Amidst the tragic destruction that the bushfires are currently causing, and with Sydney and much of New South Wales being blanketed by thick smoke and increased air pollution, Football NSW has recently issued several warnings concerning Hot Weather and Air Quality.
Whilst these warnings are still in place, it is perhaps worth considering what is happening from a footballer’s viewpoint and the risks involved when we train or play in such conditions.
From a physiological perspective, smoke contains many microscopic particles that when breathed in through the mouth, nose and lungs, can trigger a range of reactions. In less serious cases, this may result in sore and itchy eyes, a runny nose and coughing, however, when these fine particles penetrate deep into the lungs, the consequences can be more severe and may trigger asthma and other respiratory ailments. In more serious cases, particularly where chronic pre-conditions exist, this can aggravate heart and lung conditions resulting in cardiac arrest or heart failure.
Obviously, when we exercise and participate in sporting activities like football, we need to produce as much energy as we can to cope with the demands of the game (running, sprinting, kicking or jumping). Fundamental to this, we need to deliver oxygen-rich blood to our muscles for energy to be produced. This is done through the cardio-respiratory system (our heart and lungs) and is why we breath faster and deeper, and why our heart beats more rapidly and stronger.
Breathing faster and deeper when air quality is poor exacerbates the issue, results in the above-mentioned symptoms, causes us to be short of breath, impacts our capacity and performance and, in worse case scenarios, may cause serious health issues. An even greater workload is imposed on the footballer when temperatures are high, as the heart needs to work harder to ensure our cooling mechanisms kick in (e.g. sweat and heat dissipation) so as to maintain core body temperature. When humidity levels are high, it is more difficult for our perspiration to evaporate, limiting our body’s capacity to cool itself. Much like in our cars, if we are not sufficiently hydrated (by drinking lots of water) and our body temperature is not maintained at safe levels, we may over heat, become exhausted, collapse, and death may occur.
With all this in mind, at times of poor air quality (exacerbated by high temperatures), Football NSW recommends that outdoor football activities are reduced and, in extreme conditions, cancelled.
In circumstances where footballing activities need to be cancelled, clubs and their technical staff, are encouraged to think laterally and consider alternatives rather than cancelling training sessions completely.
Some simple suggestions include:
- looking to provide variety to your training program by including a diverse range of activities as part of your schedule. This may include moving indoors and playing futsal, taking the team to a local gym or pool for a different form of intensive ‘workout’ or even arranging another indoor sport for fun (e.g. basketball, table tennis or similar);
- conduct sessions in a ‘classroom’ or in the clubhouse. This may include video analysis on previous games, or arranging for a local expert to conduct an education session on subjects such as sports nutrition, injury prevention, general motivation and sports psychology or a whole host of other relevant topics. If you can, arrange a former player to come along and speak on their particular football journey and the challenges they faced; or
- consider other culture building activities, which although may have nothing to do with football per se, can contribute to team bonding and the development of other social skills. Such activities may include paintball, movie nights etc. Importantly, for the adult player, this does not mean hitting the local pub for a drinking session but may include attending an A-League or W-League match or out for a team meal at a local restaurant.
In the event that a player does suffer effects from training/playing in these conditions, it is advisable to seek appropriate medical attention either from the club doctor or a general practitioner.