10 Ways to Beat the Preseason Heat (A Guide)
- Aug 10, 2018
Preseason workouts are all about preparing student-athletes to beat their competition, but they need to beat the heat as well! While August workouts are great for improving basic skills, strategy, and teamwork, they can also be dangerously hot.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), heat illness during practice or competition is the leading cause of death among U.S. high school athletes. Summer’s high temperatures put athletes at increased risk for heat illnesses like dehydration, heat syncope, and even exertional heat stroke (EHS).
Throughout the country, August has already experienced sweltering temperatures, stifling humidity, and high UV index days. The best way to have a productive, healthy preseason is to prepare your athletes, coaches, and athletic trainers to beat the heat.
Keep reading to learn 10 simple ways to help your athletes beat the heat this preseason and get them ready for a successful fall season.
Beat the Preseason Heat
1. Prioritize Hydration
As athletic staff and most likely former athletes yourselves, you’ve probably heard the saying “Sweat is weakness leaving the body.” We think it’s weak if you don’t let your student-athletes refuel.
This preseason, make sure athletes have free access to readily available fluids at all times, not just during designated breaks. We know this may break a few rules and seem “weak” to some of your coaching staff, but this is an incredibly important step in preventing heat-related illnesses during the preseason. You can keep these undesignated water breaks from severely interrupting practice by encouraging athletes to bring water with them around the field. That way, they will have water close by and won’t waste time running back and forth to the water cooler.
You should also remind students to eat and drink appropriately before and after practice. Remember, sodium-containing fluids and foods will help keep students hydrated and replace the sodium lost in sweat.
2. Set Up Cooling Stations
Proper hydration helps students beat the preseason heat, but it’s not the only thing that will cool them down. We highly recommend setting up cooling stations around your practice area. This will assist students who are experiencing high levels of heat-related stress.
The sun and cloud cover are two significant factors in the “real feel” temperature, or Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). If possible, set up at least one tent at each practice field or facility. This will provide shade and relief to any students experiencing heat-related symptoms. It’s incredible how big of an impact shade can have on a human’s body temperature. We also recommend these areas included cold snap towels, ice packs, and other items used to bring down body temperature.
3. Use Heat Acclimatization
Have you ever noticed that a lot of heat-related illnesses from student-athletes happen during the first few days of the preseason? That’s because they aren’t ready to handle physically demanding activity in such hot temperatures. In fact, the first two to three weeks of preseason practice typically present the greatest risk of EHS, especially in equipment-intensive sports.
Heat acclimatization is the process of getting student-athletes used to working in their external environment over the course of a week or two. That means coaches need to start off small and work progressively towards longer, more intense outdoor practices. You can learn more about this important process on another one of our blogs.
4. Tell Sick Kids to go Home
Some staff in our office look back on their high school sports careers and remember the times when they forced themselves to go to practice, even though they weren’t feeling well. Those stories hardly ever have happy endings.
When it comes to preseason, keep an eye on your team’s health and send any athletes who are currently sick with a viral infection or any other illness home. When athletes fall ill, even if they have something as minor as a skin rash, they are more at risk for heat-related illnesses like EHS.
5. Get Some Rest
In the weeks leading up to the start of school, a lot of students are desperate to get the most out of the remaining days of summer. That means they’ll participate in more activities and get less sleep. However, sleep is a key factor in warding off heat-related illness.
The effects of heat are cumulative, so you should encourage your students to sleep at least seven hours per night in a cool environment. It’s also a good idea to encourage students to rest in a cool environment after practice, rather than in the sun by the pool. This will help maximize recovery.
6. Know the Signs
One of the simplest ways to prevent serious heat-related illness is to know the signs. Being able to recognize the symptoms will help you treat athletes as quickly and accurately as possible. Here is a quick list of some of the most common heat-related illnesses and their symptoms to look out for this season:
Muscle-Cramps: Look for visible muscle cramping (this can present in a part of a muscle or a group of muscles), localized pain, dehydration, thirst, sweating, or fatigue.
Dehydration: You and your athletes should be on the lookout for extreme thirst, less frequent urination, dark-colored urine, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion.
External Heat Exhaustion & EHS: Keep an eye out for excessive fatigue, fainting, or collapsing during physical activity. Student-athletes may also get a headache, feel dizzy, or get confused. Also look for bizarre behavior, hallucinations, altered mental status, confusion, or coma. This can also be marked by weaknesses, vomiting, nausea, low blood pressure, and impaired muscle coordination.
7. Monitor the Weather
Another way to beat preseason heat is to monitor the weather closely. Hyperlocal weather data is key when it comes to finding out the real environmental conditions at your practice facility. Free weather applications oftentimes use weather data from your nearest airport, which can be extremely far away.
Since weather conditions that influence heat indexes like cloud cover, temperature, and humidity can differ within the same zip code, it’s important to have a network of hyperlocal weather data powering your forecast and alerts.
Remember to look at more than just the temperature. While an 80-degree day doesn’t sound bad, it could easily feel close to 100 degrees depending on a dozen other weather conditions.
8. Wear the Right Clothing
Another factor that will impact your team’s ability to beat the heat is clothing choices. While fashion isn’t important in most preseason practices, light-colored clothing will help students remain cooler. It’s also important to instruct athletes to go with lightweight clothing to protect them from the sun.
For sports like football and field hockey, you should have student-athletes remove unnecessary equipment. Taking off helmets and padding when environmental conditions become extreme will help reduce heat-related illnesses. On extremely hot days, you can work on skills and strategies that do not require this equipment to help athletes minimize heat-related stress.
9. Sun Protection
There is nothing wimpy about wearing sunscreen. At the beginning of the season, you should educate your athletes on proper sun protection measures. That means using a waterproof or sweatproof sunscreen for practice. Instruct students to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before they are going to be outside for practice. Then have them reapply every two hours or after wiping with a towel.
But what does sunburn have to do with heat stress? Well, severe sunburn can lead to sun poisoning, which is marked by chills, nausea, and dehydration. This can increase your chances of heat-related illnesses.
10. Buddy Up
As a coach, athletic trainer, or athletic director, you have a lot on your plate. Depending on the size of your team or school, it can be extremely difficult to look out for everyone. That’s why our last tip to beating the heat is having your student-athletes buddy up. Ask athletes to pair up and monitor each other for warning signs of heat illness.
You can also buddy up with a commercial weather data provider, like Earth Networks. We’ll give you heat forecasts and alerts specific to your practice facilities. This will save you a lot of time and provide your entire organization with the peace of mind they need to focus on having successful athletic seasons.