Heat in Fall Football, and the Infallible, Young Athlete
Between 1980 and 2015 there were 44 heat-related deaths of athletes in
pre-season football practice, alone. The last two occurred in 2015 in
Indianapolis, Indiana and Brownsville, Tennessee. With the adoption and
growing implementation across the U.S. of the National Athletic Trainer’s
Association heat acclimatization guidelines of 2009, there were no deaths in
2016. However, 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. Coaches should be aware that following the guidelines
alone will not prevent all of their young athletes from experiencing heat
stroke or heat exhaustion.
Heat illness problems with young athletes, especially in fall football practice,
are multifaceted, but they can be broken down into the following: 1) Young
athletes not conditioned to the heat. 2) Athletes who have lost physical
conditioning over the summer, which may or may not include a weight gain,
which also adds to exertional heat stress (EHS). 3) Young players coming out
for football for the first time who have never been through any physical
conditioning before their first football practice. 4) Fall football practices
occurring in one of the hottest months of the summer, especially in the south
where higher humidity increases heat stress conditions. 5) Dehydration. 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 young athlete’s
natural feeling of infallibility.
Medical science has proven that the ability to reason in the human brain is
not fully developed 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 or in not notifying anyone.
Young athletes often dismiss the heat illness symptoms they are
experiencing because they believe they are physically strong enough to keep
going without any major consequences. It is this feeling of infallibility that
can get a young athlete into trouble before anyone 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 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 to 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.
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, and he should be able to do so without negative
consequences when he breaks away to share his observation against the
wishes of his teammate.
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. Waiting for professional medical help is NOT an
option. The prevention and treatment for heat stroke are the same, “COOL
DOWN and HYDRATE!”
Coaches should recognize that educating the coaching staff in the symptoms
and treatment of heat illnesses and following acclimatization guidelines is
not enough. Educating every athlete in the symptoms of heat exhaustion and
heat stroke, and an assurance that removing oneself from the activity and
cooling down when the symptoms occur, is not a sign of weakness. It is
actually the first line of defense.
Once it is determined that the athlete needs to cool down, simply resting in
the shade is not enough. Cold, in some form, should be applied to the
athlete’s body to immediately bring the body’s temperature down. Use
whatever is available - dousing with cold water, ice water towels, ice baths,
Cold Blankets, cold fluids. No team should be unprepared for heat stroke!
Being prepared means every coach AND athlete, as well as the trainers, are
educated in the signs, symptoms, and treatment of serious heat illnesses,
heat and humidity are monitored before every practice, acclimatization
guidelines are known and followed, and hydration AND cool down supplies
and equipment, as well as emergency medical contact information are
always readily available.
According to Dr. Douglas Casa of the Cory Springer Institute, “Nearly all of
the causes of death in sport are influenced by the care in the first 5 to 7
minutes.” This is especially true of heat stroke.
Having Cold Blankets onsite for immediate cool down could save lives. No team should be without them - http://comfortinnovations.com/products/cold-blanket
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.
- Iris Floyd