Weather and Sports: See 5 Crazy Ways it Changes the Game

  • Jun 12, 2018

Do weather and sports mix?

Picture your perfect day out on the field. Your student-athletes are playing their A-game, there are a ton of supportive fans, and your administrators are impressed with your team’s big win. Now, what was the weather like in your vision?

We bet it was sunny, but that isn’t always the case in real life. We don’t have to remind you that there are many weather conditions that can impact the game. While a lot of times we focus on severe weather that disrupts or re-schedules games, today we’re focusing on the less-severe weather conditions. These conditions don’t necessarily stop play but impact the game in other influential ways.

Keep reading to see five real-life examples on how weather changes the game for your student-athletes and how you as a coach or athletic director can score big by handling these varying conditions.

1. Wind

The first weather condition that can blow your team away is the wind. This first combination of weather and sports can be a big problem for a lot of different teams. For example, gusts can blow a long-ball in soccer way off target or send a football into the hands of the opposing team’s defense. However, we really want to focus on wind and baseball/softball.

A lot of the time, high school and college players are performing on an open field, so there are no stadium walls to break up the wind. Really high wind gusts can even knock pitchers off the mound, causing a balk like it did during a 2017 Triple-A game between the Salt Lake Bees and the Omaha Storm Chasers (no pun intended with the name!)

Let’s get technical. There are two main forces that exert themselves on a baseball or softball on its way from pitcher to catcher. The first is gravity. The second is air. The effect air has on the ball is usually thought of as two forces: Air resistance (drag) and Magnus force (lift).

The Magnus force is the only force on the ball that the pitcher can control by putting a spin on the ball. Research shows that a tailwind will speed-up a pitch and give it more sink at the cost of less break while a headwind will slow the pitch but accentuate the “hop” and break. If you have a skilled pitcher, it will help to let them know this information. However, if you have an inexperienced pitcher or one who overthinks, we recommend not sharing this information and playing as is. It’s also a good thing for outfields as the wind typically lifts the ball and gives fields more time to get under it and make the play.

In short, the wind impacts quite a few sports like baseball drastically. Being able to effectively monitor the wind can not only provide an edge in safety but also in performance.

2. Rain

Rain can be a big problem for any outdoor sport. However, it’s a big deal when it comes to American football. When the rain is steady, both offensive and defensive sides are in for trouble. Combine a slippery football with limited visibility, and you’ve got yourself a turnover on your hands.

There are a few ways quarterbacks and coaches can try to decrease the effect that rain has on their passing game. The first thing your team can do is keep the football as dry as possible. Give the center a towel to use before every snap. Another tip is to remind your QB to drop back and only attempt ball fakes with both hands on the ball to keep from fumbling. They can also take the football back slower than normal and keep it cocked up by their ear until they’re ready to throw.

It’s also good to note that if the rain is light, WRs and QBs may have a slight advantage because they know where they are going on a certain play while the defensive player must react. There is a greater chance of the defensive player slipping or losing footing when the ground is wet. This is a time when weather and sports can help your team: Being able to predict the rain would allow for an effective game plan.

3. Wet Fields

Rain can have a large impact on the game even when the storm has moved out of the area. For this weather condition, we’d like to use the example of soccer (football). Heavy rainstorms greatly affect a soccer pitch, especially if it’s natural turf. Substantial rainfall can create puddles, muddy areas, and sinkholes on soccer fields. These change the game in a few ways.

Wet fields are slower fields. Your athletes may have a hard time adjusting to the change of pace and let up an easy goal in the beginning of the match. Another issue with soggy fields is footing. It’s easier to slip or lose footing while defending an opposing team member when the ground is loose and wet underneath your cleats. One additional issue with playing soccer on a wet field is the added pressure on the goalie. The goalie’s box often becomes a muddy mess, which not only can ruin a uniform but slow down the goalie’s movements immensely.

It’s a good idea to inspect wet fields before game time and remind your team that play will be slower and that they should give themselves more time to react when defending players by marking them less tightly.

On the other hand, rainstorms also affect artificial turf. Soccer players often complain that the ball moves too fast when turf is wet. If you are playing on wet turf, it’s a good idea to play your fastest athletes so they have a better chance at keeping up with the zippy passes.

4. Excessive Heat

The next weather condition that can change the game is heat. It’s common for student-athletes to encounter heat stress at one point or another. This is a big issue for field hockey players who’s preseason often starts during the dog days of summer. High levels of heat stress can lead to heat-related illnesses like dehydration and even heat stroke.

It’s important to remember temperature isn’t the only weather condition that impacts players. Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is the best measure of heat stress exerted on student athletes. This measurement takes temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle, solar radiation, and cloud cover into account to provide the most accurate depiction of the “real feel” on the field.

While most field hockey players don’t wear a ton of equipment, the goalies do. It’s important to check on your goalies during practices and games to ensure they are not suffering from heat-related illnesses. Your team should follow heat acclimatization guidelines to help prepare players for playing in scorching conditions. Some of these tips include:

  • Do not practice longer than 3 hours per day
  • Do not hold consecutive double-practices
  • Increase workout intensity gradually over a few days
  • Increase sodium intake in athletes as sweat rate increases
  • Take frequent hydration breaks and rests to avoid overheating

 

Besides the health risks heat poses, stamina is heavily impacted while playing under the hot summer sun. Being able to plan for that also gives a team an edge during the game.

5. Freezing Cold

Just as heat can negatively impact your student-athletes, so can the cold! Think about how your body feels in the cold. Your muscles are tighter, it’s harder to take a deep breath, and it gets tougher to feel your extremities. Combine those issues with a competitive athletic sport and you can see where the trouble arises!

For this last example, we’d like to use cross country and track as our sport of choice since the end of cross-country season, the entire winter track season, and the beginning of the spring track season can see some pretty cold temperatures. You can’t control the cold any more than you control any of the other conditions listed. However, you can control how your student-athletes prepare for it. The best coaches do a few different things to keep their athletes from pulling muscles and contracting hypothermia.

We think the two most important things coaches can do is make sure students stretch and stay hydrated. Proper stretching during cold weather starts with a light activity like jogging or walking. Then move onto dynamic stretching because it keeps blood flowing while also loosening muscles. Lastly, your athletes should cool down with static stretching after races and practices.

The second tip is one that athletes often forget during cold weather. Did you know the likelihood of dehydration is greater when athletes train or play in cold weather? This is because the air is drier and their lungs have to work harder to humidify that air. Remind athletes to hydrate before and after their races because they will forget they are thirsty.

Weather and Sports: Preparedness is Key

When it comes to winning the game, coaches must consider all the variables, including weather. Even little conditions like wind can have a big impact on the game. We hope this post will guide your teams to victory in the coming seasons. We also recommend reading up on severe weather safety for student-athletes.

While the conditions above can all impact the game, severe weather can impact the very lives of your student-athletes, fellow athletic staff, and spectators. If you don’t have a severe weather alerting system in place already, we highly recommend implementing one before your next season starts. Get started by learning what to look for in a system to follow best practices.
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