Beat The Summer Heat With The Right Plan

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Welcome back – as if you even left and took a break after last season. Most likely, you’ve been watching film, organizing practice schedules and making as many arrangements as possible for the season before it starts. It’s also likely that you’ve completed all these tasks in a nice comfortable environment and avoided the heat so far. Yeah, you may get outside for those 7-on-7 workouts for a couple of hours every day when the time comes, but it’s not really the same as during the season, is it?

Fast-forward to the start of workouts. Remember that even though your team has been working in the weight room and completing those 7-on-7 workouts, it’s still hot outside for them. Plus, they are going to be wearing pads and helmets very soon. Pads and helmets add significant heat to the body, so if it’s hot for you, it’s definitely hot for them.

Mind you they are all Madden All-Stars and could recognize any coverage on the Xbox One because just about every hour you’ve been prepping for the season watching film, they’ve been prepping by playing Madden, 24-7. In fact they are pretty good at it. You and I wouldn’t make the bench team on a Madden Tournament. But, this is what makes them most vulnerable as we head into the season this year … and every year.

Understanding Acclimatization

Many states have a heat acclimatization rules that outline practice schedules for the first two weeks of the season. It’s important to follow these guides to help your students perform at their best. Research shows that the majority of heat-related deaths occur on the day after the hard double-practice day, not usually during that double-practice day.

Because the body has been placed in a significantly strained environment, it can’t “catch up” overnight. We all know that most of our kids don’t eat or drink properly anyway, which places them at an even greater disadvantage. That single practice day in-between the double practice days allows the body to recover and will help your athletes perform at a higher level.

Most acclimatization plans look something like this:

Heat Illness Acclimatization Guidelines

Source: Journal of Athletic Training 2015;50(9):986–1000 doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.9.07 by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, Inc http://www.natajournals.org

If your state doesn’t have a similar rule, I would encourage doing some research to find one and adopting it for your program anyway. Just because we used to do something a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean it was the best way for the students. It just means that was the best we knew at the time. We know better now, and we’ll know even better in the future.

Accommodation

Studies have shown that attention spans decrease incrementally as the temperature goes up. So when the temperature and humidity are up, you should lower the workload. Make sure to increase the length of water breaks, and take them more frequently. Take helmets and pads off for entire practices if conditions warrant.

Move practice to later times in the day when conditions will be better.

Heat Illness - Wet Bulb Globe Temperature

Source: Journal of Athletic Training 2015;50(9):986–1000 doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.9.07 by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, Inc http://www.natajournals.org

Equipment

Almost every state also limits equipment used during the acclimatization period, as well. Allowing athletes to gradually implement equipment use as they get used to working out and being in the heat is wise and allows your athletes to work into it.

Remember, they don’t get to wear equipment when they are playing Madden, so gradually integrating equipment into practices is smart. This also allows for the muscles to strengthen, reducing the chances of injury to the neck, head and shoulders.

Heat Illness Emergency Action Plan

In spite of our best efforts, some of our student-athletes are going to get sick. We need to be prepared to care for them and ensure their safety.

We cannot stress enough the importance of having a qualified health care provider onsite to ensure the safety of your student-athletes. In fact, a full-time, onsite certified athletic trainer (ATC) is best to provide services for all sports, because you’ll never be able to predict when injury or illness will occur.

Remember, immediate referral to emergency medical services is essential to maximize the chance of survival from heat illness. Also, providing a mechanism to cool the athlete immediately is extremely important.

Supplementation

Many of my athletes are caught up in the supplement craze. This is somewhat troublesome for high school coaches and athletic trainers. Supplements purchased at the local grocery store or nutrition store may contain additives or other drugs and chemicals that can create adverse effects with your students.

It’s important to provide your team with solid, research-based information and make sure their parents understand it as well. If I can convince a student-athlete’s mom to help them eat well, 90 percent of the battle is won.

Your players are going to develop a voracious appetite after about the third day of practice. The first day they are just going to be in shock and won’t want to do anything but sleep; make sure they eat and eat right. Three or four good square meals (this means home-cooked – not fast food) should do the trick and it should include foods from all the food groups including fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, milk/dairy, and meat/protein. This means you too coach; eat well those first couple of weeks.

Meat and protein are vital to maintaining muscle mass that was built during the summer and should be consumed just before going to bed for maximal effect.

Slamming down a cup of Greek style yogurt just before bed will help those muscles regenerate for tomorrow’s workout. Finally, a healthy diet will also assist with hydration Those fruits and vegetables are vital when talking about hydration and electrolytes.

Sleep

Speaking of sleep, I can’t emphasize enough how important sleep is for your team members. Just as we ask our teams to go hard during practice, they need to sleep hard also.

Sleep allows the body and the brain to recover and regenerate faster than any other method. Sleep is the most under-utilized training technique we have. If at all possible, strongly encourage healthy sleep habits. Note that I said healthy sleep habits, not over-sleep habits. Benjamin Franklin said “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Let’s teach our teams to be wise!

Hydration

Finally, we can’t forget about hydration. This is something your team was doing while playing Madden. There are some general rules of thumb to assist both you and them as you move through the season.

First, take a look at the toilet next time you visit. What color is your urine? Does it smell? Urine that is colored as dark as or darker than apple juice shows dehydration. Add in any urine smell and you are for sure dehydrated. Think about it, if you are dehydrated, how are your student-athletes doing?

That acclimatization period can also help you monitor their health as well. Having your team weigh-in before practice and after practice can be quite beneficial for you and your athletic trainer. Weight loss and gain through a practice and the course of a day can indicate an issue that may be problematic in the future.

RELATED ARTICLE: Injury Prevention For Spring Football Practice

If a player weighs more after a practice, he’s been spending too much time by the water cooler. Significant weight loss during practice indicates that your athlete is now severely dehydrated. Athletes who lose significant weight over the course of many days may be playing themselves into shape. They may also be playing themselves into heat illness.

I’m not advocating over-drinking, as this can lead to a very serious condition called hyponatremia. However there are some guidelines you can follow. Because every student’s body is different, we can’t suggest a “one size fits all” solution. Generally, if a student loses 1 pound during practice, he should consume about that much fluid over the course of the time period prior to the start of the next practice. This means about 18-24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during practice.

There are some ways to calculate sweat rate for each individual. If you’d like to do this, I recommend working with your athletic trainer to assess your team. He or she will utilize fluid consumption, urine production, and weight loss during exercise to better assist your team. We are coming into a time when individualized fluid replacement is becoming more and more possible.

Water provides excellent fluid replacement, however sometimes a bit of flavor can assist in making hydration easier because your athletes will consume more if it tastes better. Whatever you use, avoid alcohol, caffeine and heavy, sugary drinks like soda. Energy drinks kill athletes every year and should be avoided at all cost.

Athletic Trainers

Speaking of your athletic trainer, you do have one don’t you? If you don’t, we need to talk! An athletic trainer has been educated to care for the health of your students and assist in helping them reach peak performance. Nutrition, hydration, acclimatization and heat accommodations are all part of his/her education.

In this age of increased awareness of the health and safety of our student athletes, it is virtually impossible to understand why a school wouldn’t hire an athletic trainer. If a school can afford an athletic program, it can afford an athletic trainer to provide comprehensive athletic health care to its students.

For those of you that do have an athletic trainer, pay attention. When they come to you or the athletic director and ask for equipment and supplies, or changes to the emergency action plan, practice schedule, and training techniques – they aren’t trying to run your program, they are trying to save an injury or a life. Listen to them, and do your best to let them help you keep your kids healthy. And every now and then throw them some swag. It goes a long way in letting them know you appreciate them.

This article was written by Bart Peterson, MS, AT, Athletic Trainer, Palo Verde (Ariz.) High Magnet School. Peterson and his wife Cori are the parents of one daughter and four sons, and grandparents to two cherubs. His teams have won close to 80 state championships. He has worked in the secondary schools in Utah, Wyoming and Arizona for 30 years and counting.

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For more information about the AFCA, visit www.AFCA.com. For more interesting articles, check out AFCAInsider.com and subscribe to our weekly email.

If you are interested in more in-depth articles and videos, please become an AFCA member. You can find out more information about membership and specific member benefits on the AFCA Membership Overview page. If you are ready to join, please fill out the AFCA Membership Request Form.

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