Staying hydrated when playing football is vital for both health and performance reasons, which makes regular water breaks an important part of training and match situations – especially when it comes to youth football.
Players who do not take on enough water run the risk of heat illness and an increased likelihood of muscle injuries. Dehydration impacts energy levels and concentration, making it more difficult for a child to make the most out of their training session or master a new skill.
Every We Make Footballers Academy provides regular water breaks and reinforces their importance both on the pitch and off it.
Here are some of the reasons why water breaks and rehydration are a core principle of the youth football coaching philosophy of England’s biggest academy for 4 to 12 year olds.
Water breaks in professional football
Most football observers know that rehydration whilst playing is important. Not many though appreciate the regularity with which football players need to rehydrate or the many reasons behind it.
The Premier League provided an insight into the importance of water when it returned from its three-month hiatus in June 2020 following the first Covid-19 lockdown.
Two mandatory water breaks were introduced to matches midway through either half. Referees were to halt play for five minutes so players could take on fluid.
To some, this was controversial. Fans and even a few pundits cried that it was simply an excuse for managers to impart instructions to their players, offering the prospect of a mini team talk or tactical adjustment which should not be allowed in “a game of two halves”.
These critics said that football was turning into basketball or American Football, with time outs and too many breaks in play.
The science though was very clear as to why water breaks were needed. English footballers are not used to playing high-level, competitive football through the heat of June and July.
They would therefore become dehydrated more quickly and needed more opportunities to drink water than normal to avoid heat-related illness.
This is not uncommon in hotter climates; water breaks were used in the 2014 World Cup in the heart of Brazil, for example.
Interestingly, this was not at the suggestion of FIFA. Rather, a Brazilian court ordered the governing body to mandate breaks when temperatures exceeded 32⁰C.
The decision proved popular with players, and water breaks have subsequently appeared at other international tournaments, including games played in Seville during Euro 2020. They will also feature prominently at the controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Secondly, Premier League players were coming off a long period without playing. Their muscles would have weakened in the three months without competitive football and, unlike in the gap between one season finishing and another beginning, they did not have a pre-season training schedule or play friendly matches to get back up to speed.
That meant an increased risk of muscular injuries. And muscle problems are more likely to occur when a player is dehydrated.
The additional water breaks helped players stay hydrated, which in turn lessened the chances of muscle fatigue resulting in soft tissue damage.
How much water should a child drink during football?
Children need to stay hydrated whilst playing football for the same reasons as professionals. Regular water breaks prevent health issues in the heat and lessen the prospects of picking up injuries.
Research suggests that water breaks every 20-25 minutes in which between 200ml and 350ml are taken onboard is required for optimum performance, depending on the age of the child.
Ensuring that children take on board water during a break can be difficult. Often, a child will not feel thirsty at the point the water break arrives and so they do not think they need to drink.
By the time they do feel thirsty shortly afterwards, the opportunity to replenish water levels has gone and they are already on their way to dehydration.
It is for this reason that We Make Footballers include regular water stops and reinforce the importance of rehydration, even when a child may not feel thirsty.
Educating young players as to how the mind and bodywork and their reliance on hydration help them understand why they need to drink a suitable amount of water.
When a young player sees the difference that rehydration makes to their performance through regular water breaks in training, it has a positive knock-on effect on processes in a match situation.
Taking fluid on board in games is much harder. Breaks are few and far between and players will often be so focussed or swept up in the action going on that they do not take advantage of the opportunities to rehydrate when they arrive.
Children who have been taught and seen the benefits of taking water on board in practice sessions are more likely to seek the chance to do so in-game situations, having experienced improved performance from doing so in training.
In this way, regular water breaks in training can directly lead to children developing good rehydration habits in matches as second nature.
Drinking water before and after football training
Drinking water during football is only part of the process. It is also important to make sure that children are well hydrated before football training to make up for what they will lose once they start sweating.
It is recommended that 200ml of water should be consumed two hours before physical activity, followed by up to 350ml drunk 30 minutes before the start. Again, this is dependent on age.
Children will often turn up to football training already on their way to dehydration. A full day at school, running around at break times and not eating or drinking enough throughout the day all contribute to a dehydrated state before evening football begins.
These factors can all be overcome by ensuring that a child drinks in preparation for football. Topping up water levels gives a child more water in their body to work through. This then reduces the chances of injury and ensures they can play to their optimum level.
After playing football, the body will usually be dehydrated no matter how frequently water has been consumed. It is impossible to prescribe how much water needs to be drunk to replenish what has been lost through exercise as every football player sweats and uses a fluid in different ways.
As a general rule, children should be encouraged to drink until they no longer feel thirsty. That is the best sign that the body is rehydrated and recovered from physical activity.
Urine colour can also indicate a player’s dehydration levels. A dark, gold colour like apple juice means the player is dehydrated. A paler yellow like lemonade means that they are on their way to being rehydrated, but a little more water may be needed.
How We Make Footballers use football to instil healthy habits
Drinking water is not only important when playing football, but also for leading a healthy lifestyle. NHS guidance suggests that children under five should be consuming between 720ml and 1200ml per day.
For children aged six and above, recommended daily intake increases to between 1500ml and 2400ml. Neither of those figures takes into account the water needed during physical activity either, like football.
That is a lot of water. The best way to try and ensure that children get close to those levels of intake is by not only educating them about the importance of water but getting them into good habits whereby they drink their recommended daily amount without even noticing what they are doing.
We Make Footballers believe in setting good habits in children which stick for life, including health and nutrition.
By making regular water breaks part of their football education and training programme, we teach children and reinforce the importance of being hydrated on the football pitch and off it.
The aim is that they take these lessons and good practices into everyday life, keeping themselves in the best possible condition to learn and play.
To discover your nearest We Make Footballers Academy and help your child become healthier and happier, please see the We Make Footballers website.