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Cooling break: An important element in football

AS ZAMBIA draws closer to hosting the Africa Under-20 Cup of Nations, people are anxious to know what exactly happens at this tournament in terms of organisation.
The tournament will run from February 26 to March 12.
As I was having lunch with a friend who was part of the under-17 national team delegation to the 2015 Africa Under-17 Championship in Niger, a discussion on cooling breaks arose.
He asked whether what he witnessed in Niger when young players had to take cooling breaks will also be part of the tournament for the under-20 in Zambia.
I had a good opportunity of explaining to him what the requirements are for a referee to call for a cooling break.
I also shared with him how hot weather conditions can affect young players in terms of hydration.
Modern football has seen so many changes regarding the laws of the game which are meant to improve on player safety in terms of injuries.
Tackling from behind that is deemed as career threatening is a sure way of getting a red card from a referee.
Not only are the laws of the game changing regarding dangerous tackles but also prevailing weather conditions.
High temperatures and high humidity at the time of kick off are some of the important considerations.
The hosting of the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 attracts high profile discussions because of high temperatures.
However the world soccer governing body FIFA, through it’s medical committee has fully taken care of this matter.
FIFA and all its affiliates highly prioritise the health of the players at all levels of competition.
Last Sunday I went through doping controls in young players and it is in the same line that important points regarding playing football in hot weather conditions will be discussed.
Taking cooling breaks is one of the important considerations in this case provided conditions are met.
Dehydration is a common occurrence when competition occurs in hot weather conditions.
This is made worse when the hydration status of a player is poor before they even engage in competition.
Water is a very important component to consider on the sidelines either in training or actual competition.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil was the first one to have been played with fully sanctioned cooling breaks because of high temperatures in some cities.
The Mexico versus Netherlands game, which was played in Fortaleza, witnessed the first ever-sanctioned cooling break at the FIFA World Cup.
This was due to the fact that the temperature during the game was reaching as high as 39 degrees Celsius.
The situation was different in Niamey, Niger, during the Africa Under-17 Championship where temperatures could reach as high as 42 degrees Celsius.
Heat illness can occur when the body produces more heat than it loses.
Muscle work, when playing football, produces heat.
The risk of heat illness does not only depend on the temperature, but also on the humidity of the air.
The high humidity results in the reduced cooling effect of the body and also the wind and sun radiation influence the effect of high temperature on your body.
The cooling breaks are meant for the actual cooling of the body and also increase the fluid intake by players as a result of the associated dehydration.
Football rules always allow water to be taken at any time when play is stopped.
In Brazil, tropical cities such as Natal, Recife, Salvador and Manaus experience very high temperatures.
It is not surprising that the issue of cooling breaks is so serious, such that even the Brazilian courts had to make ruling regarding this matter.
However, FIFA had already put in measures to address the effects of heat at this particular World Cup.
Therefore to assess the risk of playing, FIFA measures not only the air temperature but also what is called the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT).
The WBGT is a measure, which incorporates elements such as humidity, solar inclination and temperatures that exceed 32 degrees Celsius or 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
One notable thing is that of muscle cramps occurring as a result of playing football in hot conditions with a high humidity.
It is a very common for muscle cramps to occur during sport and this is attributed to a lot of factors.
Muscle cramps can be such a bother because they will limit the athlete from reaching full potential.
In sport, dehydration has been associated with an increased frequency of muscle cramping.
This is actually made worse in hot weather conditions and can be an early warning sign of heat stroke.
In 2010 during the Council of East Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) Senior Challenge in Tanzania, national soccer team players suffered from muscle cramps because of the hot weather condition in Dar es Salaam.
This was also due to poor physical conditioning as a result of lack of fitness in our players who had been affected by the disruption in the local league during confu-sion in the running of the game.
Dehydration leads to the loss of important elements, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and other electrolytes which are important for muscle contrac-tion and excitation of the nerves.
It is important that the hydration status of the players is well looked after when participating in hot weather conditions to avoid muscle cramps.
A tennis player, who used to suffer from recurrent cramping of muscles, had it reduced by taking salt supplements.
This is one reason why to overcome dehydration and boosting energy levels during competition, teams are encouraged not only to drink plain water but add a sports drink like powerade which provides energy and the necessary electrolytes.
These energy drinks are readily available on the market and this is one strategy which many professional teams are using to fight dehydration and reduce on the muscle fatigue which can ultimately lead to muscle cramps.
Several vitamin deficiencies can cause muscle cramps. Deficiency of Vitamins like Thiamine (B1), Pyridoxine (B6) and panthothenic acid (B5) has also been cited as one of the contributing factors in causing muscle cramps.
The mechanism through which they cause cramping is poorly understood.
A good diet is also important in helping an athlete who is well physically conditioned to avoid muscle cramps.
A good diet will provide the necessary energy substrates, vitamins, electrolytes like sodium which is found in salt, and many other anti-oxidants which will help in muscle functioning.
In a bid to avoid hot and humid conditions the following tips can be of great help:
1. Drink plenty of fluids: Dehydration is a key factor in heat illness. As a rule of thumb, drink at least two litres per day. This volume needs to be increased with playing time and high temperatures. You might need to drink up to six litres and more per day.
2. Drink Water or isotonic sports drinks.
3. Stay out of the sun.
4. Wear light coloured, loose fitting clothes made of either natural fibres or composite fabrics with high absorption.
5. Use sun blockers on all exposed body parts
6. Sleep and rest increase your temperature tolerance.
7. Do not lie down during breaks or after the match as this may provoke a collapse
8. To cool down, spatter yourself with water before the match and during breaks.
9. Risk is increased if you suffer from asthma. Please inform the team doctor accordingly.
10. Immediately seek medical help when shivering, muscle cramps, headache, fatigue or collapse.
These tips will make you improve your participation in sport during hot conditions and they are all scientifically proven.
The FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre has been active for over 15 years and have approved the mentioned tips.
For questions and comments write to: Dr Kabungo Joseph
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