Special goalWA.net Soccer Health feature
Most of the world plays its professional soccer (football) during the winter months. In the northwest that time of year sees college soccer, the end of the Major League Soccer season, high school soccer, and plenty of youth soccer. Don’t forget to add in various adult leagues, too. All of the players suit up knowing they could be in for a cold, perhaps even rainy match. It’s part of the sport around here.
But how does weather affect the soccer player and the soccer itself?
Even if the temperature isn’t all that cold at the start of a match, if it is raining, uniforms get soaked and halftime becomes danger time. The body starts cooling down in wet clothes and needs to be stretched again before the restart of play.
SoccerPerformance.org has posted an article that looks into this topic. Keeping warm is crucial to performance of the body’s muscles. The article states: “The harmful effects of cold exposure are mediated by the balance between heat production and heat loss. There is a close relationship between muscle performance and muscle temperature – as temperature decreases, so does performance. For example, muscle strength is impaired and slower reaction times have been shown under cold conditions.
“Vasoconstriction, where the blood flow to muscles or the outer parts of the body is reduced, takes place.”
“The risk of injury is also increased when exercising in the cold. Whether this be due to a poor playing surface or incorrect warm-up procedures, athletes should take the necessary precautions,” says SoccerPerfomance.org, adding, “To reduce the effects of cold weather, players should be correctly hydrated, undertake a good warm-up session and wear warm appropriate clothing. The coach must play a major part by making sure that players are correctly prepared and checking if the climatic conditions are suitable.”
Wet and Wild
“Even though playing in the rain can be amusing it can affect the score dramatically,” says this article, which looks at the challenges of goalkeeping in the rain. “Wet turf often resists the rotation of the making it move quicker, bouncier, and “sloppier”. Since the ball has virtually no rotation at this point it’s pushing hard through the turf making a goalkeeper’s drop kick impossible to control. Along with not controlling the movement of the ball it makes the ‘keeper’s vision blurred as well.”
Rain of course changes the surface you play on. Grass can become mud and turf is often slicker and faster when wet. Players need to adjust accordingly, and this could mean lighter touches on the ball, or a towel in goal for the ‘keeper to maintain dry gloves. Also consider your foot traction and what you wear as ‘layers’ beneath your uniform. Even if you only have one jersey, perhaps you can swap-out a soaking undershirt at halftime for a dry one.
Here are some more tips for when the weather gets even colder: How to dress for cold weather when playing soccer.
Rainy / windy match strategies
Some coaches prefer to not address weather with their players, fearing perhaps that “it will get into their heads” and change their coached style. Others realize weather is a factor that can’t be ignored, and they adjust to the moment.
This article from the UK, where weather is often a factor, deals with the issue head-on. “Ask your players to take more shots on goal and look to play the ball behind the defence more often than normal. Players are prone to slipping and misjudging bounces, so balls behind the defence can exploit these mistakes – a defender facing his own goal on a wet pitch is in a (literally) sticky situation as dribbling and passing back to the goalkeeper are both very risky strategies.”
“On the flip-side of this, ask your players to drop a little deeper when defending and ask midfielders to pressure the ball-carrier more intensely than normal. The ball will tend to stick, so the ball-carrier’s passing options are reduced at the same time as running with the ball is much more difficult.”
A wet ball means faster movement. Tell your team to keep their passing simple, and not to put too much weight on one leg. Goalies and defenders must clear their lines into touch.
When it is windy coaches may want to tell their players to keep the ball down and pass to their feet. Long balls into the wind do not work.
Here are some tips for playing soccer when it is windy: Playing in windy conditions.
Here are some more tips for dealing with rain: Playing soccer in the rain.
Don’t forget to hydrate
With water and sweat all around the player, it might be easy to think they don’t need to drink as much during winter weather as they do in the heat of the summer. This isn’t so, says this article. “Don’t reduce your fluid consumption. It’s true that sweating rates are lower in the cold than in the heat, but cold weather exercise can still be dehydrating. For one thing, water is lost from the respiratory system at an augmented rate on chilly days, and exposure to cold air can also increase urine production. Since feelings of thirst are diminished in cool air, the end result can be a dehydrated state which damages your performance and makes it harder to stay warm. The solution? Take in a glass of fluid immediately before a wintry workout and sip hot beverages immediately afterwards. Additionally, drink at least 8-10 glasses of water each day.”
The body plays differently in cold weather
The way soccer matches “look” and “play out” can been seen by players and spectators – the rain and cold make the sport a bit different as we’ve talked about above. Not as easy to notice is how a body plays differently from the inside-out.
Cold weather affects the body’s systems in different ways. The cardiovascular system responds to cold by increasing the heart rate and blood pressure and reduces the amount of blood closest to the skin’s surface. The airway passages of the cardiorespiratory system tend to narrow, making inhalation more difficult, so persons susceptible to asthma or exercise-induced bronchitis may have more difficulty breathing in cold air.
The bodily stores of glucose (a sugar) are depleted five times more quickly in cold weather, leading the body to use fat more readily to supply energy for itself. While the consequences of exercising in cold weather can be severe, there are several straightforward and effective ways to prepare. Wearing layered clothing is one of the first steps the cold-weather athlete should take. Wearing a hat or hood (when possible) is another important precaution, as more than 50 percent of the body’s heat is lost through the head.
Photos: by David Falk