Why Balanced Body Temperature is Everything in Soccer
Sep 16, 2022
Soccer players face all sorts of weather and climates, especially as they reach more intermediate or advanced levels of play. Traveling may mean playing in blisteringly hot cities, while one's local area may give rise to bitterly and unexpectedly cold days.
Regardless of what they feel like, harsh conditions can affect soccer performance. They can also increase injury risks and have life-threatening effects on players. This post will examine how maintaining a balanced body temperature is vital for players and what they can do to stay at the right temperature.
Temperature's effects on performance
Thermoregulation refers to the body's natural processes or ability to maintain a set temperature or to keep it within a (typically) narrow boundary. For humans, that's 98.6°F. There's some wiggle room — athletes can perform optimally if their temperature is between 97.7– 99.5°F. Thermoregulation works optimally in this range. The body can maintain consistent blood flow, which means muscles, tissues, and the heart receives adequate oxygenation.
However, temperatures slightly above or below this range are enough to cause a bodily reaction. A drop of one degree can induce shivering, while an increase of one degree can induce sweating.
It doesn't just end there, especially for athletes and soccer players. When it comes to soccer performance, these variances can have noticeable effects.
When the temp is too high or low
When players get too hot, they sweat, which is ordinary and unexpected. However, relentless heat produces heavy sweating, which can lead to dehydration if a player doesn't replace their loss of fluids adequately. The heart then pumps harder to fuel muscle movement and reduce body heat. That causes the body to work harder than it needs to, leading to premature fatigue and lower endurance. The dehydration even makes it harder to concentrate.
Cold extremes are rare in soccer, but they can affect performance too. Cold temperatures decrease blood flow, meaning muscles get less oxygenated blood to move effectively. Ultimately, this can lead to muscle rigidity and less fluid movements on the pitch.
In both cases, being too cold or too hot can lead players to misjudge balls bouncing, run and cut sluggishly, or suffer muscle cramps. The temperature extremes can also increase a player's risk for injuries.
Temperature's effects on player safety and health
Of course, temperature extremes can lead to temperature-related injuries in soccer. On one end of the spectrum are heat strokes, while on the other is hypothermia. They're rare because they're reasonably easy to prevent with the proper protocols. But they can happen occasionally.
Examples of heat and cold extremes in soccer
- Hypothermia — In a February 2022 World Cup Qualifying match, Honduran keeper Luis "Buba" López and forward Romell Quioto suffered hypothermia. The two were substituted during halftime for treatment. They played in Saint Paul, Minnesota, which gets notoriously cold (it was just five degrees at kickoff). The temperature would have undoubtedly been a shock for two players from a tropical country playing in subzero weather.
- Heat stroke — In August 2020, seventeen-year-old soccer player, Shane Thomas, collapsed during practice on one of the hottest days in Chino, California. Tragically, Thomas passed away. Temperatures reportedly reached 111°F on the day of practice. The San Bernardino County Coroner's Division ruled extreme heat as a contributing factor to Thomas' death.
Again, these are rare events, but they underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy body temperature while playing.
How to maintain a balanced body temperature
The most obvious advice here is to keep a player's body temperature balanced, ideally, in that 97.7– 99.5°F range mentioned above. Stories like Shane Thomas passing away due to extreme heat are more tragic because maintaining a balanced temperature is straightforward. With that said, here are life-saving reminders for players, parents, and coaches.
Temperature-regulating tips for soccer players
- Hydration — Aim to drink 20 oz of water two to three hours before a game, 10 oz every ten to twenty minutes during a game, and 20 oz when the tournament finishes. On sweltering days, you may need to increase this amount.
- Rest and recovery — Extreme heat, in particular, can lead to heat stroke if players over-exert themselves. So sufficient breaks are vital. But even cold temperatures can pose a hazard because pushing oneself with rigid muscles can lead to strains and sprains. Regardless of the temperature, extremes mean that players should rest more.
- Playing in appropriate facilities at appropriate times — Traveling to a different climate will naturally expose players to temperatures they're not acclimatized to. Where possible, the best thing coaches and organizers can do is have players compete in temperature-controlled facilities (with AC and heating).
- Wear appropriate gear (breathable or insulating material) — If playing in a temperature-controlled facility isn’t an option, players are responsible for wearing appropriate gear. That means wearing moisture-wicking and breathable jerseys and leggings for heat or insulated training gear for cold weather.
Temperature can be a player's friend or foe. We have little control over the climate or temperature of a particular region or day, but players protect themselves from extremes. By taking suitable measures to stave off the effects of heat or cold, they can play at their full potential while reducing their injury risk.
Looking for more tips on safety and performance in soccer? Check out our blog for more insights.