I get this question a lot: should they stretch? YES
Follow up question: when and how? Before and after. Here’s how.
Before practice they should perform a dynamic warm up, moving the body parts to be used in a controlled and increasingly intense manner. That means: forward, backward, at angles, in rotations, at increasing pace and with increasing challenge. End with short sprints. I like to do this in partners who are released from the starting blocks in a peppered go…go…go. It’s very intimidating for the other team. 🙂 See upcoming post for design of a dynamic warm up.
Especially if you are coaching girls, be sure your dynamic warm up includes the plyometric, agility and hamstring strengthening activities – before practices and games. Get them moving right before they play. This will give them a head start toward preventing those, oh so prevalent, knee injuries. Insist on proper form. Warm up is an important part of game preparation; they need to do it well.
After the game, they need to return working muscles to their resting lengths. To do this, have them perform static stretching, hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds. You’re probably already huddling them for a post game chat. Have them stretch while you get whatever you need to say off your chest. They’re probably avoiding eye contact anyway – especially if it wasn’t a winning contest. Create a regular routine of stretches for them to go through post-game or post-practice.
There’s not just one correct set of stretches, but include the muscles/body parts most used – just like warm up. You can have them experiment with what position works best (standing, sitting, kneeling, lying). Conditions (like a wet or muddy field) may demand one over another. Form, again, is essential. Tension should be exerted along the line of the muscle just to the point of slight discomfort. No pain, no gain does not belong here.
Here’s a check list for your stretches:
hip flexor – front of thigh at hip (upper quad) *keep abdominals tight to stabilize pelvis
hip extensor – back of thigh at hip (upper hamstring)
hip abductor – outer thigh
hip adductor – inner thigh
quadriceps – front of thigh at knee
hamstring – back of thigh at knee
calf/achilles – back of ankle/heel *be sure heel and toe are aligned
shin/tibialis – front of ankle, laces down
Additionally, I recommend for more advanced players: gluteal, lower back, upper back, shoulders, triceps. Goal keepers, of course, require a more extensive set of stretches, using arms, shoulders, hands and torso.