Monday, November 17, 2014
This is ridiculous. Wasn’t it just 70 degrees out a few weeks ago? And now we are faced with this polar vortex affecting pretty much all of the United States. Just 80 miles north of me there is snowfall of up to 14 inches. Denver woke up this morning to negative-3 degrees with wind chills of negative-35 degrees. Yet, we are still two weeks away from Thanksgiving and almost three weeks away from December. A local window company arrogantly advertised that new windows would be free if we have measurable snow before Thanksgiving. After all, they have a hundred years of weather history backing them up. Now they must be fretting up at night watching The Weather Channel as if it’s the doomsday report.
Other than the obvious yuck factor for those of us who hadn’t pulled winter wear out of mothballs yet, there’s the added problem of a few more weeks of fall soccer season. Sunday, we sat through a frigid game for Robbie while two other youth games were being played on adjacent fields. The sidelines and bleachers looked like the Donner Party had taken up residence. The assistant referees in their shorts standing on the sidelines looked like waifs trapped on ice floes in a silent film. It was a miserable scene, but not as bad as the games that will be played this weekend. How do we protect our tiny players against the freezing elements, not to mention ourselves as we cheer them on?
I recently wrote about how we bundle up against the rains, thinking I had two months before I even had to consider bundling up against the frigid cold. Then we got ambushed by the jet stream. Hand warmers and rain slickers aren’t going to be sufficient to battle these elements. It’s time for heavy-duty protection. Let’s start with before the game. Kids need to be warm before they even start playing or practicing. Give them some hearty comfort food that includes good carbohydrates and proteins. Lots of kids don’t like oatmeal, but it’s a nearly perfect food if you can find a variety they’ll eat. Some soup, pasta dishes like spaghetti or macaroni and cheese, and sloppy Joes all provide good energy and some tummy warming nutrition. I’m a big fan of pizza, which can have carbs, protein, dairy and vegetables all wrapped up in an easy to cook and transport food source. Kids like cocoa, which you can put in a travel mug for the trip to the field. Even some granola bars along with cocoa or hot apple cider can provide the warm comfort that will stay with them for the first 20 minutes after they hit the cold.
Getting them cocooned for the weather requires some careful planning. Most league rules require that the uniform be completely visible during a game, which is difficult when you are trying to cover every single inch of bare skin. So be sure to save the jersey and shorts for last. Layers are best for many reasons. Those layers trap air which serves as further insulation and you can strip off the layers if the player gets too hot. Start with a protective thermal layer like Under Armour, Hanes, Nike Hyperwarm or Cold Pruf. They wick away the sweat, hold in the warmth, and provide that first layer of warmth. Put on socks. Then cover up with warm up pants and a fleece or Lycra top. Often warm-ups are an optional part of a team’s kit so if you purchased them you’ll be in team colors with a team logo visible – nice, but not necessary. Then put the uniform over all of that. Add some one-size fits all gloves and hats that I keep by the bucketful in the car. They’ll look like a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, but they’ll be warm.
On the team bench it’s difficult to keep warm when a player is just sitting and not moving. Most truly cold days are also very windy, making the polar blast worst. If anyone on the team has a portable canopy, it can be set up as a wind screen behind the bench. There are thermal reflective “space” blankets that cost less than $5 each that you can keep on hand and give to the kids to help insulate them. Make sure your player has a coat handy to wear when not playing, even before the game and between quarters or halves. A thick blanket to cover the bench provides some more protection against the elements so the kids don’t need to sit on anything cold drawing away their body heat. Although it isn’t about being warm, it’s important to stay hydrated when it is cold. So be sure there’s plenty of water and/or sports drink available.
Spectators need to stay warm too. Besides wearing layers, gloves and a hat, you may want some other ways to fight the weather effects. There are heated seats you can set in your chair. For less than $20, you can get Lava Buns, which has two packets you heat in the microwave and insert in a cover provided in either red or blue. It advertises it will stay warm for up to five hours, but a few customers complain that they got two or less. For a more reliable source there’s battery powered stadium cushions from Venture Heat for $69 with four hours of heat and GameWarmer’s three hours for $49 that can also charge your cell phone. Those disposable hand and foot warmers are wonderful if you are spectating. I do keep these in the car as well. You can pick them up at any sports store that sells hunting and fishing gear. Several outlets sell boot liners that are like extra plush and insulated socks. These can be calf or knee length and sell for around $20 from companies like Jileon, Capelli, L.L. Bean and Nomad. They provide great warmth for rain boots and extra warmth in boots that already have linings.
Warming up after a match or practice can be as important as staying warm during the activity. I love my heated car seats but many people don’t have these, and they are usually only in the front seats. So you can buy separate seat warmers that plug into the car. These are both seat and back warmers and some provide extra lumbar support. They run around $20 to $30 each. You can also use the heated stadium seat cushions listed above if you want to do dual functions but they don’t provide heat to the back. Swaddling in some warm covers can make our kids feel toasty. There are electric blankets which plug into the car either through 12V or AC outlets. These can be placed over, under, and around the kids to give them a nice warm core after they leave the field. There are dozens of options in the $22 to $40 range on Amazon. Finally keeping a thermos of hot beverage handy for a post-event warming will provide that river of heat to thaw them from the inside out. Some lively music that kids can bounce to will also fire up those chilled bones and make the trip home enjoyable no matter the outcome of the match.
As I watch the snow flurries outside my window and scoot closer to the fire I built, I think about the pleasant days when I only had to worry about sunscreen, rain ponchos and which sweater to bring just in case. Now I have to prepare for an Arctic adventure like a penguin mother scooching her fledglings into the center of a crèche of birds to keep them warm. I’ve been to tournaments where the snow had to be shoveled off the green or swept clear of the side, end, and goal lines so the game could proceed. I’ve parked behind the bench and built a blanket warming tent extending out my van’s sliding door with the car heaters going full blast. But this will be the first time I have to consider all of that before November is even half-way over. It actually makes me long for the old sock and sweat stench of indoor soccer. It may be putrid but at least I can take my coat off to watch.