These pre-game soccer tips will help your children perform better

To increase your child’s or team’s chances of performing at their best during a soccer match, it’s important to teach them pre-game day routines they can follow each game day. Make sure your match-day prep starts long before the first whistle blows to ensure peak performance in your player.

The day before

Avoid a hard workout the day before a game. Your body needs time to repair the muscles and cells damaged during hard physical exertion, so a day’s rest is the minimum your child should get before a game. Stretching or some light physical activities that doesn't cause them to break a sweat are OK if they've got nervous energy to expend.

Feed kids a mix of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fats during the day, opting for more carbs during lunch and mostly carbs during dinner. Avoid carbs such as sweets and white bread. Whole grain pastas, breads and sweet potatoes are good choices. Make sure they drink plenty of water so they are hydrated for the next game.

The night before

Your body lowers it core temperature, releases specific hormones and repairs cells during sleep, which is why a good night’s rest is so important. Have kids do a good stretch of all their muscles before they turn in. Don’t let them eat during the last few hours they’re awake so they can get into a restful sleep without their stomachs growling or sugars elevating their metabolisms. Avoid high-intensity video games, difficult homework or scary movies at least two hours before bedtime. Make sure they get at least eight hours of restful sleep.

Have your child lay out everything they will need for the next day. Include all clothing, footwear and accessories. Check their equipment bag – you might be surprised what’s been sitting inside since the last practice or game. Creating a night-before and game-day checklist will make it easy for your child to prepare for each game without your help.

Game day morning at home

Start the morning with another stretch, followed by a good breakfast. Add some lean protein such as ham, yogurt, milk or turkey bacon, to a carb-heavy breakfast. Choose low-fat, rather than fat-free, dairy sources so kids have some fat for fuel during the game. Check your child’s urine – it should be a pale yellow for proper hydration. After breakfast has settled in his or her stomach, have your child start drinking water until they are properly hydrated.

If your child will be playing in the hot sun, apply sunscreen after a shower, when lotions will absorb better into the skin. It takes about 30 minutes for sunscreens to completely absorb into the skin. Don’t wait until shortly before the game to apply sunscreen or it might be too late to prevent some sunburning.

Dress early, rather than saving it for last before you leave the house. It’s better to walk around the house in your soccer clothes for an hour than to dress in a panic in the car on the way to the game. You won’t know what you’re missing or have forgotten until you start dressing, so it’s better to get dressed early, rather than close to your departure time. If your child tapes before matches, make sure this gets done early. Let your child relax with TV or by playing with the family pet after getting dressed.

Create a schedule and pattern of stretching, eating, showering, dressing and anything else your child will do each game morning, and have him or her do it in the same order each week. This helps create a ritual that reinforces a game-day mindset, rather than a typical daily routine.


Get to the park or field 30 minutes or so early. If no one else is there, your child can loosen up with ball dribbling and passing, followed by a dynamic warmup of light calisthenics. Do not static stretch (stretch-and-hold) less than 20 minutes before the game starts. This type of stretching temporarily desensitizes muscles and decrease power and vertical leap. Have your child check in with their coach to make sure they have got everything they needs and knows where they need to go.

Try to relieve pre-game jitters with some controlled breathing. Avoid intense strategy talks that can increase anxiety or cause confusion -- if your child or team isn’t ready to play a few minutes before the game, trying to teach during those last few minutes can do more harm than good.

Talk to your child or team and get them to let you know they are ready, want to have fun and are looking forward to the game. Let them know you want them to have fun and that you are not pressuring them to win. Avoid saying things like, “We need this game,” or “Remember what you’ve been working on,” as they trot out onto the field.

RELATED: The most common, yet misunderstood sports injury

Steve Milano

Steve Milano has been writing and lecturing on youth sports for more than 25 years. He ... View Full Bio

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