Almost 6,000 Americans are treated in emergency departments each year for heat illness resulting from sports and recreational activities. Football accounts for the largest percentage of these heat injuries, so I want to emphasize some changes to the initial practices at the beginning of the season to prevent heat illness. These guidelines can be modified to better prepare for any sport or exercise in the summer.
Many states have adopted guidelines for the first few weeks of football practices specifically to prevent heat injuries. These are newer rules enforced in South Carolina, but I expect similar guidelines will quickly become standard across the country.
These guidelines aim to get young athletes ready for the tremendous heat they will face in summer practice. Start activity with less equipment that traps body heat. Slowly add in equipment several days later but alternate short and long days to allow their bodies to recuperate.
The real value comes from taking judgment somewhat out of the picture. Sure, every football coach cares about the health and safety of his players. But the pressure to win is enormous. These rules might eliminate the temptation to run a few more drills or make kids come back for an extra practice later in the day.
We also cannot depend on players to tell coaches and athletic trainers when they are overheated. Young athletes don’t want to let their teammates down or cause their coaches to think they are weak.
Despite many fans and former players claiming such rules weaken or soften kids, I would instead emphasize that we simply want to prevent heat illness and keep them alive and healthy enough to play.