#44 – Effective Weather Policy for Youth Soccer

Who Cares?

"How's the weather?" is a common conversation opener, but when I hear it, I brace myself for a boring discussion. I get it. This is important stuff though. People have been hurt or killed, and thousands of games get cancelled or delayed every season. I've heard parents and coaches complain about a closure or delay and I understand that too. We came to play soccer, not sit in our car or worse - go home without grass or turf jammed in our cleats. 

An effective policy is one that keeps players and spectators safe, and protects the fields from damage. 

It's Just Rain...

I hear this one a lot. A little rain never hurt anyone. While probably close to being true, a little rain might hurt a field. Well... the rain actually just softens up the field most of the time. It's a stampede of 14 to 22 pairs of cleats running across the field that causes the damage. 

Soft grass fields can be damaged easily. Cleats kick up clumps of grass. Mud slicks and holes are left where the grass used to be. Those slicks and holes grow. They become trip hazards, slip hazards, and ankle twisting hazards. The pool with water which hides their depth and bend player's knees backwards when they misread the terrain. 

Rain by itself ins't much of a threat. It makes the ball wet. It makes a ball slap hurt more than usual. It can get in a player's eyes and cause them to misread a header or slip and slide into another player. But the rain itself isn't much of a threat. In fact, one may argue, rain and mud makes the game even more fun! At least that's the way we looked at it when we were kids. 

Rules about playing on damaged fields have evolved over time. Today, playing on a damaged field is something we try to avoid. In fact, we try to avoid damaging the field at all. This way, we get a full season of play time out of it. 

Keep in mind that when fields are closed for rain, it's for safety of the players and protection of the fields. In our area of the country, the general rule is if there has been 1/2 inch of rain or more on a field in the previous 24 hours before an event, the fields are closed. Our County government makes that rule. What's the rule like in your part of the country?

Thunder and Lightning on Soccer Fields

Whether we see lightning or hear thunder, it really makes no difference. You can't have thunder without lightning, and either one means you're in a bad spot if you're on a soccer field. 

What do they tell you in lightning storms? Get away from trees because the tallest thing is more likely to be struck than things that are low to the ground. Experts teach us to seek shelter, minimize our exposure, minimize the damage. 

Take it from a guy who's done CPR on a full grown man who had the misfortune of 50,000 volts of electricity through his body. High voltage and the human body don't mix! Think overcooked turkey and the smell of burnt hair here. Freaked out? Good. 

On a soccer field, the players and spectators are very often the tallest thing on the field next to the goal posts. That's like having 8-22 lightning rods running around. 

The illustration above, done by Ted Slampyak for The Art of Manliness, shows you the best position to assume if you're caught in a storm.

And don't go for the goal posts in case you're thinking that it's safer near them. Lightning spreads out across the ground when it strikes something like a tree, a goal post, or a human crouched in lightning position. That's why experts also have us spread out 100 feet between people - so if one gets hit, the others might still survive!

The right thing to do here is clear out! Get off the field. Get into a car, a concrete bathroom house, a nearby building... Just about any shelter is better than hanging around in the open on a soccer field. 

You should stay clear for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder or strike of lightning. Anything less than 30 minutes and you might still be close enough to a storm to get struct by a bolt. Most fields use the 30 minute rule. In the middle of a tournament, this can slide everything to the right on the schedule - making for late starts for the rest of the day unless they find a way to trim time off the schedule and reset game times to normal. 

Hot Days on a Soccer Field

Not as spectacular and scary as thunder, but also uncomfortable and potentially deadly is hot and cold weather. The best policy for hot and cold weather that I've been able to find has specifics about temperatures and what should happen to practices, games, and uniforms when certain thresholds are reached. See the table below.  

HEAT INDEX

RECOMMENDATIONS

Up to 84°

Normal Play

85°- 89°

Mandatory two-minute water breaks per half with running time.

90°-99°

Mandatory two-minute water breaks per half with running time. Each half shortened by five minutes.

100°-104°

Mandatory two-minute water breaks per half with running time. Each half shortened by ten minutes.

105°+

Suspend Play

Heat is a problem when it prevents the body from cooling itself. The hotter the body gets, the more likely it is to increase fatigue levels, develop cramps and increase the possibility of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The hotter and more humid the weather, the faster these problems can develop. Temperatures as low as 65 degrees, with a relative humidity of 100%, can be serious.

1. Every coach and referee should have access to a heat index chart (www.nws.noaa.gov)
2. Games need to be adjusted as the heat index rises:

     a. Mandatory water breaks
     b. Go to quarters
     c. Shorten the games

3. Provide training to coaches to teach the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Club administrators and tournament officials are responsible for monitoring the heat index (by weather radio, online or the Weather Channel) and keeping the participating teams and game officials informed of the heat index. Coaches are encouraged to also monitor the conditions. 

Cold Days on a Soccer Field

Sometimes, cold becomes a factor. Players should be allowed to dress in appropriate clothing. Field conditions will be affected by freezing rain, sleet, and snow. The ground may become frozen and be unsafe for play. Temperature means either ambient (still air) or wind chill index. Check weather radio frequently for temperature and weather conditions.

Here is a sample cold weather table and the modifications to play that might go along with changes in temperature. I took this chart from Massachusetts Youth Soccer. They deal with cold pretty often and should know. I found exactly the same table being used by clubs out in the Mid-West. 

Taken from Massachusetts Youth Soccer - They should know!

  • Players on sidelines should remain dressed (if in warm-ups) until they enter the game.
  • Players coming off should towel off (if sweaty) and get dressed quickly.
  • No one should sit or lie directly on ground. The heat is lost faster to ground than to air. Blankets and chairs are recommended.
  • Keep hydrated-avoid caffeine and carbonated drinks.
  • Keep an eye on field conditions (wet, icy, etc.). Cold wet conditions can quickly change field from safe footing to slippery.
  • Keep an eye on the goalie—usually the player who gets coldest first, as not running or moving like a field player.
  • Referees and coaches should discuss weather and fields pre-game.
  • Safety and health of the players come first.

Strong Winds

Winds present unique hazards and game conditions on the field. Objects can become projectiles, sand can become eye an eye irritant, and gear can find it's way on and off the field on it's own. From a purely game strategy perspective, winds force a team to consider their ground game vs their air game. From s safety perspective, officials on the field need to make the call. 

Safety is always priority number one. If unsafe conditions occur, it becomes the responsibility of officials (coaches and referees) to make a judgement call and ensure everyone is safe. 

Who's In Charge?

Typically, in the run-up to a game or practice, the club or organization makes the judgment call. Once players arrive and the game is under way, the officials on the field have the decision authority. This would be referees (who typically will consult with the coaches), or coaches if the event is a practice or other gathering. 

Resources:

  • “Dancer Isadora Duncan Is Killed in Car Accident.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dancer-isadora-duncan-is-killed-in-car-accident.

The Soccer Sidelines

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