For football players, playing football away from home can be a big challenge because of the lack of familiarity with the ground. Players who are away from home also have reduced access to facilities that they would be able to enjoy if they were playing at their home ground. Many professional football players also find it easier to play in front of a home crowd because of the favourable atmosphere. In addition to the usual difficulties of playing away from home, footballers may be faced with environmental challenges if they are expected to play in an unfamiliar climate. Environmental extremes can have a variety of different effects on players.
High Altitude Grounds
In South America, some large teams play at altitudes of 4000 metres or higher. Those who are unfamiliar with the effects of altitude are unlikely to be able to adapt without undergoing an acclimatisation process. Altitude sickness, which may present itself in people at this height, can cause nausea, fatigue and headaches. These symptoms can also affect people at lower heights, if they are required to exert themselves.
Some visitors will experience a loss of appetite; however it is important for sportspeople to maintain a healthy diet. Increasing iron consumption can help to increase red blood cell production, which will help with energy levels and recovery at altitude. Players are also recommended to ensure that they consume a varied diet of tropical fruit and vegetables to give the body plenty of essential anti-oxidants.
In hot environments, players are at increased risk from dehydration. Performance may begin to suffer and the player could eventually collapse. Excessive sweating also means that the player is likely to lose additional salts over the course of the match. These salts are needed by the body in order to perform certain functions so it is important that they are replenished as soon as possible.
Some sports drinks include extra sodium as a way to replace the sodium which is lost during a match. Players who are expected to be in a hot environment for longer periods may need to add extra salt to their diet at meal times. In very hot environments, players are recommended to perform a shortened warm-up to reduce exertion levels. Extra fluids should be kept close at hand, so that all players are able to hydrate as required.
A fantastic in-depth article on the effects of high altitude and heat on footballers can be found here.
During a football match, the body needs to produce sweat as a way of regulating temperature. The evaporation of sweat helps to cool the body down. However, the rate of evaporation of sweat is reduced when the external humidity is high. Players must take care not to overheat when they are playing in a highly humid environment.
If onsite acclimatisation is not possible because of other travel commitments, players may be able to practice in an artificial environment. Players should be aware of the signs of dehydration, as prolonged dehydration can lead to reduced performance. If left untreated, dehydration can be fatal.
Cold weather can cause a reduction in body heat in a football player. Reduced body heat is likely to reduce muscle function. This can lead to players becoming slower and less agile. Goalkeepers must pay particular attention to keeping themselves warm during the course of the match. Because they may be relatively still for longer periods of play, they are more susceptible to the effects of cold. As well as slowing their body down, the cold may also reduce the keeper’s ability to think quickly. Reduced reaction times can lead to big mistakes from goalkeepers.
It is recommended that all players wear gloves in cold climates to reduce the amount of heat lost from the body. Players are permitted to wear longer clothing under their kit; however players should be aware that this can lead to accidental dehydration. Players who are wearing heavier pieces of kit may not realise that this is causing them to sweat more. Because they do not realise that their core temperature has been raised, they can neglect to take on additional fluids to make up for the fluids which have been lost through sweat. Hot drinks should also be consumed at half-time to prevent the body temperature from dropping during the period of inactivity.