Why ‘harmless fun’ may backfire on you

A friend recently told me about an incident in one of her team’s recent training sessions which got me thinking.

Her coach set up what was intended to be a fun warm-up, involving players working in pairs. She said her team had done it many times previously and had all enjoyed it.

At the end, the coach told the players to do piggy-backs, with the last pair back doing a forfeit. Again, it was just intended as a bit of fun.

But the issue came as, at the session in question, the team had four new players who didn’t know the squad very well.

One of the new players apparently apologised to her partner for being heavy and commented – outwardly in jest but also clearly with a genuine undertone – about it making her self-conscious of her weight.

As the story was recounted to me, it made me realise that, with female football in particular, this is something coaches need to be really careful with.

When I was younger, I would be very self-conscious about these sorts of games and probably still am, to an extent. I think in that same situation, my immediate instinct would be to tell my partner to jump on my back, regardless of their physical stature – probably because I wouldn’t want to feel like the ‘heavy’ one.

That’s not to say these fun games shouldn’t happen. There is a place for them, but it’s vital to know your players and understand the relationships within the team.

If there are new players in the group, it could be a bit awkward – and if you coach a team of teenage girls, body image may be something a few are battling with.

Be careful in a senior team not to pair a 32-year-old with someone of 16, and if you have a player who struggles with weight issues, it is important to take their position into account.

It is, like a lot of coaching, just about knowing your players and how an innocent game could end up making them feel. It could have an impact on the remainder of your session – and not the positive one intended.

Of course, these are all just examples and to an extent, generalisations, but it is important to consider the impact a simple game could have.

Some players won’t mind piggybacking – but others might


Here are some other fun warm-up games to build morale after a defeat, or for team bonding if you have some new players:

The numbers game

Players jog around an area. When the coach calls a number, the players need to form groups of that size. Players not in that size group can do a forfeit (e.g. 10 star-jumps, or collecting all the equipment at the end).


Players aim to run (with or without a ball) from one end of the area to the other, avoiding the defender(s) in the middle. Start with one defender – then, when they catch someone, they can be joined by holding a bib/cone until you have a long line of defenders.

Noughts and crosses/tic-tac-toe

Set out a grid of cones in a 3×3 format and divide players into two small teams per grid. A player from each team races to place a ball or bib on a cone, aiming to make a line of three for their team, while the other team tries to do the same.

Capture the flag

Set out an area with a halfway line and a square in each corner. Each square needs a set number of footballs. A team starts in each half, protecting the balls within their two home squares, while also attempting to steal balls from the opponent’s squares. Two teams compete to get the most balls into their home squares. If a player is tagged while carrying a ball, they must return it. If a player is tagged without a ball, they must return to their half and start again.

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