Even in cold weather - it is important for children to move their bodies. Doing so is an important element of both physical and mental health.
However, BSA parents often have questions about playing in cold weather. Is it safe? When is it too cold? How can I keep my child warm and healthy when temperatures drop?
ISB Raiders Athletic Trainer, Jared Maisel shared some excellent insight and tips regarding what parents, coaches, and players should keep in mind during the winter months.
We are so grateful to Jared for taking the time to speak with us and we hope you find his insights helpful.
Is it okay to play in the cold?
Yes, generally speaking it is safe to participate in sports during cold weather. However, there are some considerations that may be necessary, especially if the participant has an underlying health condition (like asthma or cardiovascular disorders).
In fact, environmental conditions are one of the reasons why young athletes should see their doctor annually for a physical before joining in sports. So, one of the first recommendations is to seek evaluation by your family physician to ensure safe sports participation on an annual basis, especially if your child has a pre-existing health condition.
Moreover, please consult with your doctor if your child develops any issues that could be cold-weather related - like difficulty breathing, abnormal skin conditions or severe extremity pain.
What can be done to keep arms, legs, feet, and hands warm to reduce the chance of injury?
You may have heard people say, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing." While the research is mixed on whether cold weather causes illnesses like cold/flu, some conditions like frostnip, frostbite, chilblain, urticaria, and hypothermia may develop in cold weather.
To reduce the chances of developing cold weather health conditions, players should be prepared with layers of clothing. As they warm up and clothes become sweaty, athletes can remove excess layers of clothing. This can help prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Waterproof shells for rainy conditions are also recommended to prevent saturation from rain, snow or sweat.
Furthermore, consider warm coverings for the head as it is one of the the main areas for heat loss. Players should be prepared with high quality socks and gloves to protect the extremities as these are the first sites for frostnip/bite.
What should players do beforehand to warm up and prepare for outdoor play - i.e. to reduce the chance of injury?
It is a good idea to start warming up before arrival to practice/event. When possible, consider warming up indoors, at home. If that’s not possible, warming up at the practice site for 10-20 minutes with dynamic movements will make it more comfortable for the body to transition into the cold.
What should athletes do after playing in cold weather?
Stay hydrated! Many athletes mistakenly do not consume enough water during cold weather training. They may have the perception of decreased need for hydration during cold weather activities; however, this is not the case. Even in cold weather - athletes need to drink enough water.
Moreover, in cold weather, our bodies need to work harder to maintain normal core body temperature - potentially increasing our nutritional demands. Athletes should eat a healthy snack within a 20-minute window following training, and then a more complete meal within a couple hours afterwards.
Furthermore, after training, athletes should cool down with static stretching and/or foam rollers. Foam rolling is one of my first recommendations to young athletes to improve recovery and reduce injury from tightnesses. If your family does not have a foam roller, I would recommend acquiring and educating young athletes on how to properly utilize them.
When is it "too cold" to play?
We are fortunate in Belgium to have fairly mild winters and to be at low altitude compared to other regions. However, in the winter months the wind chill temperature (WCT) should be monitored for sports participation. The wind chill temperature can make even a relatively mild winter day feel much colder.
According to the NATA Position Statement on Environmental Cold Injuries participation should be modified in the follow WCT conditions:
- -1.11°C WCT= Be aware of the potential for cold injury and notify appropriate personnel of the potential.
- -3.89°C WCT = Provide additional protective clothing, cover as much exposed skin as practical, and provide opportunities and facilities for rewarming
- -9.44°C WCT = Consider modifying activity to limit exposure or to allow more frequent chances to rewarm.
- -17.78°C WCT = Consider terminating or rescheduling activity.
Parents and BSA coaches can keep these recommendations in mind when making decisions about whether or not to modify or cancel a scheduled activity.
What other considerations should parents, players, and coaches keep in mind during cold weather play?
Another concern in cold weather athletics is the field/surface condition during the winter season. Artificial surfaces become more slick and freezing temperatures may develop icy spots.
Athletes should be prepared with appropriate footwear in sizing, material and spike size/type. Shoe wear is an important consideration. Cleats should be in good condition and generally replaced every season (depending on usage). Parents should check the sizing and cleat condition and also check that the players shoes are appropriately laced and tied.
Coaches may adjust their practice planning by selecting appropriate drills and work:rest ratios for the environmental conditions. Furthermore, coaches should focus on and encourage fundamentals like participants' athletic stance, lowering their center of gravity, and chopping their feet to maintain a short stride length.