Heat in Fall Football, and the Infallible, Young Athlete
Every year young athletes die from heat stroke. In 2015, high school fall football practice alone resulted in two (2) heat stroke deaths in Indianapolis, Indiana and Brownsville, Tennessee. There are no statistics for those who experienced heat stroke and lived, and no statistics for those who were close to heat stroke before cooling down. With a heat wave sweeping the nation, this season’s fall football practices could be much worse for heat illnesses, including heat stroke.
Heat illness problems with young athletes, especially in fall football practice, are multifaceted, but they can be broken down into the following areas: 1) Young athletes are not conditioned to the heat due to spending much time in air-conditioned spaces over the summer. 2) Many athletes lose physical conditioning over the summer as well, which may or may not include a weight gain, which adds to exertional heat stress (EHS). 3) Some young players coming out for football for the first time have never been through any physical conditioning before their first football practice 4) Fall football practices occur during one of the hottest months of the summer. In the south, especially, that can also mean periods of higher humidity, which increases heat stress. 5) Dehydration from sweating adds to heat stress on the body. It is especially important for the young athlete to stay hydrated throughout exercise and not to wait until a feeling of being thirsty is evident before taking a hydration break. 6) Last, but of greater importance in young athletes, as opposed to older, professional athletes, is the feeling of being infallible.
Medical science has proven that the ability to reason in the human brain does not fully develop until the early twenties. For the young athlete wanting to prove himself to his teammates and coaches, this means he may wait until he is in serious physical trouble before notifying anyone of his physical problems.Young athletes often dismiss the heat illness symptoms they are experiencing because they believe they are physically strong enough to keep going without any significant consequences. It is this feeling of infallibility that can get a young athlete into trouble before anyone else recognizes there is a problem.
In the heat stroke death cases of many young football players, the athlete simply collapsed before anyone became aware that there was a problem. The symptoms of heat stress, followed by heat exhaustion, were most certainly evident to the young athlete, but not acted upon. The athlete’s body was screaming that he was in trouble, but he pushed on until his body could no longer handle the heat and a heat stroke occurred.
Individual athlete physical evaluation is one of the major reasons it is so important for coaches to have training in recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Coaches monitor the development of skills and the physical conditioning of each athlete so they should be aware of physical and mental changes in each athlete.
Even when athletic trainers are present, the responsibility falls on the coaches. Individual evaluation is also why it is important to teach every athlete to recognize heat illness symptoms. Each athlete is in a position to recognize changes in teammates as well as in himself. Teammates look after each other. When it comes to young athletes who feel infallible, having a teammate intervene when serious heat illness is recognized, allows an outside observer to override the infallibility complex.
When the athlete himself ignores the serious messages from his body, and keeps it hidden from his coaches, his teammates become the last line of defense in the prevention of heat stroke. They are training next to each other, interacting with each other, and, if they know what to look for, they should notice serious physical and mental changes in each other. If the athlete in heat trouble does not remove himself from training to cool down, any teammate should be able to notify a coach or trainer that he suspects a serious heat illness problem.
Uninterrupted physical exertion in hot, humid weather can quickly escalate heat stress to heat stroke. The human body will continue to heat up after activity is stopped because it is working hard to rid itself of heat. The only way to stop the increasing heat is to immediately start the body cooling down through any means possible.
Hydration should occur throughout the exercise, but if the athlete is in serious heat trouble, he may not be able to drink. The body needs water and electrolytes to replace what it has used in sweat trying to cool itself down and to continue in the cooling process, so as soon as the athlete can drink, hydration should begin. Waiting for professional medical help is NOT an option. The prevention and treatment of heat stroke are the same, “Don’t wait! COOL DOWN and HYDRATE!”
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Iris Floyd holds a B.S. degree in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation from Louisiana State University, and is a former athlete, teacher, and coach. Finding on- site solutions for treating overheated athletes has been a quest of hers for many years. She is also President & CEO of Comfort Innovations, LLC, an inventor, writer, published author. She can be reached at 225-766-7719 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Brad Floyd