How footballers cope with heat and humidity

Games kick off in temperatures of 29C and high humidity in Israel – so how do players cope? England's exercise scientist Andrew Hulton helps us get to grips with it.

Sweden ahead of their meeting with Denmark
Sweden ahead of their meeting with Denmark ©Sportsfile

Summer final tournaments often bring the added challenge of coping with a new climate and the WU19 EURO in Israel is certainly no exception. Even at night the temperature is yet to dip below 25C and humidity is high – so how do players cope?

Humidity or heat?
"It's hot out here, but humidity is the most dangerous part of it for us," says Andrew Hulton, exercise scientist for the England team. "Humidity is definitely a bigger issue than heat. Even in the shade, the humidity will still affect you, and can affect you for longer. By the time we kick off here the sun is setting or has gone down, but it is still very humid."

Acclimatise
So what can you do? The main thing is to give players time to adapt. Much of Europe had a heatwave just before the finals; it was 35C in Sweden while Spain coach Jorge Vilda says he cannot remember a hotter spell in Madrid, where his players were training as the mercury hit 38-40C. Getting used to the heat (if not the humidity) gives teams a head start. It has been warm in England, too, but not hot so Mo Marley's side did things a little differently, arriving in Israel a week before some of their rivals.

Monitor the players
Factors including genetics, water retention and perspiration can affect a player's ability to acclimatise. "It's hard to know how a player is acclimatising," says Hulton. "We take basic measurements and a lot depends on players telling us how they're feeling. If their heart rate is massively high and spiking, we would suggest they are not acclimatising well.

England's Andrew Hulton
England's Andrew Hulton©Sportsfile

"We use GPS units which help us track a player's movement, acceleration, deceleration, and gives an overview of the movements the body goes through, in different directions. It gives you an idea of how to plan training. The last thing you want is to have too much training early on when players are acclimatising."

Keep cool
England have been using ice jackets, which assist the body in regulating its temperature more easily. They are worn during pre-match warm-ups to help give players a cooler starting point for when the match begins. And they are much more comfortable than the dreaded ice baths of yore.

Rehydrate properly
Sweating is not just a sign players are working hard in training – it is an essential guide to how well they are coping. "The thing we want the most is for players to sweat, because sweat cools you down," says Hulton. "But you can lose a lot of essential salts through perspiration, so the drinks we give them have electrolytes in as well as other strategies to make sure their salt levels remain where we want them.

Rapid rehydration: Spain after beating England 3-1
Rapid rehydration: Spain after beating England 3-1©Sportsfile

"Some may not sweat as much, and genetics will dictate how much salt you lose during perspiration. If they're susceptible to losing too much body weight through sweat this can be a problem. It's about gradually building up to match days, and then coming back down. There's always research and development in this area, while a lot of it is common sense."

Accept it
Three summers ago the WU19 EURO took place amid similar conditions in Turkey and a Sweden side hardly used to such a climate came out on top. Perhaps Maren Meinert, Germany coach and a former player of some repute, puts it best: "It is part of the international game, playing in different countries, with different climates and conditions. We don't like rain; we don't like wind; if you don't like the sun then what are you left with?"

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