Soccer in Cold Weather
This article will describe the risk factors and signs associated with playing soccer in the
cold weather and will make practical suggestions to keep players safer, warmer, and
more comfortable under cold or wet conditions.
Generally speaking, soccer players are not in the cold weather long enough to sustain
serious cold weather injuries, however there are many climates in which the game is
played during very cold and wet conditions and tournaments can leave players exposed
for longer periods.
Susceptibility to cold injury depends on our ability to retain heat plus our ability to
generate heat, minus the particular cold challenge of the day. As the cold weather
overcomes our ability to retain and make heat, we lose core temperature. When we lose
core temperature to the point where normal muscle and brain function becomes
impaired, hypothermia has set in. Frostbite is an injury speciﬁcally to the skin caused by
cold exposure. Frostnip is the mildest form of this injury and usually affects the cheeks,
earlobes, ﬁngers and toes.
Cold Challenges > Heat Retention + Heat Generation = Hypothermia and Frostbite
Heat Retention + Heat Generation > Cold Challenges = No Problem
|Temperature||Players are most vulnerable as temperatures drop towards or below freezing.|
|Wind||Wind evaporates moisture and draws heat from exposed skin. Soccer ofﬁcials and coaches should carefully consider whether to allow practices or games
when the temperature is below freezing and wind conditions are high.
|Rain||Wet skin freezes faster than dry skin and water
conducts heat from the body 25 times faster than air.
|mild||Shivering, goose bumps, numb hands|
|Moderate||Intense shivering, uncoordinated movements, mild confusion, difﬁculty speaking, withdrawn|
|Severe||Shivering stops, exposed skin becomes bluish, unable to walk, muscles rigid, decreased breathing and heart rate. Unconsciousness eventually follows|
What To Do
|Hypothermia||Warm the player as soon as possible and take care to
avoid further heat loss. Change wet clothing for dry and
add extra layers as soon as possible. Shelter the player
from wind and rain and use blankets (warm if available).
Warm ﬂuids will provide hydration and are a source of
both calories and heat. Food intake will provide a slower
release of energy. Alcohol, caffeine and tabacco should
be avoided as they may further dehydrate the player and
decrease blood ﬂow.
|Frostnip||Do not rub the area. Gently rewarm by blowing on the
tissues, or immersing them in warm water (38 to 41°C).
Warming should only take place if you are sure that the
tissues will not freeze again. Refreezing of newly thawed
tissue can cause serious damage.
If the player has both hypothermia and frostnip, the
priority is to warm the core.
Practical tips to retain and generate heat to prevent cold injury
and improve the comfort and performance of soccer players in cold weather.
a. Cover Up: Exposed skin loses heat to the environment. Wind will remove heat
even faster but worse still is to allow the skin to remain wet. Wear layers that wick
away from the skin. Cotton absorbs moisture and keeps it close to the skin
therefore is a bad material to wear on cold, wet or windy days. Polyester and
polypropylene fabrics are lightweight and will wick moisture away from the body
so any sweat produced does not lead to increased heat loss.
b. Gloves: Gloves help retain heat and usually offer padding on the ﬁnger tips for
additional grip. If you take throw-ins on cold days you know the extra challenge of
controlling a throw with frozen ﬁngers.
c. Headgear: Wear a hat or touque for as long as possible on cold days. Some
leagues will allow soft headgear to be worn on the ﬁeld.
d. Goalkeepers: Keepers generate less heat than other players and therefore need
to layer up even more than the other players.
e. Hydrate: Our bodies lose moisture even when playing in the cold. Rather than
water loss through sweat, we lose it through breathing, Water is required to
maintain all body functions, including heat retention so hydration in the cold is still
f. Carbohydrates: When skin is exposed to the cold we use less fat and more
glycogen for energy. The increased rate of glycogen leads to earlier fatigue and a
less potential heat generation. A good carbohydrate rich meal a few hours before
a match is especially important in cold weather. Players can also supplement
extra carbohydrates by ingesting a sports drink (typically 6-8% carbohydrate, not
more) before and during and after the warm-up and competition.
g. Vaseline: On cold and/or wet days, apply a layer of vaseline on the toes, legs,
body, ears, neck and cheeks. This layer makes a barrier to moisture and wind
which allows players to retain more heat. This small tip will result in far greater
comfort on the cold soccer pitch.
h. Stay Fit: Unﬁt players will have less energy to expend on both soccer demands
and heat production.
i. Acclimate: Traveling teams should ideally allow 8 to 10 days of acclimation to
get used to new cold climates.
Remember, human beings are better at dissipating heat than we are at retaining heat.
Children are even more susceptible to cold weather than older players. These suggestions will help players to retain heat and have the energy to generate heat. The combination of these two factors are the best protection against the cold challenges of soccer under inclement conditions.
As with most injuries, it is better to prevent than cure.
Yours in Sport,
JR is a physiotherapist, a player, coach and father. He has worked in amateur and
professional soccer and has also written a book on soccer safety available free of
charge at www.goal-tek.com. Articles are also available on the website