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The Wind, The Rain, The Sun: Playing in the Elements

Written By Justin on Wednesday, May 4, 2011 | 9:20:00 PM


I've Played in Worse


Recently I was asked on twitter which I disliked more: playing in strong wind, or with blinding sunlight in my eyes. It got me thinking about the elements, and how, as a primarily reactive position, goalkeepers are affected by them.

Let's start with the twitter question: I answered "strong wind." Having the full hydrogen might of the sun in my face is never fun, but over the years, it's rare that the angle is such that it actually causes me to lose sight of the ball. But wind - wind is evil. It can make your kicks anemic, can send crosses drifting out of your grasp, and turn an ordinary up-and-under ball over the top into some kind of cruel joke. The worst thing about the wind is that it can negatively impact you whether it's in your face, at your back, or blowing across the pitch. When it's in your face, it can make it hard to clear your lines and keep your side pinned in your own half, and turn normally harmless long-range shots into net-seeking missiles. At your back, it will make your kicks soar, but you might find that shots which would normally sail over the bar get knocked down. It can also hold up through balls that would normally run on to you.


This is what you get when you Google Image search for "Wind"


So how do we cope with the wind? First, assess it: how strong is it? Is it blowing in a consistent direction, or swirling madly? Make sure you understand what it's doing, so at the very least, you won't be surprised. Once you understand what the wind is doing, cope with it through your positioning. When it's in your face, you have no choice but to take a conservative starting position when the ball is in your third of the pitch. The last place you want to be is five steps off your line, watching a windblown cross drop into the gaping net behind you. Start conservatively and give yourself a margin of error. Finally, try for a lower, flatter ball flight with your kicks, or play short balls whenever possible.

Looks Nice, Right? Actually it's your WORST NIGHTMARE

Historically, keepers have dealt with bright sun by donning caps. I've always found caps a little distracting and prefer to shield my eyes with one hand when possible. But if you have no such reservations, then by all means, wear a cap. When a ball is played into the box, it's important to not only track where it is, but where it's going, because you may just lose sight of it entirely. This, of course, also applies to playing under floodlights. Good ones will be set high enough so that they rarely interfere with your vision, but anyone who has played Non League football is familiar with those lights that always seem to be right in your line of vision to a crossed ball. If you've tracked the ball up to the point where the sun or lights interfere, it's still going to be there, and I've found that if I don't flinch, but try to squint and peer through the glare, I can see enough of the ball to at least punch to safety, if not catch it.

Ooh, artistic

Unless you live in a desert, you're likely to play a fair few games in rain. One of the great advances in goalkeeping gloves over the last two decades is the advent of wet-weather specific latexes. Any good supersoft latex will work just fine in a moderate rain, but when it's really belting down, and especially when you've got mud in your goalmouth, aqua gloves are the way to go. Almost every major brand has an excellent aqua glove these days, and every keeper should find a pair that works for them. Like most keepers, I like to hang a towel in my net. In wet weather, I use it to wipe rain from my hair and around my eyes. I play exclusively on 3G astroturf these days, but for keepers playing on mud, use a water bottle to rinse mud from your palms, and the towel to then wring excess water from the glove. It doesn't matter how good your latex is - if it's covered with mud, it won't grip anything.

You'll occasionally play in other conditions - snow, ice, sandstorms, locusts - but the single most important thing about dealing with elements is your attitude. I know goalkeepers who approach a wet or windy game with dread. In truth, when I was a young kid and couldn't kick very far, I was one of those keepers. This is a mistake - starting a game with a negative mindset is unlikely to lead to anything good. Accept the conditions, make them part of the challenge, and deal with them. Remember that these elements make life more difficult for outfield players too. They're going to get on with it, so you have no choice but to do the same.

If any readers have coping strategies that I haven't mentioned, please share them in the comments, so we can all benefit. Thanks, as always, for reading, and look for my column (and my name in giant letters on the cover) of the premier issue of Goalkeeper Magazine.

4 comments:

JOHN said...

Great post, Justin. Playing in an amateur league as I do, 2 drops of rain usually mean the cancellation of the game. But the wind is a problem I´ve had to learn to adjust to. However, the worst part is the often lousy state of the field, not only because any shot becomes unpredictable but also because diving becomes a health risk (not that I care, of course)

Justin said...

Good point, John, and you've just given me a great idea for a new post - playing on bad pitches. I play exclusively on 3G turf these days. I played one game on "grass" (rocks and dirt) 4 years ago, and badly injured my shoulder. We don't have good grass pitches anywhere near New York City, so I stick to the predictability of turf now.

Josh Turner said...

Yes, while the pros can have their gorgeous grass pitch, I am thrilled to be on turf rather than the gravel I played on for years here in Cali. One thing about the turf and wet weather though, those skipping low shots are just gone by the time you are down for them!

Justin said...

True Josh - I always tell my own team to shoot at every chance on rainy nights on turf.

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