By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Dr. Will Adams, PhD, is the Vice President of Sport Safety with the Korey Stringer Institute, University of Connecticut. The mission of the Korey Stringer Institute is to provide research, education, advocacy and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety and prevent sudden death for athletes.
Adams shares 10 tips for coaches to avoid heat-related illnesses.
Hold a preseason meeting. A coach, in conjunction with an athletic trainer, should host a preseason meeting in which he discusses hydration and heat-emergency preparedness with players and parents. Dehydration is shown to inflate a player’s body temperature when he’s exercising in heat. A coach and athletic trainer should share strategies to minimize fluid loss in heat.
Address each player’s fitness level before the season begins. NCAA research has shown that 88 to 90 percent of heat-related deaths since 2000 have taken place in the opening days of practice after players return from an extended break. Players often struggle through those opening workouts because they are unaccustomed to exercising in heat. If the state allows it, it is helpful for coaches to build in some conditioning prior to those first team workouts.
Help players acclimate to the heat. Help each player improve his heat tolerance while exercising. Coaches need to ease athletes into adverse heat conditions. Start with shorter workouts and plenty of rest periods and water breaks. As temperatures get more extreme, coaches need to make modifications to the practice schedule.
Manage equipment in the first week. The Korey Stringer Institute recommends the following guidelines for the first week of practice: On Days 1 and 2, practices should be held in helmets, shorts and t-shirts. On Days 3 to 5, players can add shoulder pads. Only on Day 6 should a coach run a practice with players in full pads.
Modify practice length in heat. No practice in the first week should run longer than three hours. Two-a-days should not start in the first week of practice. Once two-a-days begin, coaches need to allow at least three hours between practices. Coaches should alternate two-a-days with one-a-days so that players don’t have two-a-days on back-to-back days.
Rest in a cool environment. Whenever possible, get the players out of the sunlight on hot days. If you’re giving a post-practice speech, do it in the locker room or in a shaded place. Watch more film on hot days, and save the intense workouts for less extreme temperatures.
Give extra water breaks. The hotter the temperature, the more athletes will sweat. That means they’ll need more breaks to replace the water they’re losing. If you can’t stand the thought of sacrificing practice time for water breaks, remember that a player’s focus and physical productivity will be sacrificed when he’s dehydrated.
Be flexible with the practice schedule. On the hottest of days, it might make sense to postpone a practice until the evening when the sun is down. Cutting practice short is also a smart decision in extreme heat. In the most severe temperatures, you might even consider cancelling practice altogether rather than risking a potential heat-related illness.
Consider your geography. A 90-degree day in Maine is going to feel different for the players than a 90-degree day in Georgia. If your players are unaccustomed to exercising in heat, they will be more likely to suffer a heat-related illness. If you can find a website that offers the wet-bulb temperature for your school’s town, go to it regularly. You may also consider purchasing a wet-bulb thermometer. A wet-bulb temperature reading considers factors such as humidity, air density and dew point.
Weigh the players before and after practice. Different players have different fluid needs. A lineman will likely need to drink more water than a skill position player. Establish what those needs are before and after practice.
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