When hydration breaks were first introduced on the international stage at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil many seemed puzzled by the new legislation but ultimately agreed with its purpose, to keep players safe in very hot and humid conditions. The National Women's Soccer League were not long in following the same legislation during the season as due to the league being one of the few that run during the summer, it seemed prudent to make that call come into effect.
For the last few seasons, it worked but now with Lifetime taking over broadcast responsibilities, there was what appeared to be an oversight with regards to games played at the allocated 'NWSL Game of the Week' time slot in humid areas. It led to an unfortunate collapse by Rachel Daly during the Houston Dash's defeat against Seattle Reign FC and ultimately led to changes to the previous Lifetime TV schedule to let game times start at cooler temperatures. All of this segues into one question: are hydration breaks necessary for the betterment of the league?
The players' safety and health should always come first
Over the last two weeks, there seemed to a baffling, growing sentiment arising within media circles that follow the NWSL. The sentiment was that hydration breaks were not good for the league and an alternative should be found. Names will not be mentioned but it was a very concerning sentiment to see from those who usually want to put the player's health and player safety first above all things. Hydration breaks are not just a simple public relations ploy, they are a necessary break needed for games held in places like Houston or Kansas City where the humidity can rise to very high levels during the summer. If fans in the stands can feel the heat and humidity and decide to either sit in the shadows or not show up for the games at all, then those currently running around on a field for 90 plus minutes will probably feel the effects of that type of weather much more.
Hydration breaks are necessary because if the NWSL wants to continue to be taken as a 'serious' league, player safety is an important part of that perception. Many have pointed out that the league still has a long way to go in showing that player safety is a priority especially when you consider the now defunct Western New York Flash field debacle of 2016. Sports leagues in the United States of America have been called out by the public with regards to their lack of concern over player safety if it means they will make more money and the NWSL has a chance of separating themselves from the pack by putting player safety over broadcast times or potential ticket sales. Hydration breaks are and will be a big step towards that.
Water and fluid intake are essential to a soccer player
Statistics make a great case for the continuation of hydration breaks. The average in-field player can run between 11 (6.83 miles) to 15 (9.32 miles) kilometers a game with short and long bursts intertwined in those kilometers. Statistics also show that players can lose between two (64 ounces) to three (96 ounces) liters of water during a normal match. Goalkeepers tend to run less but they can stand in their goal posts, in blazing heat, for long periods during each game which means their water loss occurs through sweat. Soccer players also need constant hydration due to the amount of water loss they have before, during and after games. When the temperature rises, that water loss becomes even bigger and thus, more water intake needs to occur.
Hydration breaks solve the 'during' part of the equation especially in warmer climates or warmer areas as it gives the coaching staff and medical trainers the time to assess players and see who may need more hydration or fluids in order for them to not only remain on the field but also maintain a healthy state of being after the game as well. For most people, and the teams as well, they want their players to remain healthy for all of the season if possible and hydration breaks help maintain a decent amount of water weight in their players at a time when they are most likely to lose more of it than normal.
Hydration breaks allow teams to make tactical adjustments, that is not a reason to remove them
An argument can be made that the way hydration breaks happen during a game allows a team to change tactics and parlay those tactics in a way that isn't normal to the game of soccer. The breaks usually allow a coach to instruct their team on certain plays that the opposition has used to their advantage or it may disrupt the momentum that a team had had going into that hydration break. People like to keep the traditional feel of soccer, I am one of those people, but not when it overrules common sense. The referee adds the minutes during the hydration breaks to the end of each half to the full 45 minutes is played each half.
The officials cannot prevent coaches from imparting more knowledge to their players during the break but that should not be a reason to look towards removing hydration breaks from games. The officials themselves will also need those minutes to hydrate as they are also partaking in a lot of running during the game and would require more hydration to be able to keep up with play.
In the end, hydration breaks stop the flow of the game that most traditionalists love about the sport but it's prudent to have them as player safety should always be the first concern when a team steps onto the field. No one wants to see a repeat of what happened to Daly and as the NWSL strives to create more positive headlines instead of negatives ones, why anyone would argue against hydration breaks remains a mystery.