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When wintertime has a lock on your training pitch, but you have to get ready to prepare for the next part of the season, you might ask yourself: “Is it really necessary to practice in the cold? Shouldn’t I rather wait for warmer days?” We will enlighten you about the dangers of training in frosty conditions and give some advice on how to prepare for the next part of the season without being concerned about your players safety and health. Even when it is snowing!

Dangers of training through the winter

There is a fine line between asking your players to “toughen up” and actually cancelling a practice session due to bad weather. On one side, snow and rain create difficult and often slippery field conditions and therefore pose an increased risk of injuries to players. This situation especially applies to injuries of tendons and ligaments. During the preparation for the next period of your soccer season, this is the last thing you need. Additionally, muscle injuries are a common threat during the winter months due to insufficient warm-ups.

However, probably the biggest danger when training in winter is for your players to experience hypothermia. Bear in mind that body temperature reduction does not require temperatures near freezing point. The so called windchill-effect explains why we already start freezing at much higher temperatures when exposed to wind. The cold temperatures forces the body to increase its thermoregulation, which means that it tries to maintain your body temperature at a high level to ensure that muscles and organs can keep working optimally. This task poses a huge challenge for the human organism and will quite often lead to a weakened immune system. Especially through the winter, you’d want your players to have a strong immune defence because the cold and dry air is the ideal environment for flu viruses and might as well cause other respiratory diseases. Therefore people with asthma should be very careful training in cold weather.

Nevertheless, different studies have shown that athletes who continuously train in cold weather environment, develop a more resistant immune system, than athletes that only train in low temperatures from time to time. This means you should not avoid to have your team’s training sessions in cold weather, but only need to know how to deal with the conditions.

The perfect athletic apparel in cold weather

The best methods to secure yourself from the risks of training in cold weather are the ones that don’t even let your body turn hypothermic. Therefore putting on the right clothes should be your preferred action before the practice session starts. As comfortable a thick cotton sweatshirt might be at home, as inadequate it is on the soccer field though. The cotton becomes saturated with sweat very fast and increases chances of body temperature reduction. Remember – wet and heavy sports clothing should be avoided particularly during the winter months. The smarter choice for a cold day soccer training is to wear breathable and functional clothing. It helps spreading and wicking moisture away from the skin to the next layer of clothing to increase sweat evaporation. This kind of fabric is best combined with the so called onion-shell principle, that advises to wear thin and breathable layers of clothing. The athlete can take off layer after layer during the warm up or training. The outer layer should always provide a good protection from the elements, such as snow, rain and wind.

"Practicing with shorts in cold weather increases risks of injuries to the lower extremities and also causes exposure."

In like manner, hats and gloves should be more than just fashion accessories to the players. At least 40% of the body heat is lost around the head area if it is unprotected and this is something absolutely to be avoided, when it is freezing cold. Likewise a scarf being wrapped around the nose and mouth area can help to preheat air prior to inhaling it. Which can serve as a protection for the mucous membranes. Quite often, coaches will see players wearing hats, gloves, appropriate apparel on the upper body, but only shorts covering the legs! It is the moment, where every coach should step in. Practicing with shorts in cold weather increases risks of injuries to the lower extremities and also causes exposure. When the temperature drops below 10°C, players should start wearing long tights under their shorts like Arjen Robben does.

Tips on soccer practice in winter

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The importance of a quality warm-up routine increases even more, when the temperatures start dropping much more like in summer. Although it is just the start of the training and players want to have a chat with their buddies, it’s also a crucial part of the training session.The athletes should be focused by no later than the second warm up lap. Due to the low temperatures, players are much more injury-prone in winter. Cold tendons, ligaments and muscles are not nearly as reliable as after a quality warm up.

"The lower the temperatures, the more consistent and uniformly the intensity of strains in training should be."

Consequently a moderate running program is the best way to start your cold weather practice. Soccer balls can be added to the running to raise the player’s awareness – But careful – Balls will always be a big temptation to shoot and pass around, which is an invitation for injuries to muscles and tendons. The warm up should be increasingly dynamic and it doesn’t matter if takes five minutes longer than usual.

The given field conditions should also be decisive for your exercise planning – e.g you shouldn’t practice diving headers with ground frost on the pitch. The same goes for exercises which need long explanations. Save them for warmer days! Players need to stay active throughout the training to prevent hypothermia. When it comes to the intensity, high strains involving great numbers of interval run, should be avoided as well. The following applies – the lower the temperatures, the more consistent and uniformly the intensity of strains in training should be. It prevents the players from reaching excessive breathing frequencies that increase the risk of side effects when training through cold weather. Please pay attention to individual differences in player performance and take health problems, like aching throats, seriously.

Once the session is successfully completed, dangers of low temperatures persists with sweaty sport clothing. Take off wet clothes, take a warm shower and put on dry clothes! It is particularly crucial, because the body temperature decreases after practice and increases the sensitivity of the immune system. The same applies to the common immediate drive home in the supposedly warm car.

Important tip at the end. Players suffering from a flu or are still recovering from it, should not be allowed to practice until they made a full recovery. The high stress for the cardiovascular system during soccer training in winter, increases even further during or shortly after a flu. Rather give a day longer to rest in order to avoid myocarditis inflammation and risk the long-term health.

In case your training field gets closed due to bad weather conditions nonetheless, make sure you are prepared for this scenario. Read our recent article on how to use the winter break to your advantage.

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