Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

August 2017

Protect Players From Heat

By Dave Ramont

Whether we like it or not, football season is suddenly upon us—signaling an end to our fleeting summer. But there are still plenty of potentially sweltering days left too, which is a concern for coaches and sports organizations whose teams practice and compete outdoors. Understanding heat and its detrimental effects is important, since heat kills around 113 people each year in the United States.

Humidity can also play a role in heat illness. Heat stroke is possible at any combination of temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity above 40 percent, especially during heavy exertion. Besides strenuous exercise and a hot environment, other contributors to heat stroke include lack of fitness, too much body fat, clothing that limits evaporation of sweat, and inadequate adaptation to the heat.

Heat acclimation can take place within a week or two, leading the body to hold onto water and salt, increasing blood volume so the heart pumps more blood at a lower heart rate. Heat-fit athletes also sweat sooner and in greater volume. And football players and other athletes who come to camps and practices already fit are at a lower risk for heat stroke, as fitness makes workouts less taxing.

Of course, dehydration plays a role in heat stroke too, and dehydrated athletes heat up faster. Also, dehydration decreases cardiac output while increasing heart rate, as well as depleting mental sharpness and willpower along with endurance and muscle power. But while hydration does help prevent heat stroke, there is no advantage to consuming fluids in excess of sweat loss. Some athletes prefer sports drinks over plain water since they contain sugars to fuel brain and muscles, and sodium to hold fluid in the body, helping to replace sweat losses.

While it is critical, hydrating alone cannot prevent heat illness, which can come on with surprising speed. Providing shade, ice water and misting fans is also beneficial. Some of the early warning signs of heat stroke can include irritability, belligerence, irrational behavior or emotional instability. Athletes might experience confusion, giddiness, vomiting and undue fatigue. Chills and goose bumps signal a shutdown of skin circulation, and a player may hyperventilate to shed heat.

If an athlete does experience heat stroke, it's critical to provide cooling. Immersion in an ice-water tub is optimal, though not always practical. Cold water and wet towels are also a good way to initiate cooling, and once this is accomplished, it's important to get the athlete to a hospital.

DTN is a subscription-based service for the delivery of real-time weather, agricultural and commodity market information. Brad Nelson is a Sports and Rec On-Site Meteorologist and Safety Markets Team Lead for DTN Weather, and he recommends several best practices for mitigating the risk of heat: adopt a heat safety policy for your region, taking into account how acclimated athletes are to the climate; schedule practices for early morning (6 to 9 a.m.) or night (6 to 9 p.m.), with practice time not exceeding three hours; hydrate regularly, and as heat and humidity increase, so should water and rest breaks; take it easier on the hottest days, easing into full equipment and workout intensity during these times.

Athletes often have a warrior mentality and ignore early warning signs, so it's important for coaches and other players to recognize the signs of heat stroke among their comrades.

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