Monday, October 24, 2011
Just outside my window sits a thermometer. Without it, I could end up leaving for a soccer game completely unprepared, since weather can be deceptive. Take today for instance. The sun is shining, the sky is clear blue, and the temperature is 44 degrees. If I judged the weather by empirically charting the view, I'd end up under- or over- dressed time after time. Weather determines so much when it comes to soccer: what we wear, what the kids wear, times, locations, snacks, driving times, accessories, and seating. Fall and spring soccer stretch across several weather patterns, disrupting and changing plans regularly. Preparing for the weather turns into a major preoccupation for soccer families. Here are a few suggestions based on years of wrestling with Mother Nature.
Let's start with the worst scenario. Rain will never be sufficient for canceling a game or practice. But rain will create all kinds of problems. The best case would be for torrential rains closing the field. But be careful what you wish for, because all canceled games must be rescheduled and that free weekend on the calendar can now become the busiest weekend on the calendar as missed games get squeezed into available time. If the game does happen, you'll need plenty of accessories to insure that the ride home doesn't devalue your car drastically by ruining the interior with mud, muck, and water. Put large garbage bags on the floors to catch all cast-off grime, wipes to remove mud from hands, faces and legs, towels to dry hair, plastic bags to hold muddy cleats, and even more plastic bags to hold disgusting socks, shorts, and jerseys. Having a box for rainy days sitting packed in your garage makes these days less onerous. I can't emphasize enough the importance of kids not taking socks off in the car while traveling. In my experience they are the gift that keeps on giving crumpled under the driver's seat, pushed up against the heater, and emanating their distinctive smell for weeks, even after being discovered and removed.
Cold weather seems an easy fix; just add more clothing. But there are rules about uniforms and extra clothing that some referees take very seriously. If you can afford to, buy some long john underwear that can easily be worn under the shorts with socks pulled up over, so that no uniform rules are violated. Add some insulated long-sleeved underwear and you've created a warmer player with ease of movement. While you can get the performance clothing options, you can also go to any hunting gear outlet to find similar products for less money. My favorite cold weather products are ""space blankets"" which are those colorful blankets lined with silvery Kevlar. They cost less than $15, can be found at big box stores and sporting good stores, fold into a tiny package and serve as a great wind break and reflector of body heat. You can put two or three easily in a soccer bag for the kids on the bench to use. I also love those hand and foot warmers which feel like packs of sand. Once you activate them, they last long enough for warm-ups, the soccer game, and the trip home. They cost around $2.50 for three disposable pairs. At the end of every winter, I raid stores for their stocking hats and stretch gloves. I can get them as cheap as three for a dollar. I store them in the garage and toss several hats and pairs of gloves in the soccer bags to be used as needed. These have saved the day several times when the winds of winter unexpectantly whipped up in April. For parents' comfort you can invest in a Tempachair or stadium cushion that has a heated seat. You can even recharge it using your car battery, so it's great for tournament weekends.
On some occasions you'll need to deal with actual snow and ice. While all the cold weather suggestions would definitely apply, adding snow and ice to the mix creates an additional set of requirements. You can use a water-proof tarp to throw over the bench and onto the ground where the kids put their feet. Place some towels on top of the tarp on the ground giving the players a warmer dry place to set their feet and a place to absorb the cold melting snow off their boots. Having a small broom and collapsible shovel can help if field lines need to be cleared off or someone's car gets stuck.
Hot weather soccer can be the worst. First and foremost be sure that your player has extra water and/or sports drinks to keep hydrated. Hydration is vital for any soccer game, but even more important on hot days when fluids are lost both from activity and evaporation. Add a spray bottle for misting faces, necks, and forearms to help with cooling by evaporation. Some fancier spray bottles include a battery-powered fan, which is nice, but not necessary. If you want to be really fancy, there is a portable misting tower for $40 from Improvements that needs an outdoor spigot and hose to operate. Not practical for most games, but could be a great addition to your club park. You can also bring a small cooler filled with ice water and washcloths that the kids can apply to the back of their necks during breaks. For parents on the sidelines I swear by my pop-up hood chair. But a beach umbrella works too. Just plant it in the ground and angle to give you the shade you crave. Ambitious parents with big car trunks can bring along a rolling canopy. Most can be set up in a minute or two and provide shade for the team bench or a group of parents. The value packs with a roller bag and a side wall run for less than $150.
Lightning kills more people annually than tornadoes or hurricanes, so treating this weather nemesis with respect is vital for our young players. There are lightning detectors that clubs can invest in which are very high tech and extremely reliable, but also costly running around $500 to $1000. There are personal lightning detectors which are less accurate, but still provide information that will help warn when lightning approaches before you can hear the thunder or see the strikes. These cost under $100. In addition having a good weather radio on hand will help with any severe weather that threatens but hasn't yet materialized. Most good weather radios can operate on electricity, battery and crank power. The radios should provide the NOAA channel. Eton offers a Red Cross approved radio that is also solar powered and has a cell phone charger for $30.00. Having a radio available for the team will help everyone make important decisions and give timelines for when a storm will pass. Consider having a flashlight available as well since overwhelming storms can really darken the skies. A ball of twine, the aforementioned tarp, and some tent stakes can provide a shelter or a wind break.
Most of these weather-related items cost under $20 and are readily available, so can be inexpensively gathered. All of these can be stored in boxes or cases marked for the various conditions to throw in the car as you leave for a game or practice. Soccer and most youth sports follow the U.S. Postal Service motto of "Neither snow nor rain nor heat. . ." when it comes to completing games and practices, so you need to be prepared. Understanding that youth sports come with filthy uniforms, runny noses, wind-chapped lips, and sweaty brows will help you get through the bad weather spells. Most days will be glorious, so enjoy them. And for those that aren't, you can power through with a few helpful tools.