition. If you only have a couple of minutes heads up before game time, side games will also get the competitive juices flowing. This is a quick, straightforward, fun, and highly effective way to prepare a team for a game in a hurry.
Apart from the competition, the other attribute that makes side games superior is their sports specificity. Typical team warmup exercises like jogging, lunging, and stretching are great, but they don’t exactly replicate the movements within the sport. Side games are literally condensed versions of the sport. Nothing will help an athlete prepare to score a basket than practicing the literal act before the game. These movements not only warm up the muscles in a sport-specific way but will also improve their game coordination. Lunges are great, but they won’t help you make a jump shot. However, practicing a jump shot with someone guarding you should help you make the basket in the game.
Show and Go
When I played baseball in college, sometimes time was of the essence. Traffic, mechanical issues on the bus, and impending bad weather can unpredictably create time restrictions. When traveling multiple hours to another school, sometimes unexpected things happen. Sometimes we had to “show and go.” No batting practice, no taking infield, and none of the traditional pre-game preparations. Baseball is a high-skill sport, but one that doesn’t need a whole lot of conditioning. The only real necessary warmup is throwing. A cold arm can’t throw hard. There’s a progression that’s needed. On those days, that’s all we did. A few minutes of throwing, maybe a few swings, and the team is good to go in just a few minutes. Although throwing isn’t considered a game, it still falls under the umbrella of a sport-specific activity that quickly prepares an athlete for a game, so we’re counting that as a side game as well.
Research shows that these side games create high-intensity efforts but low perceived energy exertion. This means the athletes can get fired up very quickly but simultaneously not get tired. No other warmup method is proven to deliver such results, making competitive side games the ultimate quick warmup for the athletes.
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