As a high school and college athlete, I know the need to be competitive. I lived it. Growing up in the south, football was our pastime. If you weren’t playing, you were practicing. And for many kids today, that’s still the case.

For most football players, summer “break” is short lived. Before you know it, you’re back to two-a-days in full pads— and doing it all in the 100 degree temperatures.

Unfortunately, multiple student athletes in Arkansas and across the nation fall victim to the extreme heat each year. Overmotivated athletes can overheat by doing too much too fast or trying to endure too long. With months of triple digit temperatures, it’s important for parents and coaches to keep players safe—understanding when to push and when to stop.

Heat related illness is currently the third leading cause of death in athletes behind cardiac disorders and head and neck trauma.  Heat stroke distinguishes itself from the other two causes of death by being ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE by simply recognizing the causes.  Athletes can be at risk when exposed to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time, but when combined with dehydration, this leads to failure of the body's temperature control system. The medical definition of heat stroke is a core body temperature greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with complications involving the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures. 

In many cases, athletes might be unaware they are experiencing early signs of a heat stroke and they will continue practicing. Coaches should periodically check players during practice or workouts for the early warning signs of heat illness, which can include:

 • Nausea

• Headache

• Fatigue or Weakness

• Fainting

• Poor concentration

• Flushed skin

• Light headedness

• Loss of muscle coordination

DECREASED sweating

• Vomiting

Heat stroke is 100% preventable...NEED MORE

Here are ten ways to prevent heat stroke among football players, guidelines that are applicable to every sport and recreational activity.

Acclimatize to heat gradually. Practices for the first 14 days should be shorter and less intense, as should practices on abnormally hot or humid days. In addition athletes should be encouraged to initiate their own conditioning program several months prior to the beginning of the season. During the hottest weather practice sessions should be scheduled in cooler parts of the day.

Account for heat and humidity. Both the temperature and relative humidity should be taken into account in determining the length of practice sessions. It has been suggested that if the sum of the temperature and relative humidity are greater than or equal to 160, special precautions must be taken. If the sum is greater than 180, practice and or game cancellation should be strongly considered.

Provide for frequent breaks. Adjust the activity level and provide frequent rest periods during hot weather (at least 15 minutes per hour of practice). Athletes should rest in shaded areas; helmets should be removed, and jerseys should be loosened or removed.

Rehydrate. Cold water or sports drinks should be available in unlimited quantities to players. Scheduled water breaks should be strictly enforced.

No salt tablets. Salt should be replaced through salting of food, not salt tablets.

Weigh athletes before and after practice. Athletes should be weighed before and after each practice to monitor water loss. Weight loss greater than 3% indicates a substantial risk and 5% a significant danger to the student athlete.

No heavy or wet clothing. During practice athletes should wear cooling clothing such as shorts and fish net jerseys. Sweat saturated t-shirts should be changed often because they retain heat. Helmets should only be used sparingly in hot weather.

Parent monitoring. Parents should monitor all practices and games, with the responsibility shared on a rotating basis among all parents of student athletes. If a parent observes an unsafe situation developing, he or she should immediately bring it to the attention of the coach.

Identify athletes at greater risk. Some athletes are more susceptible to heat illness than others. Identify and observe closely those at greatest risk of heat illness, including those who are poorly conditioned, overweight, have an acute illness, or have cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or mental retardation. Student athletes with a previous history of heat illness should be watched closely during practices and hot weather.

Learn the warning signs. It is imperative that all coaches, parents, and players are on the lookout for signs of dehydration or heat illness, such as fatigue, lethargy, inattention, stupor, and/or awkwardness. An athlete exhibiting any of these signs should be immediately removed from participation, cooled down and placed in a shaded environment.

Not only REhydration, but PREhydration is crucial!  There are two very simple and effective ways to ensure that your body is adequately hydrated:

1)      Weigh yourself before and after activity. For every pound lost during activity you should consume a 20 oz bottle of fluid, preferable a sports drink. 

2)      Keep your pre-activity body weight within 1-2 lbs of your pre-activity body weight from the day before.  Any more is a sign of inadequate rehydration from the previous day.

In heat stroke, every minute counts. When core temperature is very high, body and brain cells begin to die, and rapid cooling is vital. If you suspect that someone has a heat stroke, immediately call 911 or take the person to a hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal.

Physician: BJ Bailey, Orthopedic Surgeon at Arkansas Bone and Joint

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