Having access to the program is only the first step in getting the benefits from FootyFirst. The biggest challenge is getting players to do the exercises regularly and properly. Many football clubs and coaches have introduced FootyFirst but every club and coach is different and some have been more successful than others in implementing FootyFirst.
Our experience shows that the keys to successfully implementing FootyFirst are:
- Get senior coach “buy-in” to the program. Unless the senior coach supports the program and cares whether or not it is done regularly and properly, it is unlikely to become a regular part of training. The senior coach does not need to actually deliver the program themselves, but they must support it and provide the time needed to do it (about 15–20 minutes like most other warmups).
- Find someone with the interest, knowledge and skills needed to lead the program. This could be the senior coach if they are interested, a respected player with an interest in fitness, the fitness, strength and conditioning or high performance coach, a sports trainer or the club physio (if your club has these personnel). It is crucial that a respected person at your club who knows what they are doing (or is willing to learn) leads the program and is responsible for the program.
- Persist. It will take time to get any new program or change embedded in your club or team. Have a plan about what to do when:
- New players join the team or you have players at many different fitness levels.
- Players return to training after a break (e.g. over the Christmas and New Year period).
- Transitioning from pre-season training to trial games and into the playing season.
- The person leading the program is away for an extended period.
- More time needs to be devoted to other things like game plan development and skill development.
- The weather is poor.
- Establish FootyFirst as your ‘standard’ warm up. FootyFirst has been designed to replace existing warm-ups and become part of every training session. Set expectations that players will do the program consistently and properly – make it mandatory and enforce it for all players. Ensure all coaches endorse this at all times.
- Explain to the players, coaches and support staff why FootyFirst is being introduced. Promote FootyFirst because it:
- Has the potential to provide the team and club with a competitive advantage – less injuries means more players available for selection which can lead to better team performance and ultimately more wins.
- Has the potential to also improve the football performance of individual players – better core strength, better landing technique and better cutting and changing direction technique makes for better football players.
- Is better, more efficient and more effective than your current warm-up if you are not already doing FootyFirst – if players are going to do something they might as well do something that has a specific purpose and you know will work.
- Get senior player support. Make sure a couple of respected players (e.g. the club captain) are on board who will participate enthusiastically and get everyone else committed to FootyFirst.
- Explain to the players what each FootyFirst exercise is designed to achieve. Players are more likely to do the FootyFirst exercises regularly and properly if they understand what the exercises are meant to be doing and how they will help them. Your coaching team is important here.
- Get the playing group to take ownership of the program. Even if the FootyFirst ‘leader’ is not there, players should still do the exercises anyway. This can be done by getting:
- Different players to lead different exercises.
- Players to provide feedback to each other on the quality of performance of each exercise — correct technique is really important with these exercises.
- Players to maintain their own records of which level they are up to and self-assess when they should progress to the next level.
- Point out when players are improving. It is surprising how quickly players get better at things like a single leg squat over a short period of time if they have never done it before. Consider doing some sort of pre-testing or videoing of players doing each exercise so they have a benchmark against which to measure any improvements in strength, balance or technique.
- Be creative when introducing the FootyFirst exercises into your program. Consider things like:
- Building some of the FootyFirst exercises into other drills and activities (e.g. add single leg balance when players are listening to a coach talk or when taking a break for a drink; add change of direction or jumping and landing activity in the middle of an “A kicks to B and runs through” type drill).
- Setting out stations with FootyFirst exercise instructions for players before they arrive for training and getting an assistant coach, a sports trainer, an injured player or even a committee member to oversee what the players do.
- Providing feedback on jumping and landing, and change of direction technique during all football activities. If someone’s technique is poor, point it out, show them what they need to do to improve it and get them to work on it.
- Use the FootyFirst resources. Show the players the FootyFirst DVD/video. Put the FootyFirst posters up around the club. Leave a FootyFirst manual around the club room. Give players their own copy of the FootyFirst poster for the level they are currently on.
- Develop a FootyFirst succession plan. Coaches, players and support staff come and go at football clubs so you will need a plan to ensure that, if your coach or the FootyFirst ‘champion’ or leader leaves the club, FootyFirst will continue. This plan could include:
- Ensuring FootyFirst is an expectation for any new coach or fitness, strength and conditioning or high performance person.
- Making sure the program’s success does not depend only on one or two people – make it a whole club priority with multiple ‘champions’.
- Keeping injury records so you can show everyone that it works and is worth continuing at your club.
Below is some feedback from the clubs that have already used FootyFirst:
“So it wasn’t an addition to what we were doing. It was probably we are doing this instead of … some of the things we have done in the past. So nah, it wasn’t … a burden or anything like that.”
“So you get into a routine of doing it and it becomes second nature.”
“I think it is the initial shock of, there’s this big program. It’s this, it’s that. It is sort of a bit daunting. But I think when you break it down, it really isn’t a huge time commitment. It isn’t difficult stretches or exercises. So I think, once you get into it you realise well hang on…. it ..is just more of a structured version of what we are doing.”
“Absolutely, and it is much more purposeful. Much more focusing on, instead of silly kick to kick that you could do with your grandma, into being a much more football applicable activity. I think we are actually making more of our time now rather than wasting what we used to..”
“Initially they had to get over “oh, we’ve got to do this on top of our training” and feeling as though they were time poor. That we can barely fit everything in, how are we going to fit this in as well. But once they saw that it was probably better than the warm-ups they had been doing, more inclusive of body parts ….., they would choose this in preference to our old style warm-ups. So once they realized that we are going to do it and no point whinging about it, and the fact that it is actually very good, they don’t have an issue with it at all. At all.”